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