I am writing this Musing at 4.30am. I have been awake since 3am. I was lying in bed reading and reflecting on the final chapter of ‘A Meal with Jesus’.
The Ministry Team spent yesterday together in a small room at Wesley Place in Lonsdale Street. We spent time sharing and reflecting on BOUNDARIES and SELF-CARE. We also had conversations on the ‘Needs, Concerns and Opportunities’ of MUC in the next six months. And by the time I reached home (around 6 pm because I took the wrong tram and had to walk a fair distance), had a quick dinner and decided to take a short nap before the Pastoral Care Portfolio zoom meeting at 7.30 pm. Told my dear wife to wake me up five minutes before 7.30 pm. She failed and by the time I woke up it was after nine. Tonight, I have Church Council meeting and so it will be a long day ahead for me.
Recently I have been saying to a few colleagues that if we don’t like ‘interruptions’ then we had better not be in ministry. And they all agreed.
Remember the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28?
The Canaanite woman is an annoyance. Jesus ignores her, and the disciples plead with him to make her go away. You and I know that life is often interrupted by people and situations that make inconvenient demands on one’s time and get in the way of one’s plans. When such interruptions threaten, some people know how to duck the call, take another route home, wait an extra ten minutes, or refer the problem to someone else. If we avoid the unpleasant interruptions in life, are we missing something important that God has for us to learn?
Over the years I have learned to see the interruptions that came into my life, into my week, into my every day not as interruptions, but as the ministry itself. This changed my life and the way I viewed my ministry.
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) To entertain strangers, it’s not easy. It can be unsettling, even unnerving, to enter another’s world, to allow ‘strangers’ access to our attention and energies. A ministry of interruptions – a hospitality toward even unexpected guests – can be disorienting. One commentator says, “These strangers might be ‘angels,’ but they might not. This call to hospitality is a call to ongoing vulnerability to the unknown other.” To be open to entertain strangers is to be open to receive interruptions.
WE all need to see some of the unwelcome interruptions in busy lives as divine disruptions: God speaks through encounters with strangers and in situations outside of people’s comfort zones. Quite often followers of Jesus must decide if they are going to let go of their carefully made plans and well-organized schedules to respond to the unscheduled demands that arrive without warning.
In other words, embrace the interruptions: they are the very ministry into which we are all called. Believe me I know it’s difficult sometimes to try to see the people in front of us not as our interruptions, but as ministry. (Matthew 25:31-46)
On the side of the coin, of course we need to have boundaries. We all need time by ourselves, time when we are not interrupted, or are uninterruptible. Each week I need time to plan for the worship service, finish my reflection by Friday, write another Musing before Wednesday, attend scheduled meetings, Ministry Team meeting, occasional visits to Redgum to meet with ‘strangers’ and pastoral visits that are needed. Yes, I accept and embrace ‘interruptions’ as ministry, but I also need time to do what I need to do each week. And not mentioning the need to spend time with my wife.
I have learned heaps from Brené Brown on boundaries and self-care. According to her, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval (and this is coming from someone who spent years trying to please everyone!). Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say “Enough!” Wow. You might want to read that again!
Eventually, issues arise as one cannot pour from an empty cup. Ultimately being able to be there and be a support to others, means I need to support myself first. I have learned that setting boundaries is the ultimate form of self-care. And that means occasionally I need to say ‘NO’ to some ‘good’ things that happen in MUC so that I have the energy to say ‘YES’ to ‘better”’ things. You know what I mean! (Completed writing this musing at 6.28 am)
By the way I have misplaced my ‘church’ mobile phone since Sunday. If you have called me and I have not responded, that’s the reason. Hope to find it in the office today.
… in the meantime, blessed be.
Rev Swee Ann Koh
20 July 2022