One of the most frustrating things about being a pastor are those moments when you teach about things that you struggle with the most. I actually believe that our most powerful teachings come from our most honest struggles, but it’s still no fun. I experienced this last week, when a small group gathered and we discussed the concept of margin.
I’m not sure if he coined the term or just illuminated it, but Richard Swenson’s book Margin is incredibly instructive. Margin is intentionally built-in empty space. There is margin on the pages of the books we read, for example. Empty white space encircles the typed words on the page. This makes the book more aesthetically pleasing and more readable. It also protects against losing some of the writing if a corner of the book is damaged.
Our lives need margin as well. Our days are often filled with activity and busyness from the time our eyes pop open until we close them again late that night for sleep. We live at our limits financially and relationally, eventually paying the price for it.
We need space that is not filled with a list of things to do or places to go. We need space to unwind and to think without the pressing need to be productive. Jesus, who was incredibly productive during this three years of public ministry, often withdrew by himself for time away. He would leave massive crowds who were gathered to hear him in order to be alone for a bit.
If Jesus needed margin, then we do as well. It’s impossible to be “on” all of the time. Spending all of the time, money, and energy we have isn’t living fully, it’s living dangerously. Not only does a built in “cushion” protect us, it often makes life more productive and enjoyable. Creating margin can be difficult, however, mostly because it often involves saying “no” to people we want to impress. It requires courage to set boundaries in your life, here are a couple of tips that may help:
Start Small. It’s unrealistic to think that you can open up an hour of your day everyday to be alone or 10% of your income to drop into savings right away. It’s almost impossible to go from no margin to large blocks of it. If we set unrealistic expectations, we become discouraged when we aren’t able to maintain or achieve them, and often quit altogether. So, start small.
Remember that “no” is relationally healthy. If there is someone in your life that you can’t say “no” to then that relationship isn’t healthy. Good relationships can handle hearing the word “no”. Saying “no” in the right ways sets boundaries in relationships that make them stronger and will improve you connection with others in the long run.
Start today. Remember that we all plan to do all sorts of great things one day. One day, however, rarely comes. So, start now, make a plan, and give it a go. Check back here for upcoming posts about how and where to create margin in your life!