What is margin?
mar·gin – noun
1. the edge or border of something.
2. an amount by which a thing is won or falls short.
When I think of margin, I think of notebook paper. What purpose do the margins on the notebook paper serve? The margins serve as guides for placing our words. They give our eyes white space on which to rest. Can you imagine reading a notebook page where the words went from one edge of the paper to the other with no white space to be seen? I think I’d get a headache trying to read it.
Margin does the same for our life. It serves as a guide for our activity, for our busyness. It serves as a boundary so we have some place of rest for our souls.
In his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives Richard Swenson, M.D., has this to say about margin:
Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.
Does this sound familiar? It is all too common, and easy, to over schedule and overbook our lives. What happens when we don’t have enough, or any, margin in our life? We can find ourselves stressed, angry, depressed, and possibly even sick. It effects everything from our health, to our ability to work, to our relationships. We may even feel like Job.
“I don’t have any peace and quiet. I can’t find any rest. All I have is trouble.” – Job 3:26 (New International Reader’s Version)
We need margin! To quote Michael Hyatt, “Margin is not something that just happens. You have to fight for it.” So when we realize we need margin in our lives, how do we put it there? We are unique individuals created by God and as such, have unique needs, likes and dislikes. So that answer is going to be different for everyone.
Here are some suggestions for adding margin to your life, ways that I am currently working to add margin to my life. As unique individuals these are not one size fits all answers. If these don’t fit you, find what does.
- Create a quiet space to go to relax and spend time by yourself. This is an ideal place to spend time in the Word of God.
I created a sitting area in my bedroom by placing a cedar chest in the corner and adding an upcycled pad on top, some pillows which have special meaning to me and a soft, snuggly blanket. I added these comforts so that I am drawn to this space. If I had not added these little bits of comfort, I would not break away from all of my daily responsibilities and take the time to be there to relax, to find the margin so desperately needed.
- Set aside a specific time, daily if possible, to spend in your quiet space.
I make sure that my family knows my specific time and that I am not to be interrupted (unless it is an emergency, of course) and that the phone, dogs, etc. are their responsibility for the time I have set aside.
- Don’t let everyday situations keep you from spending your specific time there. Keep that “date” with yourself!
I touched on this one above when I shared how I made my space comfy so that I “want” to be there. If I “want” to be there, I am more likely to keep that “date” with myself.
- Set aside a time once a week to have a relaxing bath or do another activity that relaxes you.
For me, that time is when my boys go to Boy Scouts. I run a hot bath, put in some stress relieving sea salt mix, turn down the lights, turn on relaxing music and just sit and listen. My bath ends with rubbing on some coconut oil, putting on comfy pj’s and rejoining my family for much enjoyed family time.
- Spend time periodically doing something you enjoy, with friends who enjoy the same thing. For example, tonight is “craft night” with several ladies from church. Sometimes the kids are there and sometimes it’s just “girls night”. Either way it is something we place a priority on doing together and look forward to it once a month!
Maybe the most important thing is, write these things down. Put them on your schedule just like you would your gym workout, haircut or work. If you don’t schedule margin, you are likely to find that it slips away. Again, margin doesn’t just happen, it’s something you have to fight for.
You need margin in your life. When you’re not hurrying and worrying, you allow yourself time to relax, to think, to enjoy your life. You may find that you are able to live abundantly and boldly for your God! That sounds exceedingly better than the alternative! It is a process. A one day at a time, baby steps, intentional process. It is something that I am willing to fight for! Are you?
Do you have enough margin in your life? Do you need to add some? What things have you done, do you do (or plan to do) that add margin in your life? How important do you think it is to “schedule” activities that provide margin in your life?