Chapter Five Menu:
Camille’s Change Process for Her Habit of Interrupting
When I began to ask God how to apply the change process to my own habit of interrupting, I realized fairly quickly that my interrupting has two distinct forms. Sometimes, I interrupt simply because I want to. Maybe I don’t care what the other person is saying, or I don’t want to listen to them anymore, or I’m just feeling selfish. So I deliberately, consciously choose to interrupt. That’s just plain willful disobedience. While it does need to be dealt with – and it may well be the thing God prompts me to deal with next – it’s not what I’m dealing with now, in pressing into the change process.
This process is about the other form my interrupting takes: When I really am fully involved in the conversation, and I care about the other person, and I interrupt anyway, usually to finish someone’s sentence.
The wrong behavior is clear. I interrupt. And I want to replace it with a new behavior: careful, empathetic listening. I want to let people with whom I converse finish their own thoughts rather than trying to finish them myself.
Does that make me “an interrupter” who wants to be “a listener”? I can’t put it that way. I sin. But I do not identify myself with that sin. God and I will sort out later if that’s because of pride or because I’ve already deliberately formed my identity around those things God names me and values in me.
What causes me to interrupt? I often can sense what a person is feeling or thinking; this isn’t really a deception in itself, but my misuse of it causes problems. I want people to know that I understand them and care for them. This is true, but I don’t always show it in an appropriate way. Finishing someone’s sentence correctly reaffirms my gift of empathy to me, and it shows it to them; THIS one is the root of the problem.
My reasons for interrupting and my gut reactions? I’ll list them one at a time:
- I often can sense what a person is feeling or thinking. Yes, but not always. It is a gift from God, but it’s practiced by me, a fallen, fallible human!
- I want people to know that I understand them and care for them. And I can’t wait for them to finish their own thoughts before I empathize? Why?
- Finishing someone’s sentence correctly reaffirms my gift of empathy to me, and it shows it to them. Ouch! Time to go back and work on my identity in Christ again. This is pride and insecurity, and it’s sin! Ugly, ugly!
Then, to follow the Ephesians 4 passage and Kathy’s instruction, I must work to renew my mind. Kathy organized her reasons into categories to facilitate analysis, but I’m not much for categorization, so I just talk through them instead. My sense of empathy is a gift from God (number 1), but when I use it to affirm myself instead of affirming other people (number 3), I try to usurp the role in their lives that rightly belongs to Jesus. He understands perfectly what is in the hearts of people (John 2:24-25). I reflect that understanding, imperfectly, because God has chosen to give me that particular gift as a way of showing His love to people. If I really wanted people to know that He understands and cares for them, then maybe my understanding would be less important to me. But I want people to know that I understand and care for them (number 2). More sin! Guess that answers my question about why I can’t wait for people to finish.
I’ve already begun to find the topics in Scripture that apply to my situation, like Jesus’ perfect knowledge of people’s hearts, so processing the deception has already begun. My key sins are pride and self-centeredness, or desiring glory. Humility, then, and the selflessness of Christ are topics to look at.
In the meantime, I’ve interrupted a friend again, completing his sentence before he does. It’s frustrating, to keep sinning when I don’t want to anymore. I also know this isn’t uncommon (Romans 7:15), and I trust that God will renew my mind through His Word, and that will allow me to claim new beliefs that will manifest themselves in new behaviors.
Before I begin looking at what the Bible does say about my sin issues, I am drawn, as if it needed further emphasis, to what it does not say. Jesus did not interrupt people. The perfect Son of Man, who knew people’s hearts and needs better than they themselves did, waited for them to express their feelings, their wants and desires, to Him. How can I do less?
As for my drawing emphasis to myself and my gifts, Scripture is clear that Jesus revealed the Father. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” In John 17:6, Jesus prays for his disciples, saying, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” Similarly, John 15:26 says that the Holy Spirit testifies of Jesus. If Jesus reveals God, and the Spirit testifies about Jesus, I certainly have no business promoting my own gifts.
Jesus’ entire approach – to life, and certainly to people — was one of humility, according to Philippians 2:5-8, and I’m instructed, in those same verses, to have the same attitude!
Looking at the wisdom texts was somewhat more difficult for me than looking at the behavior of the Triune God. Finding guidance from Psalms was not particularly tough, probably because Psalms is so introspective and emotional. The Proverbs, on the other hand, honestly bore me. I know they’re part of the inspired Word of God, but when I read them, they seem to me just lists upon lists of things to do and not do in life. I prayed sincerely before I began looking that God would show me what He wanted me to know from Proverbs as well as from Psalms. He did not disappoint!
Before I get into what I gained from the wisdom texts, it occurs to me that the previous paragraph is really the only place in my narrative where I’ve mentioned prayer. Believe me, that’s not because I don’t pray! In fact, ongoing communication with God is such a natural part of my life that I often don’t think to mention it. I do sit silent before God in my “quiet times,” and I have set aside times for deliberate, uninterrupted prayer. But more often, I’m just lifting things – thoughts, ideas, attitudes – to Him as I encounter them throughout the day, and listening for His response.
From one of my favorite passages in Psalm 33:20-22, I gained, again, the assurance that my value is in God; I need not affirm my own gifts or strengths, since they all come from Him anyway, and His affirmation is all I need. Speaking more specifically to the action of interrupting, Proverbs 15:28 says, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil,” indicating that my thoughts – and not only my emotions – should guide what I say to people. And Proverbs 18:13 adds, even more pointedly, “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” How fun, but not surprising, that Kathy and I were both led to the same verse in chapter 18!
Of the “one anothers,” several spoke to my situation. “Wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33), while instructed in the Bible regarding eating together, seemed a perfect admonition to me. “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10) touched both on my action of interrupting and on my motive of self-promotion. And the repeated admonition to “encourage one another” (1 Thes. 4:18 and Hebrews 3:13) reiterated my heart for others.
Kathy’s next step, of pursuing prayer and repentance, as I mentioned before, is an integral part of the discovery process for me. Rather than documenting all the issues before I repented, I simply took them to God with a sorrowful and repentant heart when He first revealed them to me. I did take the time, though, to sit down with the list again, once I had processed it and applied Scripture, to be sure I had really turned away from my sinful motives and behaviors.
Here, then, are my written “new belief” statements, corresponding to my previous statements of reasons for interrupting:
- My gift of empathy is an imperfect reflection of Christ’s perfect understanding, and He’s given it to me so that I may honor other people and point them to His perfect solution for all their needs.
- I’m grateful that God has shared with me a portion of His heart for people, and my first desire is for them to know that He perfectly understands them and cares for them. This may sometimes be shown in my imperfect care and understanding, as well, but it sometimes may not.
I am secure in the Triune God, and His gifts to me are blessings that do not need affirmation from me or from anyone else except Him.