Our pastor is a remarkable teacher. When I think he couldn't give a better sermon he does it again...week after week. In fact, the first time we attended a service here I sat in the back and cried. The spirit of grace was so evident. The guy really has a gift and our church has a great balance between the understanding of our sin, and living daily in the light of a resurrected Christ. When you live and walk in this freedom and grace it's incredible. You can't shut me up about it if you start up a conversation on the topic. There is one lesson though that has stuck with me these last several months and that was Pastor Mike's message on "Margin" based on the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.
What exactly is this? Well, let me explain. I'm hard on myself. I like all my ducks in a row, I want to work my job at the school, have a perma-clean house, laundry done, meals scheduled and ready when the troops come in with 'Leave It To Beaver' playing on the TV. Yea, right. Never happens. I over schedule and place heavy expectations upon my own head, then beat myself up when I fall short. Boo me. It's really hard to live inside my head. Until recently I had the mentality that doing more, better and better was always the answer for acceptance by my superiors and God. After all, this is what had been hammered into my head for years. I kept on that hamster wheel turning and turning, hoping God would see and accept all I was doing. One day I felt I would arrive to the magic point of maturity, right? I absolutely cannot STAND to waste one minute of time. I wanted to do well and it was killing me doing it.
I was raised in a very legalistic denomination and spend a great part of my adult life in one as well. Very little grace and freedom of expression were allowed and constant 'correction' was the norm. Not a very freeing way to live and it's certainly not the gospel message. Legalism (you have to always do more to measure up, but when you try it's never right or never enough) vs Grace (there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus) are the total antithesis of each other. Jesus died and conquered hell so that you and I can live free. We are free to live with the personalities designed for us, doing the jobs and having the gifts created for us uniquely. Christianity was never meant to be a one size fits all. In fact, it's just the opposite. Legalism strangles and cuts off your oxygen supply. Legalism is critical, judgmental and says 'you can't'. Grace is encouragement and rejoices in 'trying'. Grace empowers no matter what your talents are.
Enter Margin. I have spent my days being so concerned about 'getting it all right' that I rarely if
ever scheduled breaks to just be. I have always scheduled time for what I call a daily 'quiet time' for personal Bible study.....but Margin is so much more than that. Having 5 kids, grandkids, a job, volunteer responsibilities and the old standby named 'Laundry', prohibits much time to myself. The Doc runs two businesses, works another part time job for a different company, in addition to being a lay Elder at our church. Left over chillin' time is just not in abundant supply around here. We LOVE to work. Life is so short and there is so much we want to do, that sitting or simply taking time to NOT work is a foreign concept to us.
When and if I ever did take any time off (in Mom language this means simply to sit on the couch), I always heard that condeming voice telling me I was lazy so get back to work. That is until Pastor Mike spoke on the need for God's people to stop dead in their tracks and examine their time. Stop the legalism cycle of 'having to get it all done' that our society and even our modern day church can feed us. Schedule in daily time of withdrawal to renew and refocus. That's what Margin (with a capital M) is. (I know people who have lived their entire lives as 'margin' thus being lazy, not ever really working, and never really accomplishing anything. That's just plain wrong people. This is not 'Capitlal M' Margin. I'm assuming that you reading this are a Type A personality like me.) Margin recognizes we are human and all humans based upon their DNA, makeup and personality have a stress threshold. When we are maxed out we need to pull back, setting aside time to renew and restore or we're not going to be able to function at our peak, much less be able to serve anyone. Margin is pockets of time reserved for you.....to study, read, sleep, exercise, keep your finances in order, pray, whatever your body needs to be renewed and restored so you can enter back into your work life ready to tackle what comes at you WITHOUT running stressed 24/7.
Here's an excerpt from the book that gives a great definition of how our rat-raced, modern day lives are killing us as a society.
"The conditions of modern day living devour margin. Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctors office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station and you forgot your wallet.
Margin on the other hand is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month and sanity left at the end of adolescence.
