It wasn’t me crying, just to get that straight, right off the bat. I do cry, but not if I can help it, and not this time. I was leading an Alpha meeting with three others, but we should have been six in total: one of our couples hadn’t joined. That was unexpected as they had planned to be there for our final meeting of the series.
After starting time had come and gone, we decided to continue without them. When “Jill” finally came online, we were 10 minutes from the end, in the middle of discussion questions. Jill was red-eyed and needing prayer.
How We Got Here
Our group enjoyed fellowship and friendship and learned more about Jesus and the Bible over the course of six weeks. Jill, a mature Christian who has been to several Alphas with assorted people, must have grown to trust this particular fellowship. It was a unique group in retrospect, really honest and excited and warm; comfortable and safe.
What Happened to Jill?
Obviously, I can’t go into detail. The problem, which distressed her so much was actually her daughter’s problem or series of problems. A health issue hadn’t been resolved and then another concern was added, and another.
Jill had just learned that a pipe had burst in her daughter’s home causing a flood. Jill and her husband felt helpless, distraught, and a little weary for their daughter’s sake.
So, what happened to Jill was not as much about the actual events as it was about empathy. A mother’s heart hurt for her daughter, ached over the financial burden she might now face, as well as the exhaustion, which was already heavy.
In the midst of this unexpected opportunity to pray for our sister in Christ, all of us (including my own daughter who co-led Alpha with me) watched a woman bursting with the love of Jesus for her child.
Her faith was being pushed, and she was calling out to God. Her heart was full, and it overflowed in front of us, focused on the only one who can save. That’s what happened to Jill.
Thanks to the way she conveyed her deep feelings, we also felt hurt for her daughter. That’s what happened to us, and it’s what Christ does when his Spirit moves in and through people. We’re all connected by him and through him.
The Gift of Interruption
And here’s what happened to me: I was gifted with an interruption. I’ll probably talk about this subject again multiple times, it’s dear to my heart. I had a plan: watch the video, discuss the questions. I would like to say I can go with the flow, but not without a little bit of inner struggle.
When Jill asked to be admitted to the Zoom chat room, I was tempted to pretend I hadn’t seen that “admit” sign by her name. I mean, what was the point? She’d missed the whole thing. How could she get anything out of 10 minutes?
But she thought she could, so who was I to deny her access or to prevent her from saying “farewell” to the others? This group was for the participants, not for me. It hadn’t occurred to me, either, that discussion time would turn into prayer time, where we would really come into the presence of God, which is one of the main purposes of Alpha.
Submitting when the Lord interrupts my plans is difficult (anyone else?), but I’m learning to love how he refines me and pushes me towards greater patience, more empathy, and deeper trust in him.
Joseph Tenney asked: what if we saw interruption differently, and viewed our lives “as communicative vessels for the sake of the other?” What if we believed “holy interruption” could facilitate “newness, revelation, life, and story”?
I’ve lost track of all the beautiful opportunities to pray with friends or strangers in the middle of work; to hear someone’s story when I was studying or writing in a coffee shop; or when I expected to go out with friends, but only one friend showed up and we shared an emotional, important conversation.
God’s way is far more exciting and enriching than mine. He forces me out of my head and into my heart. His way leads me to his people and his purposes where I get to see his power and be part of his plans. Discussion is important, but prayer is more important.
Not That it’s Easy
The morning of Jill’s daughter’s flood, I had been deep in prayer over another, expected meeting. A friend of mine was suffering through relationship difficulties. I wanted to give her good advice, yet God’s answer to my prayer was “don’t tell, ask. And then listen.” Novel, huh?
Imagine being respectful enough not to assume I know what’s on a friend’s heart and mind. Imagine listening and waiting on God’s Spirit to direct. Imagine not trying to use every conversation as an opportunity to preach.
Yes, I’m roasting myself, but it’s a lesson the Lord often has to teach me. Ask. Listen. Ask. Listen. Stop trying to convert everyone to faith. Stop trying to be smart. Stop trying to fix people. And guess what? The Lord gave me a chance to hear my friend’s story.
I think he interrupted her plans in a way, too, because she wasn’t going to talk to me about this subject. She is not a Christian, is involved in a same-sex partnership, and she didn’t believe there would be enough common ground to really discuss what was up, but there was.
I heard her. We lamented together. I felt more love than I can explain, and gratitude. I was given access to her feelings, which is a delicate place; one must treat it with such tender care, so being invited to do so is a privilege.
Telling True Stories Is Often Unexpected
The day I’m describing held at least two surprise conversations, but they were no less surprising to the women around whom they were focused. I doubt my friend intended to say so much to me. And Jill wasn’t expecting to get that phone call from her daughter, and she kept apologizing to us — she didn’t want to interrupt our discussion.
That’s how a lot of my weepiest conversations have gone. I’ve spilled the beans about heartbreak when all I wanted to do was drink my coffee and pass a comment on highlights from the evening news or share a funny line from a good book.
I don’t tell everyone my “stuff” because I think that’s burdensome for other people. But there have been people who asked “how are you” while looking me in the eye, and the next thing I knew they had heard everything buried deeper than deep.
I tell a lot of stories, which begin with “it was a great morning, here’s what God showed me!” They begin with “how am I? I’m fine, want to hear about this movie I watched?” I mean, let’s just move on to happy and do a little nutmeg around the sad stuff, especially mine.
There is something very special about looking a person in the eyes and waiting as they quickly debate: “should I tell her? Should I trust her?” Then something clicks: “yes. You can trust her.” I’ve been on both sides, and it’s equally amazing either way. Equally beautiful.
The Interruption Lesson
My opportunity to listen on this particular day only arrived because God is teaching me to be interrupted. To be quiet. To listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
Tomorrow, our Father in Heaven might have to remind me how to sit still and shut my cakehole. On the other hand, he might put it on my heart to interrupt someone with my story. Either way, I’ll try to follow the same format: ask God for direction. Listen for God’s direction.
Follow God’s direction. I need direction! “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27). Oh, well, it sounds easy now that I lay out the guidelines like that.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.