Fighting for margin

So many of us think being busy is a virtue. We even attach our sense of self-worth to our level of activity. Or we use being busy as a reason to think of ourselves as martyrs.

I doubt you think extra highly of a particular person because of the fact that they’ve packed their schedule full. We don’t think, “Oh, he/she must be super important. Look how busy they are.” No, in many cases we think of it as justification to pack our own schedules: If all my friends are busy, then I guess that’s normal.

If being busy comes between you and God, it’s an idol. And above everything else—your job, your family, your friends—your relationship with God is what has the most eternal significance. The great thing is the less busy you are with things that don’t matter, the more time and energy you’ll be able to devote to things that do matter… like your family and friends. See how that works?

I couldn’t call you out if I weren’t also guilty. I have struggled with fighting for margin. And with a full-time job and a side gig, it’s difficult. Add in the time I need to devote to my wife and kids, and you can imagine this is a very real struggle for me. That’s why the fight for margin hits home.

What is “margin”?

Margin is that space between what we have to do and the absolute limit of what we can do. It’s literally the empty space between the end of the text and the edge of the page. It’s what we used to call the weekend or the Sunday afternoon relative to the rest of the week. And it’s not just time either: We can fill the margin of our minds with obsessive thoughts about what needs to be done or about how someone has made us feel. Sometimes I fill my mental margin by beating myself up over things I should or shouldn’t have said or done. (But that’s another blog post for another day…)

So what do I do?

There are lots of ways to create margin. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

The web is full of top-five, or top-ten techniques to increase margin so I won’t get into that here. But one big thing is to recognize when it’s disappearing, and fight to save it.  It’s hard to spot at first, but the busy-ness will sneak up on you. It’s not like you suddenly wake up one Saturday morning and someone hands you a list of 20 tasks that have to be complete by the end of the day. No, they’re added to your life little by little. One day, there’s a meeting for an organization you’re part of. The next, there’s an obligation you’ve made to your kids. Then there’s the event that you said you’d help out with. And of course, there’s your actual job. And on, and on…

Prioritize.

By listing all the demands of the week in order of priority you’ll end up with a few things at the bottom of that list that can be trimmed. You’ve probably heard this before, and but I’ll say it again: Learn to say no. It’s going to suck. You’re going to feel like you’re letting people down. And they may feel like you’ve let them down. But what you’re doing is establishing boundaries. And since those boundaries haven’t existed before, erecting them now will be painful. But such is the sacrifice of creating the space you need.

This involves prayer. (Surprise!) You may be struggling with something toward the end of that list, and need the wisdom to figure what to trim. Ask God to help you discern what to get rid of. Obviously, you can’t slice off your job or your family. But there’s got to be something occupying your time that you can unhook from your life, even if it’s temporary. How much TV do you watch? How much time and energy does social media consume? (Yeah, I said it! And like I mentioned above, I wouldn’t call anyone out if I weren’t also guilty.)

I’ll leave you with a quote from a poet named C.T. Studd:

Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

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