Margins and I do not go well together. In fact, creating margin in my own life often seems counterintuitive to me. Why would I create something that I do not get along with? I thrive off of productivity, overextension of self, discipline, and checking off everything on my to-do list—only to add already finished items on the list for the pleasure of another checkmark. Margins are made to be filled. If a slot of time is allotted to me, before I can even think about it, my body is on autopilot filling the time with another activity, chore, or errand. It comes with the job description: Full-time mom to two little ones and full-time doctoral student.

However, this intuitive, well-oiled way of functioning came to a screeching halt two times in the recent past. The first time, I found myself dramatically taken to the emergency room by five towering firefighters after suffering a debilitating migraine at eight months pregnant that would not subside. (The situation was, in fact, significantly less dramatic than it looked.) The second time, I found myself sliding into the abyss of postpartum depression—unable even to lift my finger to pry open my laptop. I filled every passing moment with unending duties, but at the end of the day, found my eyes saddened and my mind dull.

The first time, after I returned home from the emergency room, I let out a loud sigh and thought, I have been tired. The second time, as I was inching out of the darkness of depression, I knew that something needed to change.

 

WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT MARGINS?

The word ‘margin’ historically has come off to me as nebulous fluff—particularly at a time when words like ‘self-care’ and ‘mindfulness’ are tossed around like confetti. Confetti looks nice and celebratory. It bursts upward with spunk and promise, spiraling forth with captivating colors. But far too quickly, the confetti falls to the ground, listless.

Creating margin allows us to slow down, focus, and practice the Sabbath. It means a life built out of intentionality, harsh reassessment, effective systems, and attunement to the here and now. Ultimately, it provides the opportunity for full submission to God and His sovereignty—in our schedules, ambitions, and anxieties. Margins parallel our nightly act of submission to our limited and finite nature. As much as we conjure up willpower, we find ourselves—whether comfortably in bed or sprawled out in our attempts to check off another task—asleep. In sleep, we submit to our bodies. Through our margins, we submit to our God.

It is important to create margins because it is important to God. God is less concerned about the cleanliness of our homes, the nutritious value of our home-cooked meals, and our daily productivity than if our moment to moments are absent of Him. He is less concerned about outcome than if the process to which we are arriving is not completed in full awareness of our King. Having this awareness results in thoughts which meander and naturally gravitate towards Him. It results in actions tied to the knowledge of Him and words uttered from a deep understanding of the Word of Life. Ultimately, as spiritual beings in physical bodies, margins are our expression of God-awareness in this physical world. They are the establishment of our steps taking form as we delight in God (Psalm 37:23).

 

HOW DO WE CREATE MARGIN?


1 | Slow down

What do we miss in our rushed lives? It may be our toddler’s first utterance of the word, “elephant,” or the observant eyes of our 4-year old, tracking our every busy move, pining for attention. It may be a moment to look to our husband and say, “Hey, we’ve got this. I see you and I’m praying for you.” We were not created to function at 90 mph all the time. In slowing down, we bring variability and texture to our days. I work at 90 mph in designated blocks of time, and then intentionally shelve unfinished tasks. When I come downstairs from my home office to my husband and daughters and hone into the lull of moments that matter, I take a deep breath. When was the last time you took a deep breath and fully appreciated the moments that matter?


2 | Single task

This is a work in progress as a multi-tasker, and by no means do I endorse throwing multi-tasking completely out the window. I revel in listening to an audiobook whilst doing the dishes, tidying up the house, and running the laundry. In fact, I secretly look forward to this time. But in the things that are worthy of being a single task, I orient all of myself. For me, these are therapy sessions with my clients, study sessions, family time, husband and wife time, Sunday worship, and early mornings. For these non negotiable tasks, I resist (and resist again!) the urge to bring in a podcast, quickly check my email, and respond to a text message that seems urgent. In my persistent resistance, I am rewiring my distracted, multi-tasking, instant gratification-seeking brain. I am pushing myself through repeated motions to engage deeply and to sit in the discomfort of silence.


