We live in a culture of over-busyness; a culture that says that rest is for the weak. In this culture, it is easy to start equating staying busy with being productive. Have you ever heard yourself saying, “There are a million things I should be doing right now!”
Life is just busy. We have work, church, family obligations and the list goes on! Even the good things in our lives, if they get out of balance, can leave us feeling overwhelmed, tired and no longer full of joy.
When we’re not looking, our world will press in from every angle. If we don’t have a firm grasp on what our boundaries and priorities are, a vision for where we are headed, and a plan for staying on track, we will find ourselves tossed to and fro on the winds and waves of others’ priorities with no boundaries to protect our own.
All month long we have been talking about how to be intentional, so we can enjoy a life of purpose. Today, we will be focusing on one simple thing you can incorporate into your everyday to help you live a life of purpose, joy and balance–its called “margin”.
Normally, margin refers to the space on the edge of the page where there is no text. If there was no margin on the page, the words would be stretched to the very top and bottom and spill over the sides. But our lives need margin too. Without it, our lives can be like the page–stretched to the edges of our time, money and energy. Most of us find ourselves so busy that we don’t have any margin or space for rest and leisure, family and friends, time with God, or taking care of our health.
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book called Margin, helps explain what having margin and not having margin looks like:
“The conditions of modern-day living devour margin… Marginless is being 30 minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late out of the hairdresser’s because you were ten minutes late dropping the children off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station–and you forgot your purse.
Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.
Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift; margin is a friend to carry half the burden.
Marginless is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.”
Creating margin and times of rest, allows us to live into our purposes and live the good life God intended for us. When we have margin in our days, we have the time, energy and resources to not only take care of our needs, but to build relationships with others, serve our community and give generously. It is hard to live into the purposes God has for us when we are burnt out, with no time or energy to take care of ourselves and be intentional with how we spend our days.
Even Jesus, who was God in flesh, intentionally set an example of creating margin. We see in this passage of the book of Matthew how even with the many demands and difficulties Jesus faced, he was able to stay focused on his purpose because of his times of rest and margin.
[King Herod had] John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered. ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” – Matthew 14:10-23
Life was pressing in around Jesus as news of His many works spread. The demands on him were constant and it must have been hard to not feel overwhelmed and spread thin. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the one who foretold his coming, had just been beheaded. I imagine this news was devastating to Jesus. He tried to withdraw to a solitary place, but the crowds followed him. Even in the wake of his grief, people continued to press in wanting and needing more from Him.
Our culture is the same way–others will continue to press in wanting more from us, oblivious to what our needs are or what we might be going through. It is up to us to create boundaries of margin so that we can live out our purpose and be restored daily.
Because Jesus was in the practice of talking and being in relationship with God, even when a time of difficulty came, he had the strength in the Lord to keep ministering to others. He was able to miraculously feed a crowd of over 5,000 people, pointing people toward God and continuing His ministry. And when all was said and done, he took time to recharge. All this service and ministry was anchored by the times Jesus withdrew to lonely places, to pray and reconnect with God, the source of all strength, power and peace.
Just like Jesus needed margin, we do too. But sometimes we feel guilty about having margin. We believe the lie that “there is too much to do–I cannot rest.” But there will always be more laundry, more meetings, more work to be done. When you allow yourself to rest by creating margin, you are actually helping yourself be a better wife, mother, friend, or co-worker because you have time and energy to spare for those around you. Not to mention, maybe a better attitude and outlook on life!
So what does margin look like in everyday life? It may start with learning how to say no with grace to things that you really don’t want to do or don’t line up with your top priorities.
Then start by planning ahead your months, weeks and days. Planning ahead will help you know what is coming up and think through what you need for that day to go smoothly. Margin is knowing you will need to leave a little early to get gas before you go to work, or that you need to work ahead on a project because you will not have time later in the week.
As you are planning ahead, intentionally block off time for rest and space in your calendar. Treat that time as important as a work meeting–it is non-negotiable. You might be inclined to see the blank space on your calendar as a luxury instead of a necessity. But if you don’t prioritize margin as non-negotiable, when the phone rings and someone is asking you to do something that would eliminate that dedicated time for rest, you may give it up too easily. It is easy to think, “just this once”, but those times can add up. Without boundaries and protection for our times of margin, those precious blank spaces on the calendar will quickly disappear.
You may find it helpful to keep a list of your priorities, values and vision for where God is leading you in the front of your calendar as a guide for you as you decide what to add and what to say no to. This will remind you of your bigger purpose and give you hope for the days ahead.
Being intentional and creating margin in our days will take lots of prayer and practice, but it will be well worth it! As you implement margin into your life, you will begin to see the fruit of having times of rest and space so that you can experience a more joy-filled, abundant life.
To hear more strategies and practical tips for creating margin, check out our Experience Revival podcast, season 1, episode 10 on this topic, called “Creating Margin” with hosts Summer Shore, Kara Deal, and Melissa Campbell.