When I was in university I worked at a large corporate bookstore and one of the practices they taught us was that whatever task we were supposed to be doing (stalking shelves, straightening books, etc.) we were to stop when customer asked a question or presented a need. Predicting the next question they said, “we know you will never complete any of the other tasks, they are ongoing and we all just plug away at them as we can, it’s okay if when your shift ends books still need moving around, they always do.” It was a weirdly helpful lesson to me.
I am among those who read books about time management, about wrestling hurry to the ground, and about focus and overcoming distractions. In many ways this can be helpful, little is accomplished without such skills being developed and put to good use. This might be especially true in a culture full of distraction, where we all have a high powered computer with a skookum screen in our pockets and an army of very smart people vying for our attention.
Still, I want to make a pitch, especially as the holidays approach with their potential for slowing down, for being distracted. In the book of Exodus, Moses—a pretty busy fella in general—is walking from one place to another. I picture him leaning forward, moving quickly, getting to the next thing. If he is like me it takes a lot for him to stop or slow down once he in motion, like I rarely stop to take a photograph while running or cycling no matter how mesmerizingly beautiful a certain scene might be.
Anyways, Moses is walking and he notices something strange and rather than plow forward he slows and even stops. This feature of him—his very willingness to pull to the side and reflect upon a new sight—catches God’s attention. We read, When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” Do you see how the willingness of Moses to be grabbed by something new and to put aside the important work he was doing was approved of by God?
There is a sense in which some of what I do seems utterly useless and ridiculous. Watch me at work and I might be gazing out a window, going for a slow walk, reading a book, chatting with someone, praying or meditating (i.e sitting still doing ‘nothing’), in other words at any given time it can look like I am not busy and not doing much. This is not only because that’s how I like it and because I think a lot of ministers look so harried and busy they become unapproachable to folks; but also because I have experienced God in such moments and hope to again, and then to share what I experience and learn. It is in being willing to be distracted from what we are doing that we often encounter the triune God of surprises.
This season many of us will be busy. Some are cleaning their dwellings and getting ready to host others, many are grocery shopping and gift shopping, some are pondering year end donations to groups fighting to make the world more just, some are preparing to propose to a a special friend, some are waiting for babies, some are eyeing that last semester of school…some are even going to church a bit more often and doing daily devotions for advent.
Even as we are busy can we keep our eyes open to where God might be leading us? If the story of Moses is any indication God appreciate when we are wiling to put down our tools, set aside our plans, and marvel at what he is doing.