The lobby was crowded as people came to go through a holiday event we had set up at church. I was one of the volunteers hosting the event, so I stood near the entrance, ready to help if anyone had a question.
And then a certain person walked in.
Someone I was uncomfortable with.
Someone who caused my stomach to tighten.
Someone I didn’t want to see me.
And I freaked out. I literally dropped behind the counter so he didn’t see me and I waited until I thought he had passed to ease back up in view.
One of my mentors in the church saw what had happened, rushed to my side, and gently guided me to a quiet room to get away from the crowd.
And we just sat, neither speaking a word.
But the gift of that mentor’s presence spoke volumes to me in that moment of need.
Now, I interrupted that person’s evening, in a sense, because there were things they were supposed to be doing, too, for that holiday event. Yet they were willing to drop it all in order to sit with me.
There are other times when people come to us on purpose and end up interrupting something we were already doing.
Like when our kids need help filling up their water bottles.
Or when a dear friend is having an especially tough day and just needs to be with someone.
Or when a family member calls and needs to figure out how to handle a situation they’re in.
How would you respond in these situations?
I think there are a lot of times I used to resent being interrupted. It distracted me from getting things done or it got in the way of my own quiet time. But thankfully, God has been changing my heart in that.
And that’s why today, I want to talk about offering the gift of your presence, especially over the holiday season. And specifically, doing this by being interruptible.
We’ll talk about what being interruptible means, three signs that indicate if you are interruptible or not, and some of the challenges of being fully present.
What It Means to Be Interruptible
What does it mean to be interruptible? Simply put, it means able to be interrupted.
I know, I know. Earth-shattering definition, huh?
I think of when I worked as a Communications Administrator and had multiple print jobs running at once. If I needed to get something printed right away, I would need to interrupt the print queue so that one could get finished first. The printer was interruptible.
As people, we get interrupted all the time, don’t we? Notifications, phone calls, knocks on the door, the washer signaling it’s finished, new emails popping in… and some of these, we intentionally ignore or delay our response to them because they’re not important in that moment.
But when someone comes to talk to you when you are doing something else, that is where we are talking about being interruptible. To stop what you are doing and focus on them. We see the person as more important than whatever task we have at hand.
It has been one of my desires over the past several years to be fully present wherever I am. When I’m with my family, I want to focus on my family. When I have time to work, I want to be fully engaged with my work. When I’m leading a class, I want to be all there with the others.
Now, I was actually reading through the book of Galatians recently, and there are some verses about sharing one another’s burdens that are pretty familiar to a lot of us. But there’s a verse after that section where Paul just kind of says it like it is, you know?
Let me read the section to you. It’s Galatians 6:2-3 (NLT): “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”
How’s that for some tough love, huh? So with that as our foundation, let’s look at some signs that indicate if we are interruptible or not.
Signs You Are Interruptible
I’m going to share three signs from writer Jeff Goins. Now, he actually talks about being interruptible as being a key to success as a writer and mentor, but we are talking about it as being a key to caring for others, right? But the signs he gives are useful in either context.
Are you ready?
Sign #1: You don’t constantly look at your watch or get distracted when meeting someone.
I think we can agree, this goes with not being on our phones all the time or being so engrossed in a book that we don’t even look up when someone walks in the room. Maybe it looks like doodling when someone’s trying to talk with you or constantly glancing at the TV that’s on, either at home or in a restaurant.
If you are interruptible, you don’t get distracted by other things. You’re focused on the other person—which takes us to sign #2.
Sign #2: You can easily sustain eye contact with another human being.
This is more than just being focused on the other person, though. It’s actually looking them in the eye.
And looking someone in the eye can be frightening for some. Or awkward. Or intense.
Try not to let it be. Jesus looked people in the eye. It let them know He saw them, and they mattered to Him. Let’s do the same.
When someone comes to talk to you, when someone needs your attention on a certain matter, stop what you’re doing and hold eye contact with them. Let them see the love and care in your eyes.
Sign #3: You make the conversation about them, not you (even if they’re seeking your advice or counsel).
Being interruptible means keeping the focus on the other person. They came to you for a reason. They had a burden to share, or a problem they need to solve, or a frustration to voice. Maybe they needed your help with something.
Keep the conversation focused on them. Talk through what they need to talk through.
Challenges to Being Fully Present
I think we can all agree in theory that being interruptible, being fully present, is so very important, not just in caring for others, but in everyday life.
But there are certainly times when it is challenging to practice.
Like when you have two or three people vying for your attention at the same time.
Or when you really do have to get that task finished in the next hour.
Or when you are sick or going through a difficult time yourself.
Plus, there are times when you need to have your phone nearby for work or if you’re serving on call for some kind of emergency role.
So offer yourself some grace here. And trust God to guide you in the overarching theme of your heart and behavior: are you willing to be interrupted so that others know you are fully present with them and care about them?
More practically speaking, how can you grow in giving attention to only one thing or person at a time? How can you eliminate distractions when someone comes to talk with you?
Journal Prompt: Do others feel your presence when you are with them?
As we consider if we are interruptible or not, here is a journal prompt that might help you discern that: Do others feel your presence when you are with them?
You might be able to answer this right away, or you might need to take a few days to observe and see what really happens. How do you respond when others interrupt you? Do you interact with those in the same room as you? Do they even notice you’re in the room or are you so focused on your phone or book that it’s like you’re not even there?
Again, this isn’t to say that you can’t ever be on your phone or reading a book when others are around. There is such a thing as companionable silence, right? But in the moments when they want your attention, when they want to talk, are you fully present with them? Do you set other things aside?
This is something I’m still working on, years after I first had the desire to improve. So don’t feel like you have to figure it out right away.
Courageous Care Book
If you want to learn more about how to care for others who are hurting or needing your attention, I invite you to grab my book, Courageous Care: Helping Others Even When You’re Afraid, which released yesterday, if you’re listening to this in real time.
In the book, you will learn some very specific ways to reach out and support loved ones who need you to show up. It’s great to go through on your own, or you can grab some friends and talk about it together using the journal prompts at the end of each chapter.
Courageous Care is available on Amazon. You can go to lovedoesthat.org/care for direct access. And if you can, please leave a rating or review for the book there on Amazon. It helps others know if the book is right for them or not, and it helps the book get into more hands, so we can all do a better job of caring for those around us who are hurting.
A Prayer to Be Interruptible
Today, I offer a prayer from Bruce Epperly:
Wake me, O Divine Wisdom, to the wonder of each moment.
Keep me amazed at simple things.
Keep me open to unexpected encounters.
Let me see you in life’s interruptions and bless those who interrupt me.
Then guide me to return at the right time to the task at hand.
RELATED EPISODES + RESOURCES:
- Jeff Goins article: The Key to Success: Being Interruptible
- Courageous Care Book: http://lovedoesthat.org/care
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.