The Need for Margin

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MARGIN.

It is a word that is on my mind A LOT these days.

On a recent phone call with a wise friend, she said, “when I consider opportunities, I think, will I be happy I did this when I am 75 and look back on my life? I have too little margin in my life to say yes to things I should say no to.”

Oh how that struck me.

You see, up until that call, I didn’t think too much about the fact that my life had pretty much no margin.

My days are always go, go, go.

  • Wake-up.
  • Shower.
  • Nurse the baby.
  • Dress everyone.
  • Breakfast.
  • Work.
  • Work.
  • Work.
  • Pick up the kiddos.
  • Cook dinner.
  • Clean-up.
  • Bath time
  • Story time
  • Bed time
  • Husband time.
  • Blog time.
  • Prayer time.
  • Bed time.

And amidst all of that, I say yes a lot. Sure, I’ll email you tonight. Sure, I’d be happy to do that. Yeah, I can swing by the store and get that. I’d be happy to plan that. No trouble at all.

When really, all I want to do is snuggle on the couch with my husband and the littles.

So I have started to say no and do less. It has been so freeing to say, “you know, my life has too little margin to do that.” “I don’t think that is a good use of my time.” “This isn’t fun for me anymore – why am I doing it?”

With each of those responses, I have felt like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Little by little, I am working to create more margin.

Margin to do the things I want to do. The things God has placed in my life to do.

It feels so good to consider the fact that my busy life has little margin and that I MUST fill that margin with things that have meaning and purpose.

Please hear me say that this is a journey for me. I am FAR from solving the issue of too little margin in my life, but I am getting better at saying no.

It isn’t easy to say no and do less in a society that is all about more.

But being a Christ-follower isn’t always easy.

And I truly believe that he does not desire for us to be running on empty.

Question: Do you have little margin in your life? Do you struggle to say no? How can we support one another?

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  1. 1

    I have way too much margin in my life. I don’t work, have no children or husband, and I’m trying to fill my life to prevent or maybe alleviate loneliness. But in a sense I have a similar issue. I want to fill my life with what matters. Bible Study with friends matters to me. Church matters to me. Taking pictures of trees and sunsets matters to me. A clean house matters to me. Wanting to make a difference in people’s lives through writing matters to me. I’m just starting out filling my life at 54 years old. So I want to do it to be who He wants me to be. And i want to always keep in mind that i have nothing without His grace.

  2. 2

    I’m a lot like Donna (above) – I have a lot of “white space” right now in my life, my schedule. And I love it. Because it makes it possible to come along side people who are pressed on either side, and find a way to lighten their load. Again, like was just posted – this boils down to figuring out what matters. And understanding my strengths, my purpose for right now.

    I agree that there is freedom in saying “no” to that which is not important. To put it in a positive slant, to figure out the Yes’s in life is such a blessing.

  3. 4

    Jessica, today I wrote about having “enough” — and choosing to see what I’ve been given at what God has for me. Now, I’m not saying you might not need to make some changes in your schedule; but maybe also some of the change might be internal on how you/we view things. If you have any interest, it’s at http://wp.me/p1Ut5W-bf

    Amy

  4. 5

    After my second baby was born in August of 2010 I all of a sudden felt overwhelmed. For the entire first year of his life I was going going going, I didn’t feel like I had a second to breathe. Then my husband, kids, and I took an unplugged vacation to a little cabin on a lake in the middle of no where. We were able to completely re-evaluate where we were, and that we were mainly flying through life and not enjoying it at all. We came home and made a lot of changes, one of which was to make Saturday a family day where we wouldn’t make any other plans. It was hard for others (including our extended family) to swallow at first, but the past 6 months have been so much better for our family, my relationship with God, my kids and my husband.

  5. 6

    I find when I say “yes” to serving God in whatever way he presents himself to me–I feel peaceful and have no worries about how to get it all done. But, when I say “yes” to serving myself it doesn’t work out so well. I make every effort to spend my time intentionally–some days are better than others.

  6. 7
    Victoria says:

    Thank you :-)

    That is a great opening quote…that I have jotted into my journal.

    I am in a similar position – busy with a family, husband and work. My husband was made redundant last year, and with my freelancing at a low level since baby no.3 we thought I should look for a job. This job has been great …BUT….I now work full time, plus an extra 1 to 1.5 days a week on freelancing early mornings, late evenings and Saturdays. I am TIRED, and miss time with my boys and husband….BUT….I have also learnt a lot about being really present when I’m there and “saying yes to every game of scrabble and every book” – this has been a gift; I have also learnt many other things…so I feel hope and gratitude too. But I want to remember what is really important, and I have lost quantity time, and hardly see my wider family – which I feel guilty about…..things are changing again now…too much to go into here…but all God’s will I *know*….so prayer for trust and faith would be most welcome…

    THANK YOU XX

  7. 8

    This exact thing has been monumental in bringing healthy change to my life.
    I no longer take on things that God meant for someone else just by saying “yes”!
    Also, my family is getting all the GOOD parts of me again.

    Spread the word. Saying NO isn’t a sin!

  8. 11
    Beth Gillespie says:

    Thank you!

    I call myself a “recovering yes-aholic” – too much of my life has been spent giving to others and saying yes to things that I thought needed to be done by me, instead of giving myself or my family enough.

    This year marked some big changes for me – saying no, saying “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time”

    I’ve was given Simple Organised for Christmas, and was really impacted by my lack of margin, and my lack of enjoyment – I got to the end of the day, the to-do lists were done, everything was clean, but I didn’t get to enjoy it.

