A long time ago a gentleman, concerned about my well-being and workload, asked me if I had “margin” in my life. I remember kind of cocking my head to one side and saying, “No, not much”. However, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. I’d heard of margins on pieces of paper - Junior High English class came in handy for that. But I didn’t know precisely what he was getting at. As I look back now, I have a suspicion that he saw something in me I was unaware of then, but am now.
A few weeks ago I was rototilling my garden and I was thinking about the question the gentleman had asked me. With many, many years between that question and my current tilling, with a Sabbatical, Sabbath practice and lots of reading, my understanding of “margin” had changed. And just as my mind had wandered to English papers way back then, it went to the same place now. I thought, “Can you imagine someone writing a letter with no margins - with type crammed to the edge?” I laughed to myself as the tiller chugged away rattling my body.
After finishing my chore, I cleaned off and went inside the house as my wife had come home from work. Time with my wife is now of utmost importance to me. She’s my passion! It was so good to see her after her long day. Going to the mail, she’d received a letter and wanted me to see it. Handing me the folded page, I flipped up the flap and to my absolute shock I saw what I’d just imagined couldn’t be! I looked at my wife, then back to the page, then to my wife, then back to the page. I nearly got whiplash! “Is this a joke?” I said. The page was completely filled, edge to edge to edge to edge with type! There was maybe an 1/4 inch of margin on every side.
The letter was hard to read. In an effort to cram as much crammable words onto the page, the lack of margins actually became emotionally challenging. It was stressful to look at! And as I scanned this typographical nightmare, I thought about how this applied to my life. This, my friends, is how God often speaks to me.
To live with little to no margin has become the norm in our society, the pattern. Yes, many people achieve great and mighty things by pushing the margins of their lives to near extinction. They may even look impressive with their achievements. Yet there’s little room for things that decorate humanity like peace, love, relationships and revelation. Let me, for a moment, elaborate on that last one, revelation.
As we increase the margins of our lives, making hard choices as to what we will and what won’t include, a wonderful incubator space for spiritual and personal revelation opens up. We need, just as plants in a garden, sufficient room to grow and fruit. If every day is jammed with activity and scurry, if we have no room to stretch our souls in rest and reflection then our ability to understand the deeper things of God and the depths of our own souls will atrophy. Our sensitivity to divine and personal revelation diminishes. I’ve witnessed this in my own life and I see it in the lives of others.
Margins also help us to enjoy the moments that come. They bring peace to an otherwise important and often busy lifestyle. I use margins in books and letters to make notes and to mark important things I’ve read. The margins in our lives - those times of rest and peace, times of reflection and revelation - also allow us to mark and remember the beautiful moments. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And Jesus said, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Living without margins negates necessary time for examination. We end up making the same mistakes and causing the same relationship pains, again and again and again.
So, here are some questions that may help you to begin to formulate healthier margins in your life. Take some time to honestly reflect on each. And, after answering, you’ll have a list that will assist you in living the examined life and establishing healthy margins.
• What do I do just because others want me to?
• What do I do for acceptance rather than calling?
• What in my life isn’t supporting where God wants me to go?
• Do I have moments to breath easily each day?
• Do I have times each week for reflection, solitude, Sabbath and silence?
• Do I have times, seasonally, to enjoy a deeper appreciate for life, love and living?
• Am I loving those around me to the extent I’d like?
• Am I pleasantly available to people, able to be fully “present”?
• Am I living a life that focuses on what truly matters?
• Is my life so crammed that I'm hard to be with - like the letter that was so hard to read?
Be sure to purposefully create margins in your life. Daily, weekly and seasonally. Don’t fret what others may think or say. Creating margins, learning the art of saying “no” and setting boundaries is truly the harder work that all of us need to do.
*First posted June 10, 2016