I did not want to quit. I was holding onto my “dream job” with clenched fists, but I could sense the voice of the Holy Spirit prompting me to let go. Still, I ignored that voice for two years as I balanced work outside the home with the needs of our small family.
In the summer of 2015, before I was married, I was offered my dream position as a high school library media specialist. It was a perfect fit. Over the next six years, however, what began as a full-time position shrank, by my own request, to a part-time position. After I was married and our son was born, I felt a need and a desire to be home, but I also needed and desired to continue working. I asked for part-time hours to try to balance these desires. I was trying to have the best of both worlds, and I had the best of neither. In the end, I was doing the same amount of work in two days that previously I had done in five.
At work, I was in constant motion, barely pausing to eat lunch. In winnowing down my availability for work outside the home, I eliminated the extra time that had allowed me to be creative in my job. I now lacked the time to brainstorm improvements, let alone the time to implement changes. I was efficient, but I was losing my effectiveness.
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The same went for time at home. When I was not distracted by thoughts about work, I was struggling to implement any sort of schedule as our routine flip-flopped from one day to the next. I knew that something had to change. I had three options: return to a full-time work schedule, reduce my workload to properly fit a part-time schedule, or resign.
Then last May, I happened across a reference to the article, “Efficiency is the Enemy” on Leila Lawler’s blog, “Like Mother Like Daughter.” In this article, slack is defined as “excess capacity allowing for responsiveness and flexibility.” In her reference, Lawler suggests that the idea of slack is especially relevant to women, writing that women “require a lot of unschedule[d] time, precisely so that we can meet the unpredictability of life with children serenely and effectively.” I wanted my work and my motherhood to be characterized by serenity and effectiveness instead of frantic efficiency.
The time came for me to make a choice, and I resigned from my position, listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit asking me to trust that letting go of my work outside the home would not end in regret. So, when I began composing our new schedule, I intentionally left plenty of slack.
As the year has progressed, I have had to work to preserve that slack in our schedule. There have been a number of opportunities and projects that have popped up vying for my attention, but each time, I have had to judge whether or not it would infringe on the flexibility I have come to value. I am aware that even writing this piece, if I spend the wrong moment on it, could begin to erode the slack in our schedule.
This commitment to slack has allowed me to better meet the needs of our immediate family, but also to meet the needs of the people around us. I have been able to say “Yes!” to babysit for friends or family members at a moment’s notice, to prepare meals for families who have recently welcomed a new baby, and to be present for one of my life’s most privileged moments.
In late February, my grandmother was transferred to the nursing facility across the street from my parents’ house. My parents were overwhelmed by her care, running the family business, and attending to my siblings that are still at home. Living in a different state, I checked in with my mom frequently over the phone.
“Mom, if you need my help, tell me, and I’ll come.” Without a pause she replied, “I need you to come.” So I did. Because I had listened to the call to focus on my work in the home and committed to leaving slack in my schedule, I was able to help. Of course, there were things on our calendar that my husband and I had to cancel, but we had the flexibility to do so.
During the week that followed, I was able to fill in where I was needed by planning and preparing meals, keeping track of everyone’s schedules, visiting my grandmother, and, finally, praying beside my grandmother as she took her final breath. On that last day, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I had listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and made space for one of life’s most profound moments.
Making room for slack in my schedule has made time for flexibility, availability and creativity. I came across that blog post and article at the most opportune time. I needed an extra push to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit asking me to let go of what I thought was a perfect fit for something better. For me, focusing on work inside the home and leaving room to be available to people outside my home has been a great gift. I realize resigning from paid work is not the solution for everyone, but it was the right decision for me. I encourage you to consider how you might build slack into your own schedule. You never know what gifts will fill the time you have intentionally left open.