7.29.2010

Would Jesus Answer His Phone in the Middle of a Meeting


This post at kottke.org caught my eye: "Phone Etiquette and the End of the Individual." I am decidedly on the side of the traditionalists, who find it rude to unilaterally interrupt one interaction (in-person) to participate in another interaction (by phone or text).

But in professional services, you can often find yourself in the middle of a quandry: you are with Client A but you get an urgent call from Client B, so which will you prioritize? Here I think it is still a matter of etiquette: I have promised Client A this time slot and intend to give them my full attention, no matter the consequences of not being able to respond as promptly to Client B.

This can be easier said than done: what if refusing that call from Client B causes them ruin, or causes them to drop you as a consultant? It takes a little bit of faith to stick to your guns and let that phone ring or let that text go, and to place more importance in the person you are interacting with in the flesh than on any other possible distraction that might come your way, no matter what the implications.

I cannot help but think of one of my wife's favorite stories about Jesus, which is his juggling of two people in need as told in the fifth chapter of the gospel according to Mark. I've blogged about this story before, so I'll try not to repeat myself, but Jesus is confronted with a dilemma not unlike the one I presented above, although with significantly more at stake: an important man's daughter is dying, while an outcasted woman seeks long-needed healing. And yet he puts the important man's request for help on hold while he tends deeply and thoroughly to the outcasted woman.

Waiting, in the form of listening to the full account of the outcasted woman instead of cutting her off and telling her He had another "client" to tend to, may have seemed to have been costly: by the time Jesus arrives at the important man's daughter's bedside, the daughter has died. One might imagine a modern-day version of this story involving multiple calls and texts to Jesus from the important man, each with increasing panic and fury, all ignored by Jesus as He devotes His full attention to hearing out the outcasted woman's whole story.

When they arrive at the important man's daughter's bedside and she has expired, it is not hard to imagine people wondering aloud why Jesus had to spend so much extra and seemingly unnecessary time with such an inconsequential woman. But, an incredible take-away from this intimate story is that for Jesus, not even death is unovercomeable. Jesus is able to bring the important man's daughter back to life. For Him, there is no choosing between two in need, for He is able to help both.

I am not suggesting that every multi-client dilemma is fraught with the same urgency as this Bible story. But I do think there is some applicability to how we ought to respond. If we are given fully to acts of service, we can wait and not worry, knowing there is time for it all to work out. The seeming efficiency of cutting short one encounter to make sure a second encounter can happen is trumped by the importance that is given to making sure that we can fully there for those who we are with in the flesh and in the moment. This is a hard lesson for me and an important one. Whether juggling clients or tending to more personal issues, would that I have the same faith and focus as Jesus did when responding to multiple needs at once.

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