How much margin do you have in your life?
I am talking about in all areas of your life. Finances. Total Schedule. Work. Family Time. I am convinced one reason churches are in decline, families are crumbling, anxiety and depression are on the rise, is the lack of margin in life. We need more margin. When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability. We are less likely to give generously with our time and money. Kevin Deyoung notes in his work Crazy Busy, “When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is to not let our spiritual lives slip away.”
There is actually nothing uniquely Christian about the idea itself. However, there is something very un-Christian about ignoring it. “Margin,” Richard Swenson says, “is the space between our load and our limits.” Planning for margin means planning for the unplannable. It means we understand what’s possible for us as finite creatures and then we schedule for less than that.
Now, creating margin in your life is not easy. Creating margin takes discipline and time (that apparently none of us have). Because creating margin is not convenient or valued, we overextend ourselves. I say “we” because I do it too. Here’s what made me aware of the lack of margin in our lives.
I had a conversation with a pastor about the best ways to communicate with the congregation. He suggested video because no one takes time to actually read anything anymore. I am amazed by this phenomenon too. We all claim we do not have the time to read, yet reading is one of the best ways to stimulate imagination and provide stress relief. I want to address the time issue for a second. In reality, we do have time to read. For example, should you choose to read your Bible, here is where you might find the time according to Donald Whitney:
Perhaps one of the main reasons Christians never read through the entire Bible is discouragement. Many people have never read a thousand-page book before and get discouraged at the sheer length of the Bible. Do you realize that recorded readings of the Bible have proven that you can read through the entire Book in seventy-one hours? That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. Only five minutes a day takes you through the Bible in less than three years. And yet the majority of Christians never read God’s Word all the way through in a lifetime of decades. So we’re back to the idea that it’s primarily a matter of discipline and motivation. – Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
That’s just TV. Throw in the 5-10 minutes of scrolling you do 5-6 times a day on your smartphone, you potentially have some time. Now, if you are like me, some of that scrolling comes while you are “on the go.” So, I will stick to the blocked aspects of your calendar. Give yourself some grace and create some margin.
The secular world is noticing the lingering lack of margin too. The other encounter, which made me aware of how pervasive our lack of margin is, came through the Global Leadership Summitt 2017 where Juliet Funt devoted a whole talk to the pause. She has a whole business devoted to people creating small windows of margin in their schedule, which actually helps them be more productive and live a more fulfilled life. Juliet’s company is called Whitespace at Work and provided tons of research for the benefits of margin.
Their website puts it this way: ” Work has become relentless. Most professional teams feel they could be ‘on’ 24 hours a day and never complete their task lists. They never disconnect. They’re frequently exhausted. Adding to the pain, employees often are held hostage to their overwhelming inboxes, pointless meetings, and a thousand forms of wasted effort.”
The whole company is devoted to making you put margin in your schedule at work, even if it is five minutes in between meetings to mentally refresh. It does not stop there. Juliet realizes the pause needs to happen at home as well. The frantic movement from event to event is cultivating poor habits in our kids.
You may be someone who agrees that the need for margin is important but never seems to get there. Why? Two reasons. Because we are unwilling to find the time and do the discipline of doing it ourselves. We do not want to make hard choices for fear of others. Frankly, if someone else does it for us, we can always opt out or blame them. If we make the choice to put margin into our schedules, then we have to own that choice. Meaning, we have to prioritize. The fear of missing out or fear of another’s opinion of our choices paralyze us into nothingness.
Second, we do not want to face the sobering reality of how much time we waste each day. To avoid the guilt we simply chalk everything up to the ethereal, “I’m just busy.” When we waste time we are not being good stewards of the time God has given us. We may even know this, but do not want to repent of our sinful behavior. To have margin is not waste. God gave us a Sabbath because He knows we need to refresh and refocus. A Sabbath is an example of margin.
Let me ask you: If you pulled out your calendar, how much white space do you see? Is there time to pause, read, think, dream a little? Is there time to just be together as a family?
Some of you reading that question immediately throw up objections. It’s not possible! It’s unproductive! Some of you may even go, tons! You do not use your calendar at all, yet you are so busy.
Because this is not natural. You may actually have to schedule margin by putting time blocks on your calendar called margin. A lack of margin may cause you to miss opportunities to give, to receive blessings, to refresh. Margin does not only help us be more productive and have a more fulfilling day. Margin allows us to meditate and refocus on God. We do not have to prove ourselves to Him. We do not have to fear others. We do not have to control every situation.
Margin enables us to rest in God’s goodness, His glory, and His grace.
D. L. Moody put it, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”
How do we do it? Sit down. Pray. Make a choice. Create margin.