Margins: Pushing Me Back From The Edges

Youth Specialties
April 13th, 2010

Remember being instructed to allow about an inch of space at the top, bottom and sides of a report or essay for school? I distinctly recall more than one teacher using the dreaded red pen to draw an arrow on the edge of my paper reminding me to leave more margin on my written work. As a student, I found it difficult to express my passion and conviction without writing a complete thesis paper—so I was in trouble if the teacher gave a two-page limit! Yours truly was always the last person to turn in an essay exam—and usually I ran out of room on the paper provided by the teacher. Whether or not the assignment was to be hand-written or typed, my finished product always looked like the words were trying to escape off the paper.

In recent years, I’ve realized that I live much of my life in a similar way to how I write; leaving little or no margin. I really noticed a change when I became a parent! All the energy that gets invested into guiding and protecting a child started to have an effect on other areas of my life. The first was language. For the record, I don’t usually utter profanities every other breath. But one day, another driver cut me off in traffic and suddenly a barrage of blistering words flooded my mouth, washed over my tongue, and pressed against my lips trying to find the light of day! My daughter was in the car, so I did have the sense to tone down the actual verbal assault that I mounted, but the original vocabulary was screaming in my head! I remember her asking me, “Mommy, who are you yelling at?”

I noticed other repeating patterns in my behavior like slamming doors to relieve frustration, tension straining my neck and temples, and a more frequent occurrence of my usually rare, but stinging temper. There were also were more headaches. I’ve had problems with migraines since adolescence, but the recent calmer waters of my life have caused me to wonder if some of those painful episodes could be blamed on more than just diet, weather, and hormones. Maybe I aided and abetted this ailment with some overload.

When I sought guidance from a trusted counselor friend about these issues, he nodded as if everything I said made perfect sense. Then he gently suggested that my whirlwind style of leading the student ministry combined with the new, wonderful stressor of being a parent might be using up all the margin in my life. He explained that people need margin, an emotional cushion at the edges of our lives to handle the unexpected problems and dilemmas that can quickly surprise us. If I allow my life to become too demanding in the expected places and don’t allow enough space to recharge my heart and mind, then there is nothing left to draw on when something goes wrong. And then things like self-control, endurance, and patience completely escape me.

Another consequence of my lack of margin was that I unintentionally dragged people I cared about into my overdrive gear. My husband couldn’t carve out enough time to train for a marathon because my ministry commitments overwhelmed our weekends one spring. My kids had to wait for those impromptu play times with me because I had too many emails to answer about an upcoming mission project. Often, it was my administrative assistant holding her open hand up in the “STOP” gesture when I blazed through the details of the five events scheduled across the next two weeks. It’s easy to not only use up the margin in my life, but also to infringe upon the margin in other’s lives too.

Maybe you are like me and thrive on lots of activity and are most organized when you have a lot to do. Maybe you are also like me in that sometimes the people around you don’t enjoy your beautiful chaos quite as much as you do. And when that schedule surprise jumps out at you, something inside of you snaps in two. I am still far from proficient at keeping a healthy margin of rest and renewal in my life. But, I am trying, with God’s help to leave a little room at the edges of each day. These are some questions I have learned to ask myself so that I can press on to that goal:

  1. Is this activity or endeavor necessary for my health and well-being, or for the health and well-being of someone I love?
  2. Am I contributing to this cause in a redemptive way, or am I looking for recognition?
  3. Can I do it wholeheartedly?
  4. Will God be glorified in this?
  5. Will I still have time to take care of others and myself?
  6. What will this cost the people I care about the most?
  7. Am I mistaking my energy and passion for a need to do more?

I am thankful that God has been gently, but intentionally, pushing me back from the edges of a life without enough margin. He helps me practice even in writing these thoughts to you. YS asked me to give them 500-1000 words. This one comes in at 903, as an encouragement for both of us to leave a little cushion at the top, bottom and sides of the days we’ve been given.

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.