As I write this I am fully aware that most all who read it are well-versed in the concept of Margin in life. You’ve read articles and books, you’ve been to seminars and had conversations around it. So, what follows will likely not be news. What I hope and pray is that it is a reminder and a challenge to revisit, to re-enter, to help, as we wrestle with the constant, daily struggle to keep margin in our lives. Like the short conversation I had yesterday with a lawyer friend as she reflected that balance in life seems like a myth, or at least a fleeting thing, like a see-saw – we tend to swing back and forth across the balance point, experiencing balance only for fleeting moments.
So what is the role of margin in this balancing act? Margin is defined as the edge or border of something. The amount of something included so as to be sure of success or safety. The space between load and limit.
That last one is most helpful to me because it highlights the reality that we do indeed have limits. We are not in fact superheroes or limitless – despite the current of advertisements that offer to get us closer to that.
How did we get to the place where “busy” is the new “fine”, worn like a badge of honor and somehow proving our importance, where more is always better?
It happens slowly, gradually in us – like the frog in the kettle, it’s a slow boil.
So how do we know when we are about to boil to death since there are no dashboard lights or Apple watch notifications for it (yet)?
We have a remarkable ability to adapt and survive, to create a new, busier normal?
But this new normal takes a T.O.L.L.
T – We put Tasks over relationships. We neglect the important people in our lives – which are the most valuable, healthy and helpful for us and our well-being and thriving. We neglect our relationship with God. We are just “too busy” (which is the antithesis of one great saint who talked about being “too busy not to pray”). We neglect self-care – sleep, exercise, healthy diet, etc.
O – We Over-extend ourselves and reap the accompanying fruit. This “time famine” as one Yale study describes produces stress, anxiety, and depression which can have the same health effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! We are chronically late and we are prone to self-medicate, be it drugs, alcohol, porn, food, media, exercise…
L – We experience a Loss of Joy. The life is drained out of what normally gives us life.
L – We Live in Frustration which makes us prone to lose control of our emotions more easily.
But how do we fight the gravitational pull to fill every minute, to add more, do more, be more – which are really our unconscious belief in the lie that these will make us MATTER more?
I think it is a two-partner dance of internal and external, of belief/heart and action – and heart needs to lead. It’s believing rightly about who we are and who we are not, knowing we have limits, that we are wonderfully human and we need margin. And it is taking practical steps that reflect, encourage and help us live that truth. Believing rightly helps us act rightly, acting rightly helps us believe rightly.
But know this, margin will not just happen, it must be made!
And if we’re honest, creating margin can feel risky, scary and even professionally dangerous. Here is the hard question, “How can I live and be present in this “busy” culture without being overwhelmed or without being left behind?”
As you wrestle to answer that question, I want to remind you of a few truths:
Margin gives you room to move and breathe and flex, so when the unexpected unanticipated interruptions happen, we are not pushed past our limits.
Creating and keeping margin in your life will give you more space to wrestle well with the challenges unique to your life.
That same Yale study mentioned before also spoke of the significant positive health effects of “time affluence” – a.k.a. margin.
Creating margin can feel selfish (it will likely mean saying no to a lot of things and people) but I would suggest that it is actually one of the most selfless and other-centered choices you can make because it’s fruit will affect everyone you touch.
I love this quote by Herman Melville from Moby Dick, “To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet from idleness, and not from toil.”
May God grant you the gift of more margin, more divine idleness.
Could we be among the small group of people that, as David Brooks says, “ find a better way to live and then the rest of us copy them.”
Here is a brief list of some very practical wisdom, some actions that might help you create margin. Pick one or two. Fill in your own.
Schedule more space between appointments.
Daily: recharge, sharpen the saw, don’t fill every minute of schedule
Minimize time-wasters — social media, tv, unimportant and unnecessary activities
Vacation – up-plugged!
Retreat – regularly. Alone or with a few others.
Practice Sabbath! (see TheAbbey app for more on this)
Read: novels, poetry.
Hobby – something that gives you life.
Accountability – for encouragement, perspective, the companionship of others
Minimize and declutter (your stuff and your schedule and even your choices)