When Being Busy Isn’t Beneficial: Why we need more margin

Ah, vacation.  When else can you justifiably wake up at 9, lay in bed until 2, and do nothing but scroll through facebook and read books all day?  Without feeling guilty, that is.

Now that school is back in session and Fall is right around the corner, there’s a summer-lovin’ part of my heart that wants to curl up and cry.  Over a pumpkin spice latte, of course.  

I can’t remember the last time I did so much nothing.  Living in a high-pressure, highly expectant, highly demanding world offers its own reward, but oh how I long for more of these mindless, lazy afternoons.  I am slowly (because slow is the only acceptable pace when recovering from vacation!) remembering the benefits of having margin in my life. 

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “margin” is the extra, open space in your life outside of the time dedicated to core commitments.  Commitments such as work, school, family, a spouse, ministry, etc.  Another more recognizable term for margin is free time, or “down time.”

The first time I encountered the idea of margin was in college.  It was my Junior year.  I was taking 21 credits, volunteering at a local church, working as a Teacher’s Assistant, singing on 2 music teams and doing my best to maintain a social life and mental health.  My pace of life was frantic. 

One afternoon, I was on my way to beg a professor for yet another extra credit assignment, when he asked me to have a seat in his office.  “Kayla,” he told me, “You need to slow down.  Human beings have limitations.  God gave us limitations on purpose. You are not meant to live at 100% all the time. It’s not sustainable.”

“Kayla,” he said. “You need to create margin in your life.”

He was completely right.  I was losing my mind.  I was always running late to something, coming late from somewhere, or leaving late from some event.  I was stressed, distressed and constantly on edge.  My friends were complaining I never had time for them, my family was concerned that I never called home, and I was constantly frustrated that no one seemed to understand how busy my life was.  

As for my spiritual life?  God understood, right?  I was doing everything as worship to Him with excellence.  Only… Even the quality of my commitments were suffering because the quantity of my commitments were wearing me thin.  I was constantly forgetting to do something, or to call someone.  I was burning a lot of bridges, and I was burning myself out in the process. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

Margin.  Our lives are so full these days.  The idea of margin wasn’t created by my wise professor.  In fact, he got the term from a book with the same title: “Margin” by Richard Swenson.  Margin defined by Swenson is, “the space that [should exist] between ourselves and our limits.”  This day and age, we usually use margin as the space holder for the next time-consuming commitment to come our way. 

In his book, Swenson admonishes those who live their lives constantly filled to the brim.  He quotes:

We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? 

During this breathing period, I am remembering anew the words of my professor.  I am remembering the vital importance of rest.  After all, God set that precedent by establishing a Sabbath. 

A Sabbath, defined, is time to rest.  A space between us and the constant, incessant demands of a progress driven world.  This is time to readjust and realign priorities.  Time to step away and recharge.  Time to refocus ourselves on what really matters, so that were not sacrificing what’s important on the altar of what’s urgent. 

Having no time to rest isn’t an excuse, either. If anything, it’s the point!

We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it.

If you’re anything like me and you need a hammer over the head type of wake up call, then please consider this a Thor hammer sized reminder.  You need more margin.  

What does that look like?  Maybe it means giving up one of your long-standing commitments in order to do the other three well.  Maybe it means setting up boundaries and learning how to say “no.”  Maybe it means sitting out on something you want to do so you can have real rest time to recharge in order for you to do the things you need to do. 

Take a break.  Take a breath.  Take time off.  And, take this seriously.  Because margin can be the difference between living whole and barely holding on.  

5 responses to “When Being Busy Isn’t Beneficial: Why we need more margin”

  1. This, is amazing! And it does feel like i have been hit on the head with a very heavy Thor hammer! I do need margin, thanks for sharing your thoughts Ms. Kayla.

    1. I’m so glad you liked it, Efia. ☺️ Thank you for reading it!

  2. Hi Kay, it’s been a while. I trust you’re doing wonderfully great. The thoughts you shared here are extremely profound, and they serve as a reminder that in spite of how demanding the world becomes, we should never lose focus of the necessity to create time to rest, given that if God needed it at creation, then we need it more. Thanks for sharing, and keep it up.

  3. I just shared your post on my Facebook handle, because I believe more people out there need to read it. You’re blessed forever in Christ.

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