Marginless is fatigue: Margin is energy.
Marginless is red ink: Margin is black ink.
Marginless is hurry: Margin is calm.
Marginless is anxiety: Margin is security.
Marginless is culture: Margin is counterculture.
Marginless is the disease of the new millennium: Margin is it's cure."
Margin is needed every day in our stress filled world. Margin is grace to a weary mom. God knows you are weak. He knows. He wants you to schedule moments of Margin into your day so you don't grow weary in doing what is good. You'll be better for it, I promise. Margin breathes grace and says, "Yes you can breathe for a few minutes before you climb that next mountain."
I am older now and much wiser. Daily I schedule (key word schedule or it doesn't happen) breaks of Margin. Some days it's harder than others but I have learned that it's ok to say no to others to make sure Margin happens. Gasp, It's Ok To Say No?!! I try not to allow my schedule to 'max me out' and know what my thresholds are so I then can plan my Margin breaks to keep myself from getting too overloaded. I am not a loving, kind, consistent wife or mom when on overload. Ask my kids and husband. So if you don't think you have time to schedule Margin breaks I would ask you......would it make you a better Mom? Dad? Teacher? Worker? Financial planner? It has radically revolutionized my way of thinking and the way I plan my days. It is living by grace instead of legalism. I have found that by taking a few 'Margin breaks' during the day I am able to accomplish just as much as before, but with a more loving, focused, calmer attitude free from the 'gotta get it all done' prison of legalism.
So what does it look like for me? Here's just a few ways I have lived Margin in the last couple of years since giving up the rat-race life. Remember, Margin isn't doing necessarily doing LESS, it's planning BETTER.
1. Get up earlier than your kids.....by alot. On school days I get up at 5-5:30. (The Doc is up at 4-4:30 every. single. day). The girls get up at 7. On non-school days I get up by 6 and let the girls sleep till 7:30 or 8. Those couple of hours of pre-dawn QUIET while the earth is still.... and all is asleep, do wonders for my psyche. I look forward to those hours and suffer withdrawal when I don't get them. I am hooked on the serenity, peace, wisdom and study I gain before the sun rises. This precious time is soul food for me.
2. Turn off the TV including the news. You will still know everything you need to know. Promise.
3. Simplify. Get rid of stuff. I don't keep alot of clothes for me or the girls. Less to keep track of = more Margin. The same goes for household goods (furniture, toys, dishes, containers, even groceries). Our motto is "Live on and with Less." It's a fabulous way to function. You'll be amazed at how little you need to get by.
4. Have a daily time of Margin with your spouse. Instead of TV, we walk the neighborhood every night after the girls are in bed to go over the events of the day. I love this time together to reconnect and
prioritize. Simple yet spectacular.
5. Go to bed early. We have our girls go to bed super early for their ages. They are allowed quiet reading/drawing time in order to learn to set their own 'Margins"as a habit. We parents do the same thing. With the exception of the Doc's business, we try not to schedule multiple meetings on nights when the next day is an early day. We tell people no. Nothing raises the next day's stress level for the entire house like a Mom who hasn't gotten her sleep.
Even with Margin scheduled and implemented, life can still get out of control. Yesterday I had a day like that. Buy you know what? When the crazy hits and situations come up that tempt us to spiral downward ......IF you have been recently scheduling in your Margin in all areas, you will find that those crazy, wacko moments (days) are really doable WITHOUT life unraveling or making life miserable for those around you.
I had someone recently in a 'little-girl-should-have-been-stressful-moment' tell me, "Wow. You are the calmest Mom I have ever seen." I think I actually laughed out loud at her and mumbled something stupid back ......but it got me to thinking. The answer is yes, I am alot calmer. I am older and smarter, and things don't worry me like they used to. I am comfortable in my own skin and know the job I am on this earth to do. I don't care if others 'get it' or not. Thank you Margin!
How do you make Margin in your own lives?
P.S. You can read Kelly, the Pastor's Wife's blog here. Love these people. They get it.