On a dark December evening, my wife, son, and I were cooking pancakes, eggs, and sausage in our new home—the church parsonage. As a first-time pastor fresh out of seminary, we had lived here less than a month. The house was still in a state of disarray, and boxes cluttered our rooms. We had endured a frenzied month and had intended to spend this evening enjoying each other’s company.
Then the phone rang. A solemn voice on the other end of the line spoke. She told me an elderly man in our church was declining. His wife of more than seventy years needed the comfort of her pastor—a man she had only twice met.
I grabbed my Bible, jumped in my car, and mumbled prayers of desperation. When I got to the house, family members with solemn faces roamed the hallway. I was ushered into the back bedroom where I saw the wife weeping beside her husband.
I felt entirely unprepared for this kind of interruption to my evening. What would I say?
From Structure to Unpredictability
In the past, I didn’t respond well to interruptions. In college, I took pride in how many classes, work hours and Bible studies I could cram into any given week. In my first job after college, I soon began doing two people’s work. Structure and predictability marked my days; I had no margin for interruptions. When I received a last-minute invitation or request, I politely excused myself.
Then my son was born.
This little eight-pound baby boy changed my life in more ways than one. My wife was a full-time public school educator, and I was the stay-at-home parent in our family. I thought I could fit him into my schedule that included seminary classes and part-time writing.
But I quickly learned that life with an infant doesn’t conform to my schedules and expectations. I would lay him down for a nap so I could squeeze in an hour of writing, but he would wake up early. I would make plans to drop him off at a neighbor’s house so I could go to class, but he would catch a cold and I couldn’t send him.
He even interrupted my spiritual life. We would start on a long stroller walk for me to pray and meditate. But even then he would get fussy a few minutes in, so we would return—with him on my hip and the stroller empty. My life was suddenly full of interruptions, and excusing myself from them was no longer an option.
I’d like to tell you that I handled these interruptions with grace and patience. I didn’t. I quickly grew annoyed during sleepless nights. I was frustrated when I had to change my plans. I grew angry when he poked my idols. And each interruption revealed my impatience, restlessness, self-sufficiency, anger, faithlessness, and a multitude of other sins I didn’t know dwelled in my heart.
Interruptions changed my life.
As time passed, these interruptions pushed me closer to God. I confessed my failures to God and others. I pleaded with God to help me love my son even through the hardships. And through these interruptions, God began to work in my life. Very slowly, God began to make me a little less impatient, restless, and angry.
In addition, these interruptions pushed me closer to my son. Most days I was the one who took him to the doctor, who cradled him in my arms during sleepless nights, who pushed him on the swing, who bandaged his boo-boos. Even years later, my son calls for me when he’s afraid, worried, or sick.
I didn’t know it at the time, but these parenting experiences were also preparing me to be a pastor. Pastoring, like parenting, is rife with interruption. It’s easy to get frustrated by these interruptions too. Don’t these people know that I have sermons to write, meetings to plan, work to finish? Don’t they see that I have “real” ministry to do?
But the truth is that real ministry occurs more often in the unexpected moments than not. In life’s interruptions, God meets our insufficiencies and gives us grace. I learned this lesson from parenting.
A Dark December Evening
On that dark December evening, I sat beside this frail, grieving woman as she clung to her husband. I held her hand. I listened. I prayed Psalm 23. Then I slipped out of their home and returned to my own, in a fog of complex emotions. The gentleman died shortly thereafter.
There are tons of people out there, married or not, who could handle this situation perfectly. But I don’t think I, personally, would have been ready for this moment a few years ago. I needed the crucible of parenting to expose my selfishness, impatience, and faithlessness before the Holy Spirit could produce selflessness, patience, and faith in me. Parenting taught me how to be a good pastor. And at no time was this clearer than on that dark December evening.
Cover image by jens johnsson.
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