image by Fabian Bazanegue from Unsplash
"Divine Interruptions"--Elisabeth Elliott's term for learning to understand (and respond to) events, people, needs, etc which are not part of what we might have planned--and in fact might actually get in the way of the nice, neat plan we made for ourselves.
It's tempting to see them otherwise. As hindrances. As interruptions. To get frustrated when they prevent us from getting things done in the quick, straightforward way we had planned to. Trust me, I know all about that.
I had planned for a productive afternoon at my desk, ploughing my way through a to-do list, hammering at the keyboard and hitting wordcounts. I find myself playing Monopoly with a child in need of babysitting, scribbling essay drafts and doing speed reading in between turns.
I planned to sleep early, wake up early, go for a morning jog, have my devotions, all before I had to leave the house to teach. I found myself staying up past midnight listening to someone's struggles, and waking up barely in time to scramble out of the house.
I was looking forward to a leisurely lazy weekend after a hectic week, catching up on what the Singapore Army calls "personal admin time;" doing laundry, clearing my cupboard, and other small tasks that make a "down day" so productive. By lunchtime I found myself in the busiest part of town (on a weekend at that!) for some social event that I didn't see coming but didn't have much choice over ("your introvert is showing" moment)
Divine Interruptions, I reminded myself, drawing a deep breath. Don't get impatient. Don't feel frustrated. Thwarted. Resentfully fixated on just how productive your original plan would have been if people and life would just leave you alone (ha what naivety.)
This is not just a strategy, a coping mechanism. Accepting that God uses everyday people, experiences, etc to aid us in our spiritual growth is central to how we see the whole concept of "spiritual growth" and in fact the whole understanding of living as a Christian.
Perhaps this was just something I went through as a new believer, but I think that many of us tend to understand spiritual growth in the same way we typically understand, say, university education. (having just went through a graduation ceremony!) Concrete, specific, demarcated classes; a certain number of hours put in, of quantifiable efforts--enough of that and you get a degree.
Spiritual growth doesn't work the same way. You may start a year-long theology course, become an expert on church history and denominational doctrinal differences, embark on a study of the whole Bible. Those are good things. I should like to grow in those aspects, myself. But those are also concrete, specific, purposeful decisions and actions which by their very nature tend to cultivate a sense of false complacency. The same way that we can comfortably tell people "I've graduated," and both we--and them--immediately assume that we've reached a certain level of progress based on that self-sufficient statement.
But did you learn more about yourself?
Did you learn more about people, at their best and their worst?
Were you challenged to think more about your assumptions and perspective on life?
Were you moved to think more deeply on what makes life and work meaningful?
Did you form friendships or meet people who left their mark on you--for better or worse?
Ask anyone about their university experience and what most often comes out is the things like the friends they made. The lecturers, good or bad. Or certain concepts that changed the way they looked at things or thought about life. Self-realizations. Those are the things that actually change you, that actually matter in the long run.
The degree itself is possibly the least important part of that. It doesn't reflect the extent of what those few years meant to you.
Likewise, spiritual growth, and God's goal for His sovereignty over our lives, goes so much beyond the quantifiable hours we put in doing "spiritual" things, and those things in themselves. Just as our relationship with God and our understanding of Him goes so much beyond simply being there every Sunday in church, ready to say Amen at the right time with everyone else, to go through the little ritual of sit--stand--sing--close-your-eyes-when-praying...
The rest of the week is the real thing. Every day. Every boring, lonely, difficult, lazy, self-centred, complacent, painful, productive, hectic day.
Whether trials, unpleasant people, realizations about ourselves, unpleasant things other people said/did etc... they are also "divine interruptions," things we might not like to see as spiritual growth, but exactly the means that God uses to bring about spiritual growth. Often not in the neat, quantifiable, tidy way we'd like it to be, like in a college transcript.
Those seemingly small things which bother you, which seem like interruptions in the grand course of your life--the needy people, the unpleasant poky corners of relationships, the unexpected--and your response to them, matter. See each of them as part of the process of growing spiritually.
Spiritual growth doesn't just wait for great, life-changing events or tragedies to happen--it is continually before us, in the little things which make up each day and together form the substance of our lives and who we are. It reflects how, as a Christian, our understanding of God's sovereignty and Person has a direct impact on our whole perspective on life--with its unexpected, unanswerable nature, with all its terrifying capacity for overwhelming pain, for overwhelming beauty; for overwhelming proof that we were made for more than this.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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