The Interruptible Life

By

My wife hates my desk. And this is completely understandable.

My personality type is “Selfish”. The test results may tell you I am a ‘Lion’ or ‘ENFP’ but one quick look through my actions on a daily basis and it’s clear I was raised an only child. When I am working (or playing for that matter), I hate to be interrupted. Headphones on, laptop bright, fingers pressing all point to a world meant for one. And my talented, multi-tasking wife wonders what my problem is.

It happens all the time: she peeks her head around the corner wondering what I think about a certain issue and I respond as if I was writing the Magna Carta. The ensuing arguments and hurt feelings aren’t worth the quick lapse in work and you would think I would know this lesson by now.

The latest form came through a neighbor. I live communally with four married couples (my wife and I being two of the eight) and some of our housemates had agreed to help a neighbor move some old junk from his basement. Some old, heavy junk. So I am busy writing and studying when they come in saying they need help. And my response was, well, predictable to say the least.

I ended up helping. And it ended up not being so bad. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t completely upset and ticked off at everyone involved. Which is silly…

I end up more upset at myself than anything else. Why? Because I realize that we’re all called to the interrupted life. I am the disciples or religious leaders constantly urging Jesus to keep going toward the mission that we’re all in together. “Jesus we need to get going.” “Jesus, we’re going to be late.” And yet time and again, whether it was an old woman who touched the edge of his garment or some children drawing near, Jesus’ life was one full of interruptions – living in the beauty of a moment and allowing that to be the place where he was most present.

I get tired of my selfish attitude and yet nothing seems to have changed much in the last 30 years. Perhaps it’s being continually cognizant of my own issues and asking God to change things. But it has to start somewhere…

Profile photo of Matt Conner

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


15 Comments

  1. Kory

    Sometimes I feel like the reverse situations are the ones that illuminate my selfishness the most. As in, when I want to talk about an issue with my fiancée, what it really means is that I am now ready to dispense to her the treatise (which is, of course, the only proper position on the issue) that I just spent six, uninterrupted hours drafting. Likewise, when I want help moving furniture, I tend to expect people to all but quit their jobs in order to come lend a hand on my schedule. And cell phones only exacerbate things; I tend to get visibly angry when someone calls me while I’m “busy,” as if the caller has any idea what’s going on on my end. I suppose I should start working on this now, eh?

  2. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    ouch… guilty as charged.

    It’s C.S. Lewis who talks somewhere about the importance of understanding that our time is not our own, that it in fact belongs to God. I know this in theory, but it’s hard to put it into practice.

  3. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason, Matt,

    I can relate. I was raised being allowed to read endlessly, play music endlessly, rarely interrupted. That gave me a great ability to focus intensely for long periods of time – that’s the good use of it. But at times I’ve had the same reaction to interruptions or a change of plans. I’ve been songwriting at times and had my wife come in and say, “Do you want some toast” and a developing good line completely disappears from my head.

    It’s important to realize that it is ok to be a focused person in this way; there’s nothing wrong with the personality trait or characteristic. My wife is the opposite; she is the most interruptible person I know – a stay-at-home mom, nearly always compassionate, easygoing with it. But on the other hand she cannot usually focus as intensely as I can for hours at a time.

    In other words, we’ve got to accept that trait for what it is – good if used rightly, bad if used wrongly. It can be used to “hide out” and be selfish, to be angry at a valid interruption. But it can also protect the artistic thing we do.

    I’ve often told my wife, since I’m working at home this year, “Just pretend I work at Wal-Mart and have to go every day from 9am-5pm. I get to come home for lunch.” And also, regarding the kids, “You can call me if there’s blood.” Setting hours like this is good; it lays out a boundary, and my wife and kids know – at least approximately – when to expect me home.

    Abiding is important. This morning I got up early (my usual home schedule), went downstairs, read my Bible, prayed, etc. Right after this I checked my email and found I’d double-booked a show in VA with a workshop in eastern NC. I was none too happy about it (read that: freaked), but since God was so fresh on my mind I knelt down and said, “Lord, I know You go before me. I know You will make this all work out and it’s going to be ok.” I put my trust where it belonged, banished worry, and sent the workshop promoter an email. He wrote me back in about an hour (in which I continued to not allow worry) and said we could do it the day before the VA show. It all worked out fine with no effort on my part except to send the email.