3 | Practice the Sabbath

Rest is internal and external acknowledgment of God’s infinite character and our finite nature. Sabbath is not a gentle or optional encouragement but, rather, a command. God rested. Jesus quietly walked away to pray. Jesus slept on the rocking boat. In the midst of Jesus’ dynamic 3-year ministry, there was no rush, but a regular cadence of rest. By practicing the Sabbath, we are telling ourselves and telling the world, “I am not from you. I am not tied to you.” We are surrendering the weekly tensions in a confined space and time that directly and intentionally points to the Creator, the Alpha and Omega, and the King of Kings.

The unique way we each practice the Sabbath will depend on the idiosyncrasies of our home. It will require coordinating with all stakeholders. It may look like designating a day of the week to shut out work and delight in that which God has placed in our lives. It may look like Saturday family days full of hikes, delicious food, and extra dessert. It may look like Sundays filled with worship, walks, and naps. It is a momentary and intentional pause of human effort to rest in the holiness that is the Sabbath.


4 | Practice Valued-Centered Living

I often ask myself, “What am I ultimately living for?” This question was asked to me at a pivotal moment in my life and the answer has been my anchor. When circumstances feel entirely out of control (e.g. family crises, unidentifiable chronic illness, and most recently COVID), I find rest in being able to identify that my living for Jesus cannot be threatened.

By placing my values front and center, I can prioritize my non negotiables—time with the Lord, my family, intimacy and friendship with my husband, raising my children, connecting and growing with a spiritual community—and loosely hold the rest. My fingers grasp with all certainty the aforementioned and nimbly toss around all that follows. Sure, my studies and career trajectory are something I am passionate about. But if my daughter communicates she needs me, then I will forego a class or reschedule a client—without hesitation. When my actions, choices, words, and interactions are anchored by consciously identified values, then I am less hesitant, regretful, or disappointed when responses or circumstances result in a less ideal outcome. Why? I know I acted based on my convictions, and the boundaries of a godly conviction is a liberating place to be.


5 | Develop Systems that Work for You

Roll-up your sleeves and go back to the drawing board—it’s time to create systems that can be implemented in your life to create greater margin. This may look like specific days to meal prep, repeated calendar events marked as “husband and wife morning prayer,” or scheduled Zoom workouts with a friend. Whatever it may be, make it specific, simple, and attainable. Write it down. Tell trusted people for the sake of accountability and follow-through.

This is also a good time to develop a philosophy concerning your technology use. Everyone’s jobs and situations require different iterations of technology use. However, rigorously eliminating it in moments that matter will only help you live in the present. To the best of your ability, put your phone away when you are slowing down, single-tasking, and practicing Sabbath. Technology takes you away from the here and now, and as C.S. Lewis beautifully put it, “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

***

Now it would be great if I could say that everything changed since the day I uttered the words under my breath, “Something needs to change.” But, there was not an, “it was never the same” moment. No, things looked painfully the same the very next day—and the very next week. I tried writing my frustrations in my journal, discussing it laboriously with my husband, and reading books and articles about ‘slowing down’. But, unsurprisingly, I did not change overnight. However, there were plenty of small changes moseying their way into my life.

And the little changes accumulated. Here I am now with a little more breathing room, a little more awareness of God, and a little more time to spare. I find myself reading more books for leisure, saying “no,” being okay with missed opportunities, and reveling in silence. These are the moments where I find God. My soul lodges into a place of deep delight that no human endeavor can conjure up. Here, I find myself making amends with margins, because, well, if it entails delighting in my Father, there is surely no place I would rather be.

How do you intentionally create margin in your life? Were there any specific tips from reading this article that inspired you to make a start? Share with us in the comments!

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2 comments
  1. This is inspiring to me. Just last week I was looking at my calendar and thinking I needed to create margin…only I didn’t call it that. I had no word for it. Now I do. Thank you for publishing this encouraging article.

  2. Each of my days looks the same as well, but when you said little changes begin to accumulate, the light bulb flashed like lightning! I don’t have to do a major, sweeping overhaul to my schedule all in one day! One tiny change a day can bring me back to where I can handle my life ‘peacefully’ or ‘stressed-less-ly’ again.

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