I can fill up my day to the edges too easily and am prone to do so. My husband has been a counterweight to my “yes” habit. “Are you sure you have time for that, too?” he’ll ask when he sees me formatting the margins to ½ inch or less.
Since March of this past year, I’ve created extra time and space in my life. The word to everyone when they asked me to do something was, “No, I can’t.” I felt led to do this. Some people might think I fell off the page, but if anything, God has kept me from falling off the page with the margins I created—1 ½ inch margins.
Most of my life I’ve been ruled by lists, goals, strategies for success, and resolutions. Sometimes they work. I’d be lying if I didn’t find my calendar, goals, and lists helpful. I will always keep track of appointments. It’s wise and kind to others, and I’m forgetful. The problem comes for me when I fill my day to the edges, push God out, and erase the possibility that God might want to rearrange my day in some way. It comes when I don’t leave room for the mystery that happens in margins.
Jesus created margin in his life. He arose early to be alone. He went off by himself for forty days to fast before he began his three and a half year, world-changing ministry. His effectiveness in many ways was grounded in his margin. Margin created time to hear from his Father and room to respond when traveling the daily path of obedience. “I only say and do what the Father tells me to do and say,” he said. (John 5:19, John 8:28)
The disciples witnessed him rising early to be with his Father in the mornings or walking off at the end of a busy day for reflection and prayer. There was an assumption that his powerful ministry flowed from his time alone with God in prayer. “Teach us to pray,” the disciples asked him.
Margin (not booking every waking minute with something to do) allows me to be more flexible, too. I can maneuver with the extra space. I can go visit a sick friend, spend thirty minutes on the phone with someone facing a crisis, or if I’m Jesus, stop to heal a blind man on the side of the road or take a detour to raise a young woman from the dead.
There is mystery in margin, especially if I spend part of it waiting for God in prayer to direct and teach me throughout the day. It replenishes, changes my rhythm, gives space in which to see and hear, and I believe it makes me more effective than if I try to organize my life to the edges.
“Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 146:10).” “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength. But you were not willing (Isaiah 30:15).” “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words (Psalm 119:147).”
With margin, I can wait with expectation for the mystery of divine grace to show up: in Scripture, divine appointments, direction, answered prayers and a growing relationship with God.