The concept of margin is one that has guided my life now for over 30 years. The reason is because I learned the hard way what happens when margin is absent in a person’s life.

Before I get too far into the weeds, let me define margin. Margin is the space that exists that is less than totally full. If I am operating at 80 percent of my capacity, then I have a 20 percent margin. Why this is so important is because we live in a culture that encourages people to live without margin, even to strive to give 110 percent. This lack of margin is choking the life out of us.

We need margin to make sense out of life. We need spaces between words to make sense of letters. We indent paragraphs and leave “margins” at the top, bottom, and sides to make text read more smoothly. Contrary to what we are told, we require space to breathe. Overloaded schedules, maxed out budgets, and depleted emotional reserves leave us empty and susceptible to breakdown. We can operate at our capacity for a short while, but the pace is not sustainable. Many people are finding this out in our current Covid environment.

The stakes are even higher. Relationships are one of the first casualties of margin-less lives. When we are exhausted, tempers flare, harsh words are spoken, and we have nothing in the tank to give to each other. We can survive this for a short while, but eventually, overload erodes the core of otherwise good relationships.  

Let’s be blunt about this. Margin-less living will crush the soul of a marriage. It will irreparably damage the relationship between parents and their children. Friendships starve because we don’t time for one another. In my life, complete and total overload brought me to the brink of a nervous breakdown, even though all of the things I was doing were noble and good. I learned that too much is always too much.

If you are running ragged, wondering if life will ever slow down, it’s time to call a halt. Radical surgery is needed for overwhelmed lives. We have to jump off the runaway train. Begin with baby steps. Cancel that unnecessary meeting. Let the chores around the house go for a weekend. Do something fun and life-giving.

Once you’ve taken a few baby steps, let the momentum build. Pick a day and make it a Sabbath day when you do no work at all. Institute slow mornings when you can get centered and start off on the right foot, even if it means getting up thirty minutes earlier. Tell the people in your life that you love that you want things to change, and then make the needed changes. Life is short and next month it will not be any easier.

The changes that you make, be they small or large, will be the place where you find joy. In space, love is rekindled.

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