Graciously Interruptible – Creating Margin When Life is Busy

“Many of us, myself, included, considered our souls necessary collateral damage to get done the things we felt we simply had to get done – because of other people’s expectations, because we want to be known as highly capable, because we’re trying to outrun an inner emptiness. And for a while we don’t even realize the compromise we’ve made. We’re on autopilot, chugging through the day on fear and caffeine, checking things off the list, falling into bed without even a real thought or feeling or connection all day long, just a sense of having made it through.” ― Shauna Niequist


Margin and balance are concepts I’ve been trying desperately to understand lately. Mainly, because these two things have been non-existent in my life for the past several months. Between raising an 18-month old, pursuing a career, trying to finish my master’s degree, maintaining our home life, and growing a tiny human, I’ve simply taken on more than I can handle and it’s taken a toll on my health, relationships and spiritual life.


While I’m fully aware that I should start saying “No” to some things, when I evaluate my commitments, review my schedule, and submit these things to the Lord, most of the time, I’m honestly still confused. Life is not black and white. None of the things I’m doing are obviously “bad” and the “best yes” is rarely clear.


Sometimes I think, Margin and Balance are the rainbow unicorn of a working mom’s life— beautiful concept, but far from reality.


In his book Margin, Richard Swenson, defines this magical concept of margin as, “the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”


Sounds nice, right? But how do I catch this magical creature? Once I find margin, how do I maintain it?


I don’t think I’m the only one to struggle with this concept. Working mom or not, so many of my friends are asking these questions too. In today’s connected world, where lines between work and personal life are blurred and busyness and achievement seem to determine our worth, finding “balance” has become a priority for all of us. Between balancing our time and energy across our careers, family, social life, health/fitness, side-hustle(s), and even our faith, let’s just say the juggle is REAL.  Not only are we busy, we are consistently fed curated social media messages that subconsciously remind us of what our lives “should” look like. I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I’m not measuring up and failing in a hundred different ways.


I don’t think God desires us to be constantly using words like “stressful,” “all over the place,” or “so busy” to describe our days.


A mentor of mine once told me that, Jesus was always on mission but never in a hurry. I think if we had the chance to spend one week following Jesus while He was on earth, we would describe our week with words like purposeful, peaceful, and prayerful. I bet the week would still be exhausting as it would require giving of yourself as you followed Christ to new towns to bring a controversial message of hope to help those in need. I bet those of us who are used to schedules and value “productivity” (or busyness) might even feel a bit frustrated that week. It would likely feel uncertain and aimless at times as you waited on Jesus to direct the next steps or pause to serve someone in an unexpected way. But I bet there would be margin.


Think about how the disciples must have felt the day a well-known leader named Jairus came to them pleading for Jesus to save his dying daughter. (Take a minute to read Luke 8:40-55 if you are unfamiliar.) The need was absolutely urgent and, likely, Jairus was panicked. This was his only daughter and Jesus was his only hope. Yet, just as Jesus began to make his way to where the little girl lay, He pauses.


He stops to address a need unnoticed by the thousands crowded around him. He turns to show compassion to another woman desperate for healing. Not only does he heal her, which he could have easily done without even stopping, he pauses to see her, to let her know she is known and loved. I believe this is significant.


In reading this passage it is clear the disciples are irritated with Jesus. “Why are you stopping to ask dumb questions? We have places to be!” they seem to be thinking. Yet, Jesus did not have the limited view of God’s power that we often do. He knew Jairus’ daughter would be healed. He was present enough – even on the way to a crisis situation – to notice and address the vital need right in front of him. Jesus was graciously interruptible.


Admittedly, my life often looks radically different. Rather than being graciously interruptible, I’m often irritably hurried. Because I lack margin, I simply do not have time to pause, to notice, to serve. I love others well, but only if it fits into my calendar.


Ask me to sign up to bring a new mom dinner via Meal Train three weeks in advance? No problem! Ask me to give money I’ve already to set aside to a friend leaving on a mission trip? Easy! But what happens when the haggard woman in front of me in the Target checkout lane is wrestling with a crying toddler and struggling to pay for her groceries? I’ll probably just move over and buzz through the self-checkout line so I can make my next appointment.


It’s painful to admit. Most of the time, I probably don’t even notice the opportunities to love others in the moment or to behold the beauty of God’s everyday graces. I’ve built a life that renders gracious interruptions nearly impossible. I’d like for that to change.



Three small ways I’m trying to create space for interruptions:


1. Plan at 80%, not 100%. 

Sometimes this means I need to bump 3-4 “to-do’s” to tomorrow. Rather than challenging myself to hit the grocery store, Target andthe dry cleaners during my lunch break, I pick one and allow myself margin to be present on my errands even while I’m being productive. When it comes to scheduling my days or choosing what to say “yes” to, I am trying to allow 20% of the white space on my calendar to remain. This takes constant work and re-evaluation. I’ve learned margin follows the law of entropy – if it is not carefully maintained, it returns to a state of chaos (or nonexistence in my case.)

2. Quit capacity comparison. 

I used to measure success by looking at the women around me who seem to be managing so much more. I would think, “If she can do XYZ, and she has 4 kids, then surely I should be able to make time for it!” The truth is, we all have different capacities (physical, emotional, spiritual, time, financial). It’s simply not helpful to determine my “should dos” by what someone else is doing.

3. Seek integration rather than balance.

I’m not sure we ever find perfect balance when our needs and the needs of those around us ebb and flow continuously.  Instead of aiming for an ideal schedule or work-life balance, I’ve been trying to figure out how to allow my core values to integrate and enrich every sphere of my life.

The word “priority” originated in the singularform and technically refers to “the ONE thing a person or group values above all others.” Yet, so often I think in term of multiple priorities, which is completely contradictory.

I’ve realized that when I attempt to focus my life by balancing priorities, rather basing my decisions based around one main priority, I set myself up for failure. Allocating the exact right proportion of time and energy to each priority category (e.g. family, career, church, school, etc.) is nearly an impossible task. I have a hunch that live lived with onepriority (following God) yields a life of integrated balance like the one Jesus’ exemplified.


Graciously interruptible—that’s the kind of wife, mama, friend, and co-worker I desire to be and that starts by prioritizing the One who gives us grace.


I’d love to know. How you are creating and protecting margin in your life? In what ways are you making room for holy interruptions?