I’m a big fan of building margin into my life. That’s why it’s kind of funny that I don’t have any right now.
Steve and I both are firm believers in eliminating needless stress. It must come naturally to Steve, who is always on time and never deviates from his schedule. He has an uncanny knack, even in a city he’s never visited before, to arrive at his destination to-the-minute on time. And that’s without the help of GPS.
For me, it’s not natural. When I write on a piece of paper, I fill it from edge to edge. There is no breathing room whatsoever. Maybe it’s my frugality, but I make sure not to waste an inch of paper. And when something comes along that sounds interesting, I add it to my life – without taking anything out. That’s especially a problem for someone like me who’s interested in so many things.
But I’ve learned the necessity of building margin (although I still write notes the same old way). As a student, I found that if I kept up with my work, I avoided the last-minute panic. In my traveling days in Eastern Europe, the Mini-Busz scheduled my pick-up time to be well before my flight. I’d settle comfortably at my gate, get a cup of coffee and leisurely read a book. At the last possible minute to board, I’d see my boss running, red-faced, papers flying, coffee sloshing. That’s when I determined that I’d do whatever I could to not put myself through that kind of pressure.
Much of the stress in life is completely out of our control. I’m not talking about that. Rather, if we build space around the edges of our daily life, we’ll have some resources left over to deal with extra things that come along. Years ago, I read the book “Margin” by Richard Swenson, and I still remember many of his points. Sticking to a budget helps ensure there’s money saved for emergency. Not cramming schedules to the brim means you can talk with (and bless) the person whose path crosses yours unexpectedly. Exercising and eating healthfully gives you back energy to spare.
Margin is the opposite of overload. I think of a washing machine overloaded with too many clothes stuffed in. It doesn’t work; the clothes don’t quite get clean. Margin gives time. We need time to relax. To enjoy life. To breathe. Time for people. For thinking. We crave unhurried, set-apart time.
If we’re too busy for those less-urgent but more-important things, we’re just too busy. Something has to go.
“Be still and know that I am God.” One version says, “Cease striving.” ( Psalm 46:10).
So, back to my own lack of margin? I tell myself it’s just for a season, and now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m motivated to keep going. Until I finish my Master’s degree (and I’m halfway there!), my life will be more overloaded than it should be. It’s a short-term insanity with a very specific goal in view. One week from today, after I’ve turned in my 25-page annotated research paper, I’ll feel a lot lighter (that is, until the next summer term class begins the very next day). It is funny that in the month of June, simultaneously while I’ve agonized and slaved over this paper, I’ve had a speaking engagement, an article due for my local paper, and two massive (and ongoing) projects at work. More than usual pressing in on me.
However, June would have been a little easier if I’d started on my research paper much earlier. Maybe someday I’ll learn.