Improvisation is a true art form; when done well it is a beauty to behold. We often connect improv with comedy or entertainment, but it offers a valuable skill for every day life. Redeeming interruptions with improvisation helps you think on your feet while staying in the moment. Resulting in the ability to find opportunity rather than irritation in life’s interruptions. Interruptions rarely surface at a “good time”; but rather in the middle of a day already gone in the wrong direction. Which triggers reactivity instead of response. What if improvisation added opportunity to your day in the same way good improv adds to a scene on stage?
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends.
Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always.
We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning the art of “stillness” so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
Improvisation is Everywhere
A working definition of improvisation is easily summarized as “making or doing something not planned beforehand; using whatever is at hand in the moment.” We see improvisation in comedy, theatrical performances, musical performances, sports, even in medicine. Two of the physicians in my department are theater trained actors; one performed off Broadway before deciding to head to medical school. They bring the skill of improv to their practice as well as projects we collaborate on together. While I am not theater trained, they say I have a knack for improvising because I listen, add value and make everyone else look good.
Looking back at our working definition above, redeeming interruptions with improvisation requires a level of comfort with the unexpected. Most everyone I know finds anything unexpected intimidating. Maybe I am the only one with this problem; but do your days all go exactly according to plan? We face the unexpected in various ways every day, imagine how much stress and anxiety we might avoid if we viewed interruptions differently, instead of dreading the unexpected?
Facing interruptions in the middle of a day gone bad naturally triggers overwhelm, frustration and anger. My thoughts generally turn more self-focused, viewing interruptions as an attack on “my space”. I view my activities as most important, becoming resentful of someone wanting “more of me”. But can you think of anyone more interrupted than Jesus? Consider a typical day in His life from Matthew 14.
Herod beheads John the Baptist; the disciples bring the news to Jesus and He withdraws by boat to a solitary place to mourn. But the crowds follow Him, “interrupting” His peace with requests for healing. Due to the number of people, it took until late in the day before Jesus finished, and the people were hungry and had no food resulting in Jesus feeding 5000 men besides women and children. Afterwards He sent His disciples on ahead and took some time for prayer before coming to them walking on water. He calms the disciples fear of Him and allows Peter to walk on water before rescuing him from sinking. The boat arrives in Gennesaret early the next morning where more crowds meet Him desiring healing. Are you exhausted yet?
interruptions from Jesus’ point of view
In each situation from Matthew 14, Jesus viewed people with compassion; not resentment. He saw the people as sheep in need of a Shepherd, He saw their brokenness, sin and lost condition. Jesus saw the people and circumstances forcing their way into His day, not as interruptions, but as opportunities for Him to show the love of the Father to them. “They” were the reason He came; His purpose found fulfillment in touching each life, doing the work His Father gave Him to do.
What if we took a step back and viewed interruptions as Jesus did? What if we embraced the unexpected moments of our days not as interruptions, but as opportunities to do the Lord’s work? Before we can begin redeeming interruptions with improvisation, we must change our perspective of interruptions.
inside out interruptions
In Jesus’ place in Matthew 14, all of my energy would target regaining control of my day and restoring a semblance of normalcy. Instead, Jesus’ focus was on a compassionate response to those in need. If we go through life thinking interruptions impede “real life”, we continually experience overwhelm, frustration and anger, prompting reactivity rather than response.
As a task oriented person, my focus is moving from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, which requires planning and predictability. In other words, I have no time for interruptions. Talking with and meeting the needs of others energizes me, as long as I planned for it. Except God in His sovereignty shows no interest in my agenda. Not only are His ways not my ways, (Isaiah 55:8), but He desires I make the most of opportunities He brings into my life. (Colossians 4:5) I accomplish His will when I cease viewing interruptions as obstacles to my plan and instead view them as opportunities for embracing His plan.
The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination!C.S. Lewis
redeeming an interruption
Admittedly, redeeming interruptions with improvisation sounds easy in theory; but practically implementing the strategy proves slightly more difficult. The Lord spoke to me about my resentful attitude towards interruptions over a long period of time; my heart felt willing, but my flesh chafed at the practicality.
Recently the Lord interrupted my day through a colleague in need of emotional support. Naturally the Lord chose someone who generally irritated me with her constant cheerful attitude; one I avoided at all costs. Yet there she sat outside my office in deep emotional distress. My initial thoughts drifted to offering brief consolation and moving forward with “my day”. The Lord’s plans were otherwise. As I reached out, I employed one step of improvisation; listening. The more I genuinely “listened”, the more my grip on my agenda released and God’s agenda infused the situation. Despite claiming one hour of an already full day, I learned an important lesson; interruptions are real life.
redeeming interruptions with improvisation
Viewing interruptions as real life rather than obstacles to our plans primes us for redeeming interruptions with improvisation. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty over our plans helps us see opportunities for service in the interruptions He allows in our days. Try these improvisational tips and watch your interruptions become possibilities.
Listening is by far the biggest key to good improv. My theater colleagues tell me a common mistake young actors make is jumping straight to responding without listening first. We make the same mistake with life’s interruptions. We immediately react with overwhelm, frustration or anger before listening to the full request. If we fail to listen, we simply respond without full knowledge of “to what” we are responding.
- Be quick to listen (James 1:19)
- When interrupted, switch to listening mode by repeating the request. “What I’m hearing is…” OR “It sounds like you need…”
- Ask God for help listening first before responding in every conversation, but especially when interrupted.
bring a brick
“Bring a brick not a cathedral“, a well-known saying in improv, means keep a loose hold on your plans. A pithy quote reminding us approaching not only interruptions, but our days with plans, but also a willingness to release them. Remembering only God knows the future and God’s will may differ from ours, obligates us to be receptive to His changing our plans.
- Loosely hold your plans. “A man’s heart devises his way: (a hold on plans) but the Lord directs his steps. (a loose hold on plans)“ (Proverbs 16:9)
- Expect God’s interruptions. Start your day in prayer asking Him for keen awareness and acceptance of His sovereign disruptions.
- Trust God’s plans over your plans.
Perhaps the best mantra for improv is “Yes, And…”. Basically saying, “yes, and” implies agreement with the present and a willingness to add value to the situation, even though circumstances are unexpected. Voicing a “yes” to interruptions displays meekness towards God; But accepting the present moment’s interruption is only the first step; we must choose willingness to add value. Adding value seizes the God given opportunity for service.
- Yes! Accept the present moment; improvisation happens in the “now” not the future or the past.
- Yes God! Accept the interruption from God, pivot and starting listening for possibilities.
- And! Look for ways of adding value to others’ lives with what God entrusted to you.
- Add your resources. Proverbs 11:25 reminds us as we bless others we will be blessed at the same time.
- Add your experience. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 encourages us to comfort others as God comforted us.
- Add your strength. Romans 15:1 and Galatians 6:2 both encourage us in bearing one another’s burdens; strengthening one another.
Interruptions are an unavoidable part of each day, regardless of how well we plan. Embracing a fresh perspective on interruptions aids in our level of comfortability with the unexpected and teaches us new skills. Through an attitude of mindfulness, we recognize God and an opportunity for divine service as He sovereignly steps into our days.
Redeeming interruptions with improvisation offers us a unique way of responding wisely rather than reacting hastily. Viewing interruptions as opportunities does not mean you say yes to everything requested of you; it means instead of rejecting the interruption, you pivot, listen, and discover if a true opportunity exists. Staying mindfully present, holding your plans loosely, leaning in to listen, adding value, and aligning your heart with God’s will, enables you to navigate interruptions easily and thrive in the middle of the unexpected.