Facing the fact we do have limits

margin

The books needed a purpose again. They had been boxed up for too many months and either needed to find residence on a shelf in my office or find a new owner. They weren’t doing anyone any good hidden away from the world.

I don’t remember what motivated me that particular day to clean out my books and slice open the tape on the box, but that’s what I did. I organized the books by categories and determined to start reading through them one at a time, then pass them along to others.

But where to start?

I settled on the leadership category, the discipleship category and the relationship category — all areas that continuously need polishing in my life.

As I glanced over the titles, my eyes noticed a handful of books focused on balancing life and creating margin.

Margin — the space between ourselves and our limits.

I remember understanding that word for the first time about 10 years ago when a colleague pointed out I had none. He wasn’t the first nor the last to note this about me, but he was the first I remember using this particular word.

I didn’t really worry about it at the time, but life — as life tends to do — exposed my true deficit of margin and recently I’ve landed in a season where margin is vital.

Toothpick world

When we leave no space in the area between ourselves and our limits, then every day can feel like it is out of control and the more we try to gain control of our lives, the more we lose the battle.

And don’t even get me started on how the toothpick world in which we live comes crumbling down the minute one thing doesn’t line up in order.

As I reflected on my personal battle with margin that day, I focused on the titles trying to decide which book to pull off the shelf.

When I saw one simply titled “Margin,” that seemed like the best place to start. I pulled it out of the lineup, laid it on top of the other books and within minutes forgot about it.

Reading, learning

But that book wouldn’t be invisible for long.

A few weeks later in a conversation with a group of friends attempting to navigate their own margin struggles, at least three people suggested I read Richard A. Swenson’s book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”

I made a note to get the book and even started looking up where to buy it when it hit me — there was a book with the title “Margin” already pulled out on my shelf ready to read. Sure enough, it was the same book.

And when I thought through why I had the book but had never read it before, I realized I had actually purchased the book in the mid-1990s right out of college.

I don’t remember exactly why I purchased it, but it made me realize that despite many years of ignoring the need for margin my quest for it has been a 20-year journey.

Oblivious to issue

Swenson says most people don’t realize their need for margin nor the fact they have eliminated it in their lives. We are working through pain, overload, stress and frustration, not realizing we are furthering the difficulties the longer we fail to create space. And we are hurting our relationships to self, others and God in the process.

Problems one at a time are perhaps manageable, he says, but “they just won’t stand in line. Instead they grow from problem pile into problem mountain and then all fall on us at the same time.”

Jennifer Davis Rash

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This entry was posted in Snapshots of life, Snapshots of margin, Snapshots of The Alabama Baptist and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Facing the fact we do have limits

  1. sjbarstow says:

    And I would add, Jennifer, that our need for margin is always present, but it looks different in various stages of life. We also achieve margin in varying degrees at different stages. For instance, the work-outside-the-home mom with three littles has an extremely difficult time finding a smidgen of margin in her life, while it is taken for granted that those of us who are retired have plenty of margin. (BTW, that’s a big, fat lie! But as my daughter reminds me, we do have more opportunities for making decisions about our time.) This book has been on my “Top Ten” list ever since I read it, but I wish I had read it, and followed Swenson’s advice, back when I was the young workaholic mom who wanted to achieve in every category of life, even if it killed me. It almost did!!!! I love the margin I have now, but it wasn’t always so easy.

    • Excellent point, Sammie. I’ve been thinking about the stages and seasons of life a lot lately and wondering how we communicate the various life lessons like margin to so many different situations. You are so right in that it is extremely difficult in some seasons/stages. It might be an interesting book for you to write to help us dissect the topic for each of the seasons/stages. Just a thought … but then here I am being that person suggesting more things to add to your plate and thus impacting your margin. 🙂

  2. sjbarstow says:

    Yes, Jennifer, I can think of so many, many projects!!!!

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