Interruptions are not distractions for the driven pilgrim?

Laura Meitzner Yoder, Associate Professor in the Sustainability and Environmental Education Department (SEED) at Goshen College

The contributors to Faithful is Successful, Notes to a Driven Pilgrim are very much interested in feedback from and interaction with Emerging Scholars. That’s why they’re sharing their material with a volunteer ESN writer team to review and respond to via an ESN blog series. Andy Walsh kicked off the series with In Response to “The Difficulty Discerning Calling”. In Following Jesus in the “Real World”Kate Peterson explored material from the first two chapters. Andy and I invite you to join our interaction with Interruptions are not distractions by Laura Meitzner Yoder. Note: In Seeking Environmental Justice in Southeast Asia (The Well)Laura Meitzner Yoder provides an inside look at some of her university teaching and field work. ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Editor.

First from Andy Walsh:

Laura Meitzner Yoder’s comments on interruptions reminded me of the NY Times profile of Adam Grant that Mike referenced in an earlier ESN post. There’s certainly a common thread of being open to interruptions and recognizing them as potential vehicles of success, rather than obstacles to it. Now, I suspect that Yoder and Grant might have different notions of what constitutes success, or at least the scope of their definitions may not overlap completely. But the more interesting difference to me is in discernment about the interruptions. Grant is depicted as essentially not exercising any discernment; he is shown to never say ‘no.’ Yoder proposes that “what differentiates God-given interruptions from distractions is whether they contribute to or detract from our overall purpose.” However, there isn’t much elaboration on how to make this distinction. Instead, there seems to be the typical post hoc analysis that frames whatever interruptions are encountered in terms of furthering God’s kingdom.

While I do see the value in choosing to cast one’s story in theocentric language, if we are supposed to discern between interruptions and distractions it would help to have some guidance that can be applied a priori. I, for one, could probably use more guidance of that sort, because I think I am prone to inviting interruptions. Unless I’m engrossed in something that I am really passionate about, I will gravitate towards helping other people with whatever they’re working on than doing my own work. I suppose it’s a paradoxically active form of procrastination. It may also be somewhat ego driven, putting myself in a position to be thought of as a hero for helping other people get their work done, instead of “merely” doing what is expected of me. When I think about it in those terms, I suspect that I need better discernment about interruptions. I don’t want to stop helping altogether, and I am pretty good at problem solving, but I don’t want to be distracted to the point of purposeless either. Yoder’s treatment of the topic helps to highlight the issues for me, but I’m not satisfied that I’ve arrived at solutions yet.

A few of my own reflections:

Laura Meitzner Yoder begins her Faithful is Successful, Notes to a Driven Pilgrim post on Interruptions are not distractions by stating:

No matter where we are in the world or what our professional positions, reflecting on vocation may prompt us to ask, “How does my work today, in this particular context, with these specific people, both express and bring forth the Kingdom of God?”  This question has accompanied me as I have pursued my vocation of university teaching and community-based research on environmental issues in far-flung areas of Southeast Asia.

Mike shared in What Is Ministry?

God cares for and blesses people through our work, not despite or instead of our work. The Fall cursed our work by making it more difficult and less effective, but work itself was a blessing given to us by God. . . .

How true that each day we wrestle with interruptions and brokenness in the practice of the vocation for which we were created. Yoder’s challenging university experiences in Southeast Asia enabled her not only to embrace a ministry of interruptability, but to bless others with this model since she returned to campus life in the United States:

a willingness to look beyond my own content-oriented goals in order to improve the educational outcomes, and personal healing opportunities, among my students.

How do you access the Kingdom value of an interruption in the hallway, in particular when you have other tasks to accomplish?

In largely working from home, periodically I find myself distracted by family while trying to finish a task (e.g., this blog post) and other times by work when trying to be fully present with my family (e.g., realizing that my laptop is only a few steps away and I have an important email to send — ever had a similar temptation, possibly with the smart phone being even closer?). I have found growing in the practices of continual prayer, listening and asking good questions are vital in the home, home office, campus visit, conference, team meeting, etc. Getting to know those present and the larger context enables one to understand how to better serve through one’s gifts, skills, and vocation as part of the Kingdom of God. Some interruptions are best served by one’s own care and investment, but others are better attended to by others with particular skills/gifts (e.g., counseling), challenged with regard to their value (e.g., the nth number short notice request for a task which can be accomplished by the one asking), or just set aside/blocked entirely (e.g., phishing, telemarketing).

With regard to the larger interruptions I have experienced (e.g., the loss of my first child — Elise Faith, cancer followed by seizures/fainting spells, a child with a brain bleed/developmental delays — Eden Linnae, moving family to provide better care for Eden, shifting from largely campus to largely on-line ministry, etc) I find myself resting in the hand of God. My initial thought is that as Andy I am more post hoc than a priori in my Kingdom perspective. . . . But then again, maybe by grace and faith the people of God, the story of God, the Word of God, the prayers of the people of God, the Presence of God, the desire to be a blessing and the healing touch of God, etc., frame how I enter daily life experience more than I realize.

As I have shared at other times, I have learned not to expect what will happen the next minute/day in my own life or those around me. Furthermore I have chosen to build in space to be present with others and defer to others when that is the better solution. Maybe the ministry of interruptability is a good term for the direction I have been heading. with my life in general.

Together, let us with Jesus yearn for the Kingdom of God to come in completeness, the new heavens and the new earth — a new day when our work will not longer be cursed and truly a blessing to all for eternity. To God be the glory!

Yes, much more to write, possibly even a series (e.g., differences in responding to the interplay of communal, natural, personal, technological interruptions in various contexts). In the mean time, we desire to hear your thoughts regarding the ministry of interruptability and how it may play out in your context.

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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