    Also keep in mind another thing. I know from coming from a childhood of divorced parents, lots of moving around, changing schools, etc, that to a large degree I like a PLAN. And when a settled plan is changed too radically I feel agitated. The desire for stability comes from that freaked out kid that I was. As it stands, I’ve now officially lived in one place longer than ever. My kids have gone to the same school. Stability.

    We are called to be interruptible. But we don’t have to be a slave to interruptions. If you are engaged in your self-employed artistic work, interruptions need to be about something worth breaking the flow.

    Speaking of which, my break is over…

  4. Nate

    I’m with you on this one.

    In med school, last semester, I found myself constantly putting my studies before my relationship with my wife (with whom I just celebrated our first anniversary). That was a big mistake. It cost us closeness and fellowship.

    I have to constantly repent from this selfish attitude and stay focused on Christ who did not consider equality with God to be something held onto, but, instead, made himself a servant and went to a cross.

    Its a daily crucifixion. Its not easy. Constant repentance and, thankfully constant grace from both God and my amazing bride.

  5. Q

    For me selfishness always stems from an arrogant sense on entitlement. “I derve a moments peace!” “I don’t deserve to be treated like that!”

    Truth knows I deserve nothing but death and anguish – a sinner before a Holy God. The only means I find effective to combat my own reveries is to remember my indignation in that context.

    I agree with you all about the means of comming to this condition, but my attitude never softens when I compare myself to those who are “imposing on me;” when /i try to be “fair.” I can only come to some kind of equity though the humility of conviction over my total lack of any entitlement of any kind.

    Yet even this is not a magic wand. Perhaps this is tougher to control …

  6. becky

    The first time I really gave this idea any thought was when I read Blue Like Jazz. The author talks about how living alone can make us selfish. He talked about his own experience moving into a house with other Christian men after living on his own for a while. One of the other people in the house would come to chat with him at the end of the day, and all he was thinking was, “Why is this guy bugging me all the time?” The way he described his emotions was exactly how I felt about my new roommate. I was an INTP (introvert, practical, non-emotional, etc.) who had lived alone for five years. I am something of a hermit by nature, and need a lot of quiet. I had recently moved into an apartment with an ESFP (extrovert, very emotional, constantly talking, dreamer). And most of the time I just felt annoyed by what I perceived as her intrusive presence.

    God has been slowly changing my heart about this. I’ve lost a few of my sharp edges, in general. And she has learned to give me a little bit more space. But I still have bad days, when I snap at her or withdraw to my private sanctum so I don’t have to deal with the drama. Unfortunately, yesterday was one of those days. So thank you for this timely post. It reminds me that I need to take my eyes off of myself and be more like Jesus.

  7. Stacy Grubb

    After Jesus fed the multitudes with the fishes and loaves, the Bible says that He sent away the multitudes and went to pray. That was around the evening. Some time in the wee hours of the next morning is when he appeared to Peter et al (or in hillbilly speak, Peter and ’em), walking on water. He reserved himself several uninterrupted hours for prayer and reflection and tells us to have a “prayer closet” where we may go with no distractions or interruptions.

    Being present shouldn’t necessarily mean being available. Naturally, it’s good to find a balance so that you’re not taking off the heads of those who throw off your groove, but boundaries should exist that declare you off-limits when you are praying, studying your Bible, working, etc. Definitely God is deserving of your uninterrupted attention. Your employer is deserving of an interrupted thought process. And you are deserving of the time to connect with yourself. Though our time is God’s time, “Alone Time” is a way in which He has directed us to use what He’s given us.

    Stacy

  8. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy,

    Definitely there is balance needed. The ability to focus intensely, like all other human faculties, is a neutral thing. It can be used for good or ill. The thing is to abide in Christ continually, determining which interruptions are valid and which are not. Also, in the case of a self-employed person and their spouse, boundary lines need to be drawn: work-time/home time. “This morning I have to finish such-and-such a project (song, article, etc), so I’ll need three hours of uninterrupted time. I’ll shut the door so you remember.” And the spouse must respect such boundaries.

    That’s one of the things in which The War of Art has helped me immensely – my time-boundaries. When is work time, when is family time, when is Bible reading time, when is prayer time? Lining it out, scheduling the day that morning or the night before, makes it all happen. And the boundaries make everyone happier.

    Of course, some interruptions come. But in being self-employed, I look at it like this: If I worked at WalMart, or a shoe store, could I leave work for this? Could I talk extensively on the phone about personal matters? So it depends on the situation. Could I say, “I’ve got to go home for an hour; my kids are misbehaving and my wife wants me to come home?” The obvious answer is “No.” In being self-employed I’ve got to be my own boss and set the boundaries. I can take over the kids at 5pm.

