At a recent book reading, a woman asked, “How do you handle interruptions? After an incredibly busy and stressful week, I’ve set aside tomorrow as my Sabbath day. I need it so badly. But I got a message from a neighbor asking me to drive her to a doctor’s appointment because her car is in the shop. I don’t wanna do it!” That last sentence was uttered with the desperation of a person who needs some time and space! (Could that be why little kids use that phrase and that tone? They get tired of being jerked around by grownup schedules and expectations? Hmm…)
I write in the book about the Messiah Trap, which comes from a book of the same name. The Messiah Trap has two parts:
- If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.
- Everyone’s needs are more important than mine.
The Messiah Trap gets tripped very easily by interruptions such as these. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond to the needs that are around us. (My heart melts a bit at the fact that it’s a doctor’s appointment as opposed to the dry cleaner.) We have many stories of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. It’s not always clear what happened before and after those stories, but I like to think that he was in the midst of Sabbath observance when he encountered someone in need, and that he returned to that Sabbath after caring for him or her.
As for the woman’s predicament, I see several basic alternatives.
- Drive the neighbor to the appointment, and vow to reschedule the missed Sabbath time.
- Make the appointment with the neighbor part of the Sabbath. Use the time to reconnect with her, to approach it “Sabbathly”: to see what you see and notice what you notice. Bring a good book to read while she’s in with the doctor.
- Just say No. Say it nicely, but tell her you have another commitment at that time. She doesn’t have to know what it is.
- Ask if there are other people she could ask, because you are committed at that time. But also say that if she gets truly desperate, you can shift some things around. (I often have to remind myself: just because I’m the first one asked doesn’t mean I’m the only one who can do it.)
Figuring out which one to choose is, of course, the tricky part. For me, these decisions involve a lot of intuiting: how deep is the person’s need, how seamlessly could this become a part of Sabbath, how practical would it be to reschedule a chunk of Sabbath time, how desperately do I need that time of rest RIGHT NOW.
One final note: the good thing about taking a regular time of Sabbath is if you do get interrupted, it’s not the end of the world, because there’s another Sabbath right around the corner. The problem comes when we go-go-go for weeks on end and finally set aside some time, and that time gets interrupted.
What do you do about interruptions? How would you respond to this situation?