Aug 21, 2017

Lead

Am I Interruptible?


Erica Young Reitz reflects on a time that she learned the importance of rest and urges you to ask the question, “Am I interruptible?”

My first semester in college ministry I checked myself into a convent. I ran so hard from early August to mid-October that I completely burned myself out, and I needed a place of refuge. From the start of the semester, I had responded to every student need, pulled all-nighters with those who wanted to talk, and worked 80+ hour weeks more often than not. I had no idea how to slow down, set boundaries, or rest. Not surprising, I reached a point of exhaustion and desperation before even finishing my first semester. I needed help. Sleep. Solitude. My roommate suggested I call a local nunnery to see if could take a silent retreat there. The thought of being alone for a weekend sounded both terrifying and delightful. I called that day and arrived the following night.

A lovely group of Polish nuns welcomed me and told me I could “make silent.” They gave me a tour of the grounds and showed me to a little private room where I slept from 9pm until past noon the next day. I woke and opened my door to find a sandwich and soup they had prepared for me while I was sleeping. My time with the Sisters nourished me beyond what natural food and physical rest can provide; it was turning point in my life and ministry. I vowed to start keeping Sabbath, to introduce rhythms of rest into my week, and margins into my days. I surrendered my self-importance and invited God to interrupt me if my pace displeased Him. I wrestled with questions like,

  • Why do I struggle to choose rest and set boundaries?
  • What am I trying to prove? And to whom?
  • Why does silence scare me?
  • Why is it easier for me to work than pray?
  • Am I interruptible? Do I have eyes to see and ears to hear what Jesus wants me to?

I wish I could say that I’ve run the race at the perfect pace since that retreat. I haven’t. Growth is slow. Unlearning past patterns and forging a new path forward is painful. But it’s also possible. I still wrestle with these questions, but when they rise up, I don’t shove them back down. I try to listen and let the Spirit lead me to a better way.

One Thing is Needed
When it comes to Scripture about listening, many of us think of Mary and Martha. Jesus comes to visit these two sisters, and Martha is “distracted by all the preparations.” Mary – on the other hand – is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening. Jesus gently chides Martha, offering her an invitation to slow down and just be with Him. Only this one thing is needed (Luke 10:42). Sounds easy. But if you’re used to working hard, this seeming “inaction” costs much. It requires stillness and surrender in a world filled with demands and distractions. Where’s the time for just being?! There’s so much to do! Have you ever read this passage and thought, “Must be nice for Mary to feel like she has the luxury of slowing down?” Or maybe you can picture Martha saying it under her breath towards Mary.

In Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist shares about the jealousy she felt towards a friend whose life seemed easier and lighter than her own. Must be nice, she thought, as she judged her friend. Shauna confesses, “In my blind need to be seen as hyper-capable, ultra-dependable, that girl who can handle anything, I’d built a life I could no longer handle.” In many ways we choose how we will live our days—the yeses we say, and the nos. We could all use to ask ourselves the questions Shauna poses: “What makes you say, ‘Must be nice’? ” What longing might your jealousy lead you to, if you’re brave enough to listen to it before you push it away?” If we have built a life where we find it impossible to quiet ourselves at the feet of Jesus, than perhaps we need to remake our life. Speaking from experience, this is incredible hard to do…and even costlier not to do.

Listening Does Not Mean Inaction
It’s natural to pit being with Jesus against doing for Him. But I think we’re missing something significant if we think the one thing needed is simply about being with Jesus. He wants us to listen so that we can love better. He wants us to be so attuned to his frequency that our next action is led by what we’ve learned from being with Him. It’s not a coincidence that Luke juxtaposes the story of Mary and Martha with the parable of the Good Samaritan – a story that’s all about having the eyes to see and ears to hear the need around us, and doing something about it. In many ways, both of these stories ask, “Are you interruptible?” We must be willing to slow down to simply be with Jesus (like Mary did), and we must willing to put aside our agendas to act in love towards others (like the good Samaritan did).

As much as I’ve struggled to set boundaries over the years, I’ve also become so driven towards my goals that whatever didn’t feel strategic got cast aside. I’ve missed opportunities to love God and others because I wasn’t interruptible. Being interruptible doesn’t mean we meet every student need. But it does mean that we are willing to deviate from our best laid ministry plans as the Spirit leads. Wisdom for such moments is born in an ultimate yes towards God’s interruption in our lives – His invitation into solitude and stillness. It is there that we are nourished, refreshed, and find our true selves.

Don’t Ignore Your Moment When It Comes
Only you know the rhythms of your life and what motives them. You may struggle with setting healthy boundaries and choosing rest. On the other hand, you may struggle with laziness or with using work time for personal tasks. If something is out of whack, don’t wait until you self-destruct or need to check yourself into a convent to do something about it. If Jesus is inviting us into solitude, “[w]e must not ignore this moment when it comes.” As Ruth Haley Barton continues to write, “In such moments, God’s call to us is…to leave whatever hope we had of leading people somewhere, and to believe that what needs to be done in the deep interior places of our life is the most important work to be done right now. In fact, to try to press on without paying attention to [it] is the most dangerous thing we could do.” Leading ourselves in these moments is harder than leading any student. Thankfully, we have a have a good God who guides us. He gently asks, “Are you interruptible?” I pray we say, “Yes.”

  • How do you create rhythms of rest and solitude, especially in the fast-past semester launch?
  • What are your biggest challenges in choosing rest and healthy boundaries?
  • How have you overcome those barriers?
  • What difference has the practice of solitude made in your life and ministry?

about the author

Erica Young Reitz


Erica directs Senior EXIT, a one year experience that prepares graduating seniors for the transition to life after college. She works for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), reaching out to students at Penn State University, in State College, PA. Her first book, After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationship and Faith released last August (2016) with InterVarsity Press. Erica is available to speak and consult.

  • Sam Van Eman

    Such helpful advice when there is so much to do in campus ministry. Thanks, Erica.