    It really comes down to using our heads and hearts, delineating boundaries, setting up principles, etc. Otherwise, as self-employed people, we can float through our days, and months later look back and realize we accomplished very little. Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is good for recognizing the need for balance. Also Canfield’s “The Success Principles.”

    I lived for years in a fog of undistinguished boundaries. There was not ‘work time’ and ‘family time’ and ‘chore time’. It was all mixed together in a big soup, and everything suffered. Delineating boundaries has made everyone happier.

    Speaking of which, 9am is fast approaching…

  9. Aaron Roughton

    The guitarist for my old band (now divorced) said that he and his wife could be at home alone for half a day, each doing their own thing. But when he’d pick up his guitar, she would suddenly have something she wanted to talk to him about, or for him to do. He thought it was a coincidence at first, but did experiments to prove that it was definitely the instrument that brought the interruption.

  10. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    My home is full of the self-employed, as well. For a while, my husband worked directly out of our house and it was a catastrophe. Temptations to distract and be distracted were just too strong. My son was an infant who never slept and I was on the brink of…what? I don’t know. But it was going to be bad. My husband found himself easily called away from work when something entertaining held his interest, but easily called away from the demands of home when the baby wouldn’t stop crying and I needed a break and he had a good excuse to slip away. “I have to work!”

    He now has a separate office, but the work-from-home roles are slightly reversed. I am now trying to have a little bit of focused time to write and practice on my guitar and singing, but I’ve yet to establish that as a “job” in my husband’s head, so I’m constantly fighting the distractions and interruptions until I eventually get so frustrated that I don’t feel like singing and I can’t think deeply or creatively enough to write. So, the guitar goes into the corner and I fume on the couch for a while.

    I’ve learned since becoming a mom that the ability to focus is often a use it or lose it talent. I now find myself being distracted by the fact that there are no distractions (on that rare occasion). My thoughts don’t form as effortlessly as they used to. I’m always feeling frustrated and behind the times. I think of things two days too late. And I ramble…

    I’ve been intent on getting The War of Art since your review and just hope that I can find it in an actual bookstore here in Po Dunk, USA. Especially now that I’ve been bombarded with about a million responsibilities from filling in as my husband’s secretary for an undetermined amount of time to being a stage manager for a play (and I’m a theater idjit) that I’m also a character in and do music for, I haven’t been able to pencil in time for my guitar for weeks and the signs of regression are starting to show. And since I was planning on recording a CD near the end of summer/start of fall, I had big plans for what I would be doing with my time until then and, so far, I haven’t gotten around to any of them.

    Stacy

  11. Janna

    stacy,

    i feel your pain. it would be nice if there were a book about boundaries for those of us who aren’t breadwinners with our craft, but still desire to use our gifts. i have to remind myself that i am still young, and that my kids (ages 8,5, and 1) won’t be home forever. i think i’ve gotten to the point where i no longer need validation for spending time on creativity; i just need to figure out a good schedule, or learn how to give up sleep!

  12. Stacy Grubb

    Janna,

    From my understanding of The War of Art (based solely on the review Ron posted here a few entries back and the responses of folks who have read the book), it is beneficial whether your art is your source of income or not. It’s about learning to use your time so that you don’t let your art take the backburner to everything else in your life until, eventually, you have no time for it at all. As you said, we have gifts and they were given to us from God and His desire is that we will use them to glorify Him. The avenue in which we share our gifts will vary for everyone. For some, God has blessed them with an opportunity to share their gift on a grand scale. For others, sharing their gift may mean playing for their church congregation. As Christians, I think we should be perfectionists with what we put out there to glorify God and that means that we work with our gift and become skilled in it. That takes time and a whole lot of it. I currently spend more money on my music than I make (thank you, gas prices), but I’m still getting that book because I think it’s relevant to my needs and it sounds like it would fit yours, as well.

    If you want, you can click on my name and it will take you to my You Tube. You can contact me through there if you ever want to swap sob stories :).

    Stacy

  13. Tony Heringer

    Well, I was going to post something, but then I clicked on Stacy Grubb and I listened to this song (with a sweet slide show) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay51obX6gws

    Saw your husband had on Vol gear, my wife went to UT — Go Vols!

    I will say that Matt’s wife sounds a lot like mine and, as an only child, I tend to behave like Matt. But, kids (our little mirrors) and our deepenning love for each other these past 18 years, has made those habits easier to break out of.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *