Choosing Margin

Picture this scene… You’re driving home from work and you cruise into your neighborhood.  Once you turn the corner and pull onto your street, you see half a dozen teenagers riding bikes, rip sticks and skateboards.  They’re talking and enjoying some downtime after school.  As you turn right into your driveway, you spy Mr. and Mrs. Murphy sitting on their front porch having a glass of iced tea.  You stop the car halfway down the drive and roll down your window,

“Hey Maggie.  How are the grands today?”

She puts down her tea and says,  “Just got ’em down for a nap. This is the first peace me and Ed’s had all day.”  You look over at Ed and he’s reading on his Pop Science Magazine.

“Maggie, you should come over while the boys are napping and see the chair I’m reupholstering.  Got it at an estate sale for $30.  I had some  green fabric left over from another project.  Sure could use your opinion on the piping,” you say as you finger the garage door opener.

Maggie nods and you roll up the window and slowly drive into your garage.

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This transaction, the kids on the street, the rolling down of the window, the conversation with neighbors, all of it takes time.  It takes time to interact with neighbors, to know a little about their lives and even more time to invite them over for a visit.

I’m not saying that everyone has friendly neighbors and I’m not saying that teenagers should always hang out on the streets riding skateboards.  What I am saying is that if we want to have meaningful relationships and down time for our kids and space in our schedule to help people, we need to be available.  We need margin.

Margin is that space in our lives where we have the freedom to deviate from our everyday routines.   Margin is that amount which is available beyond what is actually necessary (

I’m speaking out of regret for my own lack of margin.  I’ve not had it.  Having five kids, homeschooling, working part time, being involved at church, making time for my husband… my schedule is maxed.  So, when one more thing is thrown on top, like a niece who wants to talk about a bad relationship or a child who needs a little table manners training, there’s no latitude for this activity.  There’s nothing left. And, my kid’s schedules, when they are so busy with sports and Scouts and music lessons,  there is no down time for causal friendships, serving others or even creative boredom.

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So, why plan for margin? The answer can be found by looking at the English student and how she interacts with her novel.  In her novel there is a space around the printed material on a page.  This student, when reading her text, uses the  margin to jot down observations, make connections, refine meanings of words, etc. so that when the test comes around she is prepared. All of the little connections, observations and definitions added up to a more meaningful interaction with the novel.  Similarly, when we have margin in our lives, we have time to make connections with others and we have the space in our day to reflect and react lovingly to life’s little moments.

This all makes sense.  So, why don’t we have margin?  Where did it go?  I’m not sure.  But, somewhere along the way we decided we had to be productive all the time, When we aren’t working at our job, raising children, or cooking and cleaning our homes, we are working our side hustles, our social media accounts, and our Netflix queues.  We multitask and teach our kids to multitask so that we can accomplish even more in a day. There are days when I’m driving a child to practice, talking on the phone, eating lunch and helping my teen passenger with a math question all at the same time.  At home, you can find me some days folding laundry, directing  a science lesson and prepping dinner simultaneously.  Essentially, super mom.

Yet, when I am operating at this break neck speed, there is no margin.  I get snappy and there’s no joy in it.  Heaven forbid if I were to be called upon to make a dinner for a new mom or have a meaningful conversation with a family member who needed advice. Does anyone else struggle with this need to accomplish and the need to be available?

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Here are the hard facts, as I see it, about getting margin back into our lives.  Choosing margin means you are choosing not to do or have something, like power or things.  Choosing margin means you say NO more and speak less.  Choosing margin means you let go of your expectations about what it means to be productive.  These are hard choices for some of  us.  But, the benefits are significant and the payout lasts a long time with a more peaceful home and deeper relationships.  Having margin enables us to bless others and to enjoy the gifts God has given us, two things that are not valued very highly in our consumer driven society.

If we don’t choose this space, here’s one possible way the scenario above can play out:  You’re driving home from work and you cruise into your neighborhood. Once you turn the corner and pull onto your street, you notice all the garage doors are closed and the sidewalks are empty.  You see a boy leaning against his family’s SUV, ear plugs in, eyes glued to a screen while the older sister wearing leotard and tights with ballet bag in hand, loads into the back seat.  No one looked up to say hello. As you turn into your driveway, you spy Mr. and Mrs. Murphy drinking a glass of tea on their front porch.  You gently lift your hand from the stirring wheel to wave hello and exchange a smile.  You notice that Mr. Murphy seems a bit older today.  Then you look toward your house and drive slowly into your garage.

Unfortunately, I see this depressing scenario more often than not.  Thankfully, by choosing to be available and slowing down the pace each day, I can be more oriented toward loving and helping the people around me.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”    –Matthew 6:21

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