Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect

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Making Room for Margin


Turning the ski boat at the end of the lake, my son gripped the steering wheel and glanced in the rearview mirror. It was his first time towing someone behind the boat. My husband coached him, giving pointers from the observers’ seat, “Remember when you turn you have to keep the rope length in mind. Leave plenty of space between the rider and the shore.” My son nodded that he understood as my husband continued, “You don’t want to launch someone you’re pulling into the bushes or have them hitting the shallow banks of the lake.”

As I sat in the boat watching and listening, I realized it was the perfect illustration for a concept I’ve been mulling over for weeks: the importance of leaving margin in our lives. At the lake, it was the buffer zone between the person being towed and the shore. On a sheet of paper, it’s the white space you leave blank on the edges of a page. In life, it’s the buffer time you maintain to rest and regroup instead of frantically running from one activity to the next.

This topic has come to the forefront of my mind in the past month as I’ve learned to function with the limitations of having a broken right arm. No matter how frustrating it is, I can’t operate at my usual pace.  It’s a busy time of year and I’ve never been very good at making room for margin, but I have no choice.   I can’t jump in and out of the car and power out all of my errands in an hour. Just opening the car door, turning on the engine and buckling my seatbelt with one hand take a ridiculous amount of time.  Instead of squeezing extra things into my schedule, I’m learning to decide what to save for later, or not to do at all.  (I now plan trips to Costco around my boys–they do the heavy lifting and push the super-sized cart, I buy the pizza to show them my gratitude.)

Although I’ve been convicted about this topic for weeks, I’ve been hesitant to write about it. I guess it would be hypocritical if I didn’t admit that I find mastering the art of margin elusive. Maybe sharing this ongoing struggle with you will give us a chance to learn and grow together.

As I thought more about this, I realized Jesus provides some excellent examples to help us understand how to establish margin in our lives. A quick look through the book of Matthew showed me the following:

-Jesus was proactive about maintaining margin:

Once he began his public ministry, it didn’t take long for people to swarm around him in hopes of seeing or experiencing a miracle. Yet, Jesus knew when it was time to make some margin: “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” (Matthew 8:18, NIV) He withdrew even when he hadn’t met all of the needs of those demanding his attention.  Jesus knew when it was time to pause amidst endless demands on his time. We would be wise to do the same.

-Jesus made time for margin for his emotional health

At one point, he received the devastating news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. Scripture tells us: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13a, NIV) If God incarnate needed time to pull away and deal with his emotions, it’s safe to bet that we need it too. Ignoring our own emotional needs is a recipe for breakdowns, bitterness and burnout.

-Jesus took time to retreat with those closest to him

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” (Matthew 17:1, NIV) All of us need time to retreat from the busyness of the world and to re-connect with those we love.   These times are necessary for maintaining healthy relationships and getting needed rejuvenation. The other people and activities demanding our time will still be there when we return.

Not only did Jesus exemplify the importance of having margin, he also invites us to include him in our efforts to create it: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

If fighting for margin is a struggle for you like it is for me, you may want to take time to learn more about its importance. Try reading one of the books suggested below for additional inspiration this summer.   Click on the links to learn more about them.

Margin by Richard Swenson

 The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst



Frenzy is Not Your Friend


Snuggling up next to me on the couch, my son settled in for a good story. He was home sick from school and thoroughly enjoying a little quiet time with my undivided attention. After a hectic week, both of us enjoyed slowing down to read a favorite illustrated book from his childhood: Jennifer and Josephine by Bill Peet.

Told from the perspective of a stray cat named Josephine, the story describes her days spent living in the back seat of an old touring car. The opening scene depicts a junkyard with the rusted out car, named Jennifer, slowly falling apart. Much to Josephine’s surprise, however, a traveling salesman buys the old car planning to drive her hard until she dies.

After riding in the backseat for a few miles, Josephine nicknames the salesman “Mr. Frenzy,” highlighting his constant rush to get from one place to the next. She describes him as a pushy, rude bully who drives Jennifer quickly and carelessly over winding country roads. Mr. Frenzy takes one risk after another, with no heed for other drivers or the property that he destroys along the way.

