Taking Root is a series of meditations I’m writing and editing for Central Vineyard Church during the season of Lent. You can download the podcast version of each post by subscribing to my church’s podcast or visiting the podcast blog for each day of the series.
By Rob Hartman of Central Vineyard
I had my share of paper-writing assignments in high school. Typically, there would be a page limit or range. There was the 1 page paper (No problem), the 3-5 pager (Ugh), and the dreaded 10-pager (Yikes!).
Students at a particular loss for words sometimes employed ridiculously wide margins (Voila! eight pages become ten.), while the more verbose extended our margins outward until we’d gobbled up all the white space (Presto! Twelve pages become ten). Eventually, our instructors caught on and started specifying mandatory margin sizes. You can’t blame a kid for trying.
In our adult lives, we find ourselves negotiating margins of another kind. The paper is our lives. The ink represents our activities and obligations, and the margins are those periods of rest and refreshment. All of us need some margins in our lives. But, like my classmates, we differ in just how wide we want or need them to be. The challenge is to understand our own ideal margins and to then invite God to help us grow toward achieving that balance.
“Just Stop It”
It’s no secret that many of us live hectic, over-committed lives. In fact, it’s become something of a cliche.
- We sit in traffic, honking and being honked at as our blood pressure spikes.
- We bring work home with us or trudge back to the office after hours.
- We spend our elusive weekend “downtime” doing errands, meeting up with friends, or serving in ministry.
Although some of this busyness is unavoidable, we also have a way seeking it out. We’re easily seduced into believing that a full life is one filled with non-stop activity. With this mentality as our default, the idea of widening our margins may seem boring or constraining. Can you imagine Nike rolling out a “Just Stop It” ad campaign?
Given our culture’s emphasis on freedom, achievement, and engagement, it’s important to be clear then that margins aren’t about arbitrary limits or constraints. Rather, margins are about rest, renewal, and freedom from the tyranny of busyness. Establishing margins means embracing the restful rhythm of the Sabbath (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11).
A Sabbath Sweet Spot
To say that most of us need a bit more margin does not mean one size fits all. Some people truly thrive on stimulation, socialization, or pressure. Others find that a few activity-packed weeks are enough to bring on panic attacks. What about you? Where is your sweet spot where the ink and the margin are in healthy balance?
This notion of a sweet spot isn’t just about the width of your margins; it’s also about what gives you life within those margins. Margins aren’t about “vegging out.” It’s about making time and space for life-giving activities that engage our minds, bodies, or both. It might be something outdoors or indoors. This, too, is shaped by your temperament: what gives you rest may cause tension for another person and vice versa.
Margins and Seasons
The two metaphors of margins and seasons-of-life can collide in interesting ways. Many of us will go to college, get married, have children, watch our children leave the nest, retire, and so on. Each of these events ushers in a new season of life. Not all of us will experience all of them, and those of us who do won’t necessarily do them all in the same order.
As our life seasons present unique opportunities and challenges, we’re likely to find our margins expanding and contracting accordingly. Parents of young families often find their margins stretched very thin, juggling work and family on only a few hours of sleep. In contrast, new empty-nesters typically find themselves adjusting to wider margins, sometimes wondering just what to do with themselves.
This is not to say that your life season will always dictate your margins, but the impact is undeniable. Understanding your season of life can provide insight into how and why your margins have changed.
We all need margins. They keep our lives from spilling over into a jumble of unintelligible chaos.
Think about work, school, church, play, and the social dimensions of your life. When have you felt stressed? Bored? When have you felt most “on” and joyfully engaged? Take a sheet of paper and draw one inch margins. Write every restful activity in the margins and every item on your “to do” list or work list in the center. What does this tell you about your need for margins?
As you pray today, is God calling you to accept thinner margins so that you can pursue a ministry or activity that will bring Him glory? Is God telling you to widen your margins so that you can experience a period of greater relaxation and refreshment?