Holy Interruption: Lent, In Other Words

This is the fourth post in a series entitled, Lent, In Other Words. This week’s word is interruption. I’m glad you’re here! Take a moment to fill out a contact form to get reflections like these delivered to your inbox.

I gave the children’s sermon at our church yesterday. The scripture was John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

I had high hopes of speaking to the little ones about how Jesus approached the woman to show her she was loved by God no matter her gender, where she was from, where she worshiped, or what mistakes she made. I even had a bottle of water as a prop, which I thought was a brilliant opener: What if I told you that if you took a drink of my water that you’d never be thirsty again? Would you believe me?

I fully expected them to say “NO!” and then I’d joyfully quote Jesus telling the woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” Jesus wasn’t talking about the kind of water in my water bottle, of course. He was talking about filling up on God’s love which like water, permeates all kinds of human boundaries and gives us life.

If the woman took Jesus’ “living” water, she’d start to see things the way God does…and because of Jesus, she’d understand that human divisions don’t separate us from God’s love. That’s good news for each of us. God loves us for who we are, no matter where we’re from, and what mistakes we make. And it helps us learn something about treating others too.

Amen, class dismissed.

But the best laid plans of mice and (wo)men often go awry. No sooner had I introduced my captivating prop, when one little girl honed in on the braces on my teeth. “What’s on your teeth?” she asked in response to my first question. “You have something funny in your teeth!” she offered again, just to be sure I heard her.

I’m usually pretty quick on my feet. And I’m very comfortable around children. Most of the time I find their innocent questions endearing and often edifying. But this time I froze. Did I have something caught in my teeth? Could everybody see it? And with those thoughts crowding my mind, the sweet little sermon I’d carefully planned drained from my head as quickly as the color in my cheeks.

I don’t know if it was a blessing or a curse I wasn’t holding the microphone close enough to my mouth for everyone to hear, because in that moment I only managed to spit out a few jumbled words as my brain scrambled to make a decision. I could ignore the poor little girl’s curiosity or acknowledge it, and lose the sermon altogether. There was absolutely no way to tie her question into the message or to explain it to the congregation who were straining to hear me anyway.

I’m not sure the children really learned anything from what I had to say, but I hope they understood that: it’s ok to be curious, adults can get flustered, and God blesses it all. I recognize it’s a stretch to relate those take-aways to the scripture, but there it is.

The whole incident reminded me that interruptions can be holy too. After all, Jesus interrupted the woman’s routine at the well and look at the results. According to scripture, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…” Our pastor gave an inspiring sermon declaring her the first evangelist—a title which is itself an interruption to the status quo: a woman, a Samaritan, and a sinner, now a spokesperson for Jesus.

The little girl’s interruption challenged me to take myself less seriously. So what if my sermon didn’t go as planned? The important question is not if I handled it well by preserving the integrity of my message, but if I was kind and patient in the presence of little children. And whether I trusted that God was at work there, even in that uncomfortable moment. If I can answer at least two of those questions affirmatively, then I can consider it a holy interruption because I learned to look at the situation through the lens of God’s love.

We’re now in the thick of Lent and we may find ourselves distracted from the intentions we set at the beginning. What kind of interruptions have you experienced? Can you learn anything from them?

I’d love to hear from you.