Reading the story made me think of times when I could be nicknamed “Mrs. Frenzy.” The busier I become and the more I cram into my schedule, the less sensitive I become to those around me. There is an illusion of control that comes with packing my schedule full. However, when I leave no margin in my time, I become thoughtless, impatient and irritable. Anything that stands in the way of accomplishing my agenda becomes an obstacle to be removed.

Usually, when I’m behaving like “Mrs. Frenzy,” I leave a wake of destruction in my path, much like the traveling salesman in the Bill Peet story. For starters, my frantic pace causes me to ignore basic household tasks: piles of clean laundry sit for days waiting to be folded and unopened mail clutters the counter. As I let the urgent overshadow the important, I become insensitive to people and don’t tend to relationships the way I should. In my frenzied state, I’m not open to being interrupted by people who need my help or attention. And most important of all, my frantic pace causes me to feel impatient even when I’m trying to spend time with God.

It’s funny how the Lord sends the same message in different ways until we finally receive it. The same week I read the story about Mr. Frenzy to my son, I’d read a devotion entitled “Silencing My Soul” that convicted me in a similar way. Using a psalm as her inspiration, the author challenges readers to spend five minutes daily being still before God, just listening for His voice and enjoying His presence: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul.” (Psalm 131:2, NIV)

The day I read it, I was already heading toward “Mrs. Frenzy” mode and had been rushing through my quiet time so I could get on with my day. Reading the printed prayer at the end of the entry convicted me: “Dear Lord, my soul is having a hard time being still. I lay down my resistance to silence, and commit to five minutes of daily silence with You for the next month. I praise You in advance for what You are going to say to me in the silence. Thank You for the rest only You can give. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” (Wendy Pope, Encouragement for Today, p. 26)

It was no coincidence that I read that devotional on a day when I was in a rush. It was yet another reminder that I need to focus on God’s agenda for my day instead of trying to maintain a frenzied pace attempting to get everything done. It’s amazing how trusting Him allows me to accomplish exactly what I need to do. I guess that’s a picture of Jesus’ words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

The “yoke” described here is a tool used for plowing a field. It is a curved piece of wood with two slots fitted over a pair of oxen. Imagine how unbalanced it would be to have one animal trying to carry a yoke meant for two. Similarly, when we try to carry our burdens on our own, we feel weary and beaten down. For someone like me, the added weight causes me to feel frenzied and overwhelmed. However, when we yoke ourselves to Jesus, He gives us the strength we need because we are walking in step with Him. There is no need to be frantic when the Maker of the earth and stars walks beside us and shares the load.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10, “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” (NIV)

Another translation says: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (NASB)

When we take time to be still, God reminds us He is Lord of all and we are not. Our striving is a vain attempt to be in control of our lives. Ultimately, it makes us exhausted and depleted. However, when we quiet our souls, we are reminded to put God in His proper place as the main focus and priority in our lives.

When I’m “Mrs. Frenzy,” my priorities are based on my agenda. I’m wild-eyed, impatient and definitely not someone who is restful to be around (just ask my family). In conquer mode, I usually do a lot more harm than good. However, when I’ve taken time to be still and have spent time being filled up by the Holy Spirit. I give God room to bless others through me. I’m at peace, which allows others to be restful in my presence.

Will you join me in taking the challenge to spend five minutes being still before God every day for a month?   You might be surprised at how long it feels as you try to empty your mind and focus solely on resting in Him.   I’ll give you a little boost for your first time– just click on the link and listen to “Be Still and Know” by Stephen Curtis Chapman. If you can be still for 3 minutes and 16 seconds to listen to this song then you only have another minute and 44 seconds to go!

Peet, Bill: Jennifer and Josephine; Houghton Mifflin; 1967.

Swope, Renee; TerKeurst, Lysa; Evilsizer, Samantha and the Proverbs 31 Ministries Teams; Encouragement for Today; Zondervan; 2013.