Margin is underrated. Especially in today's culture. Leaving margin - in regards to time - in our days, weeks, months, for many, can lead to fear of boredom, a feeling of un-importance, lack of prideful productivity: therefore, it is something we quickly fill with busyness - and we often idolize this busyness or this perceived movement forward: if we stay busy, then we aren't bored, we are important, we are productive...right? This busyness is especially tempting for parents when all the kid activities, sports, extracurriculars are thrown our way. There is pressure - explicit or not - to make sure your kid has every opportunity to thrive with their gifts; and often that focus backfires with an over-tired, over-booked child and family. I have a problem with filling up my calendar rather quickly, so I am pointing a finger back at myself here. Over the past year (maybe 6 months really) I have been much better about prioritizing time for margin. For nothing planned. Not for laziness, not for sleep (although I'm down if I could get some more of that), but for rest from my own striving: to re-evaluate if it's truly important, if my heart behind what I am filling my (and my family's) time with is pure and purposeful, and, most importantly, to rest and lift my head up to see and experience the blessings that surround me WITHOUT my own striving.
Biblically, this is called Sabbath...and this is a command from the Lord. Funny how when we actually look at His commands, and practice obedience, that it actually brings about unexpected, albeit promised, joy to our lives. This goes back to our perfect Creator knowing us...not just like we know our children: as a mom, I know many in's and out's with my children, but so often find myself wondering what they are thinking and praying that their heart accepts truth, sees and experiences love, hope they feel safe, etc. There are things I simply don't know about them. That, however, is not true of our Heavenly Father. He knows us; every drip of our heart, mind and soul. Every freckle and hair. He made us like an artist carefully paints each purposeful stroke on a painting. This artist, then, sees the finished product with each of those strokes and the strokes beneath those final strokes; a spectator, on the other hand, may see it as simply the complete image, with appreciation for the intricacies, but not knowing them all. And, in knowing us this deeply, He knows what we truly need. We need Him and we need margin. We need rest to enjoy Him more deeply and the gifts He has given us.
This means saying no sometimes. This means slowing down - saying enough is enough. I did a study called "Breathe: making room for sabbath" (to be completely honest I am not totally done with it), and oh, does it speak to me! It walks through the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and parallels that to our slavery to sin being overthrown by Jesus's work on the cross...but how, even as we are free, we walk on this earth like slaves. Slaves to our job, slaves to food or exercise, slaves to our shopping or spending habits, slaves to our hobbies, slaves to our busyness, calendars or alcohol. Name a good gift and I promise you that we can abuse it. We take the good gifts from above, focus our attention on those and take away any sort of boundary. Spoiler alert: boundaries are gifts as well. Priscilla Shirer, author of Breathe, puts it this way:
"Anything we've been given to enjoy, outside of the boundaries in which it was designed to flourish, will cause chaos, catastrophe and disaster in our lives."
Can you think of any gifts you've run with and ignored (purposefully or out of ignorance) the boundaries God has put in place?
Anytime we allow boundaries to be ignored, it can be dangerous to our physical and spiritual life - and when it is outside of boundaries to the point that becomes our focus, purpose, something we simply cannot rest from, it is taking the place of God.
We are free and He wants us to live freely. The only way to live freely is to resist the very things our flesh wants so badly that it will put us in bondage again.
So, all that to say: I am practicing margin/rest/breathing. What that means in my life is time (as a primary focus - there are other areas for work, trust me): my flesh wants to stay busy, and this world provides plenty of ways to for me and my kids. So it is a practice, not a perfection. For my family, it means giving my children an opportunity to participate in sports and activities, but not every sport and activity they ask for or their friends are doing. With three kids, I have to be especially cognizant - otherwise, we'd be going different directions 7 days a week and never be a family unit and establish a comfortable, safe, communicating home. It means the same for me: saying no when I need to say no, and making sure I am engaging in what I say yes to with a pure heart. And I found that when we practice obedience to this rest, the Lord is faithful to bless that time:
When Spring break started to roll around and all three of my kids would be out of school (which was last week for us), my natural inclination was to start looking for all the camps and childcare logistics (as I should as an employee, I am not saying this is bad), but then I sat back and thought, maybe this is a great opportunity to rest from the logistics and to breathe.
I ended up submitting a week of vacation time to spend with minimal plans, room to improvise and to truly enjoy my children. A side note: over a period of time leading up to this, I had been engaging in a conversation about an opportunity with a Christian non-profit organization that could be pretty darn great, but would be a drastic change with a lot unknown (I know, I should re-read my "IF" post!). I had been praying for clarity in this potential opportunity because I was not looking specifically to leave me current job (I love it in so many ways, and the idea of leaving actually made my stomach turn as much as this new opportunity would be going into ministry). Something in me felt this had to be explored with an open mind and open heart to understand where the Lord needed me. During this week, I actually was given that clarity as the Lord was faithful to lay on my heart where I needed to be. Ironically, and perfectly timed, details were revealed about job expectations and those - purposeful and rightful expectations - were in direct opposition to granting margin in my life. At the very time I was experiencing and being thankful for the margin I had purposefully made and the Lord had blessed, I learned that this new role would eliminate almost any margin I had room to make. Even with something that seems so good - and would allow me to work alongside others on mission for God's Kingdom - I would be minimizing any sort of time to enjoy the gifts I was enjoying specifically during that week off of work.
I learned through resting - taking a break from grinding in the normal grind - how to better listen to God. How to discern where He wants me so that I can work in ways He is calling me to. Right now, that looks like exactly where I am. I see clearly ways He is using me in small conversations, presence with my kids and working in a job where I am able to be a believer among some unbelievers and speak truth when He guides me to. He is blessing the flexibility I have by giving me time to serve others in ways I wouldn't be able to if I was tethered to that new office desk. So, I chose to remove myself from the process for this opportunity even if, on paper, this was a great career move. God was calling me to stay put. I realize this is not always the case - to be able to choose flexibility at all. The flexibility isn't the point. My point is this: when I slowed down, I was able to see more clearly the gifts I had right where I was.
I realize there is difficulty in discerning between if God needs you to move into something new or stay exactly where you are, but I do know this: If you take a moment to rest - give yourself some margin (take a break from your current cycle: over-use, over-striving, over-booked, over-spending, over-anything) - His still small voice will come to surface. He will bring clarity and joy when you just take that time to seek Him and breathe.
The Lord will reveal how needed these moments are: to simply enjoy the fruits of our labor as well as see how we can serve others for His glory. We cannot see this if we have our head down and mind inward. It takes slowing down...sometimes stopping...to be able to look up and around to see something you may have missed that was right there the whole time.