Margin for error :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Margin for error

Jenny Uebbing

This morning my babysitter texted me at 7:43 am "I woke up with a sore throat but I feel fine, still want me to come?"

My heart raced as my fingers flew over the keypad, tapping out a rapid fire yes yes YES, come if you can, unless you'd feel better curled up in bed. I'll extract an oath of angelic obedience from the kiddos, and here's a bag of homeopathic cough drops if you find yourself hoarse.

She came, they behaved, and I fled the house for a few hours of solitude in a coffee shop where I wrote nothing but emails and accomplished very little in the grand scheme of things.

I did, however, come to the realization that I've overcommitted myself in almost every area of my life, and that I'm so relived that lent is upon us.

I have no margin in my day-to-day right now. I can feel it in the frantic, rising panic that sets in if the kids wake up 20 minutes too soon for the day, if the library's children's section is under construction  and I've lugged all three kids into the building though the snowy parking lot for naught, if dinner burns, if somebody falls and something starts bleeding.

There's no room for any of these inevitabilities which are, after all, no more than the reality of life with small children. Each of them feel, by turns, like emergencies. None of them actually are. (Well, the library situation was acutely felt by my 4-year-old, but he was placated by a lone rolling cart stocked with wooden puzzles. Because we go to the library for the toys.)

I can't sustain this level of intensity. I nearly wept on the phone with a dear friend this afternoon, my voice rising as I explained all the things I'd said yes to and all the reasons why, and how very necessary each item seemed, in isolation, but how the larger list was crushing me.

Sometimes I think I wrap my motherhood in layers and layers of busyness and "important external commitments" so that I won't have to look to closely at my performance in my primary occupation.

I'm not so sure I want to see the results of that evaluation. Not at this particular moment in my mothering career, at least.

It's very, very tempting for me to rationalize away the frantic pace of life right now because the kids are little, they won't remember much, we're getting out of debt/getting established in our careers/treading water as babies keep getting tossed our direction...but every one of those excuses falls flat when I test it aloud.

The truth is, my days aren't all that full. There are a handful of commitments each week set in stone, and some daily metrics I need to hit, but for the most part, I'm the thing keeping me from fitting it all in.

And that's because I have largely failed to identify what "it" is, exactly.

Even though I read and immediately implemented (and gushed obnoxiously about) "A Mother's Rule of Life," truth be told, I haven't found my daily rhythm, and I've yet to set and follow a schedule for more than a week at a time. Because the stomach flu. Morning sickness. Nightmares and wet sheets and cars that need a trip to the shop and, well, life.

If the stars don't align and I don't log 8 hours of sleep, I pretty much throw my hands up and let my day happen to me rather than moving through it intentionally and with purpose.

And that means there's just no room for anything to go wrong, because there isn't all that much going right to begin with.

I don't wake up before my kids, unless the current resident-on-board forces me into the bathroom in the semi dark morning hours. We don't really have a morning routine, unless the blessed babysitter comes and then, well, I flee the premises. But not before stuffing 3 loads of laundry into the machine, setting the crockpot, and frantically washing all the mirrors in all the rooms and ... you get the idea.

So lent. It's here. I'm here, in this place of utter chaos, and along comes this liturgical season, practically begging me to fall to my knees and don a sackcloth and get my priorities in order. And I know that the one thing I can do that could make this all better is to set, and follow through on, a daily prayer time.

And yet it's the first thing to give when the day starts out on the wrong foot, when there's someone literally getting up on the wrong side of my bed and waving a used Pull Up under my nose, demanding inspection. And it's the last thing I want to do when I retreat onto the couch at nap time, or in the evening after the dishes are done and the lights are dimmed. There's always something more apparently productive I could be doing, something more leisurely, something more concrete.

Meanwhile, time marches on, life speeds by, and I collapse at the end of the day, stunned by the ferocity of its demands and the unchangingness of my competency level. Shouldn't I be better at this by now?

I think I would be, if I weren't constantly trying to do it all under my own power. And I don't just mean better at motherhood, but at life.

I think I'd be better at life if I made more intentional room for Him, if I had continual recourse to His plans for the day and not my own.

I mean, I know this is true. But closing the computer, declining the invitation, turning down the project, turning off my phone...those are all the thousand little places I struggle, frittering away my days and my weeks until the quarterly meltdown, the back-up-against-the-wall why-do-we-do-so-much conversations, either with my husband or my best friend. And then a deep breath and a foolhardy dive back into the madness, none the wiser or more peaceful.


Can this lent be different? Can I leave some margin in these 40 days, opening up my calendar to His discriminating gaze, and asking not "Can I?" or "Am I able?" but "Should I?" and "Is this what You want for us?"

I'm going to try, anyway.

Topics: lent , Motherhood , Prayer

Jenny Uebbing is the content director of our marriage and family life channel, where her blog Mama Needs Coffee will be permanently hosted. She lives in Denver, CO with her family, where she writes and speaks on Church teachings on marriage, contraception, NFP and bioethics.

View all articles by Jenny Uebbing

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