    Thanks for reminding us all or this important journey to embrace and enjoy what we have and want, and to say no to the rest.

  9. 12

    I used to fly, fly, fly and run, run, run. Catching my breath was not easy. Somewhere along the way, I ditched my need to strive for others’ praise. I learned how to say “I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you” before simply saying “yes” to requests.

    I also learned that serving my own family is important. I grew up in a family of people pleasers. My father, although very loving, was forever saying ‘yes’ to everyone else. His absence during my teen years really affected me. My tender heart interpreted his actions as: “Others are more important than you”. Although this was not true, that is what my immature heart began to believe.

    My days are full, but not frantic (usually, lol!). And when I have margin in my life, I find that I am more available to care for those who are struggling in my community.

  10. 13
    Grace (Hope) says:

    This is right on the money for me right now… I’m getting through a book called ‘Boundaries’ by Cloud and Townsend. I wish I’d read it years ago! It talks about this a lot and I’m attempting to put it into practice!

    It’s not easy but I’m trying… and it’s working so far!

    I recommend this book to EVERYONE x

  11. 16

    I totally hear you Jessica. My husband works long hours and I find myself running here and there trying to get everything done at home as well as getting the kids to their activities, plus working a little here and there when I have the time. After Christmas I decided to rearrange our family schedule to make a little more time, a little more margin. And you know what? for the first time in years I’ve “found” the time to start serving again (at a local youth shelter). It’s been the kind of thing I’ve wanted to do for years but never had the time to do b/c I’ve been a “yes” girl (for the kids, friends, family, strangers..lol.) The amazing thing is that I KNOW that this is exactly where God wants me to be at this time in my life. Amazing!

  12. 18

    Oh this is such a huge issue … whether we are young moms with babies or older women on the go. Without those sweet margins, we end up hanging on a hook by the end of the week {or the day!}

    ‘Got Margins’ touches on this and shares a few super resources that I’ve used for my own sanity … and in my counseling and coaching work with women –
    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/2010/02/got-margins.html#!/2010/02/got-margins.html

  13. 19

    After living my life without margin or boundaries for MANY years, I realized how depleted I had become, how numb to actually living my life, I was just passing through it. Now I am much more intentional and think about the longer term ramifications of the commitments I make. There is a required balance in choosing things for my children, for me, for service, etc. I have found freedom in letting some things go and opportunites then arise which I never expected. I know myself and my own limitations better than ever before and can make wise decisions based on that.

    Practically speaking, I chose not to participate in childrens’ sports this spring because my time is better spent fostering a new relationship.

  14. 20

    Work, School/Extracurricular Activities and Church are the top three usurpers of quality time. We got heavily involved in a church several years ago that had it’s members running constantly and always “split up”. Toddlers in this room, children’s church here, teens here, married people here, singles here etc. We all became detached and very burned out. We got out of that church, took a breather and reassessed what God desires of us as members of His body. Serving in the community and at church is important but we learned that we should not have to sacrifice our family on the altar of those things to be pleasing to God. In fact, we should be ministering to our spouse and children before ever stepping foot out of our homes.

    • 21

      LOVE your last line Brenda…”ministering to our spouse and children before ever stepping foot out of our homes.” So often our ideas of “serving” are centered at the church or community level. Those areas are important, yes. But if He’s blessed us with a spouse and children – that is our first area of ministry and service.

  15. 22
    Jan-Western Gal says:

    Yes, I agree, I need to say no more often. I think I say “yes” because it might make me have a close friend or just friends that care about me. Not, true. It doesn’t work that way and I should know that by now since I’m in my 70’s but so active and always looking for new adventures.

  16. 23

    I have often wondered how you do all of the things you do Jessica. Having been a working mom, I know it’s a life with very, very little margin – if any. I think the key for all of us is purposing to not take it personally when others need to say no. We need to lower our expectations of one another and give each other margin. To me, the best friends are the ones you don’t have to pretend for. They understand and support and encourage your need for space. Thanks for the reminder today that I need to create margin for myself and allow it for others!

    • 24

      You’re not the only one who wonders – ha! :) Yes, not taking it personally. Instead we should cheer for the person who knows their limits and what is best for them and their family! Prayers for you as you create margin in your own life.

    • 25

      Last summer I said yes when someone asked me to help with something I was neither gifted in, nor do I have any type of skill for. But I wanted to say yes for her! And now I can’t keep up with what I said yes to and I think it’s taking more work for her to try to help me help her! Sometimes it can be more of a blessing to say no for the other person as well as yourself. I agree Jessica W, we need to keep this in mind when others say no to us as well.

  17. 26

    For the past few months, God has pressed his desire for me to have margins in my life. I found this quote by Mark Batterson “I feel guilty if I’m not busy. But feeling like I have to be involved in everything is really a form of pride. No margin=no grace and no vision. Managing your schedule is really guarding your heart. Without margins, instead of living a Spirit lef life, you want God to follow your lead. You want Him to serve your purposes. You’re no longer following Christ. You want Him to follow you.” I needed to hear that!

  18. 28

    This is so wonderful to hear. I have been really struggling with this lately – feeling so frazzled, knowing it’s going to get worse with another baby on the way, yet feeling guilty when I say no to things. I am going to keep this in mind:

    “When I consider opportunities…will I be happy I did this when I am 75 and look back on my life?”

    Such a good question to ask myself with each and every opportunity that comes along. :)

  19. 30

    Margin, unlike margarine is crucial to our lives. Its the butter to our toast:). You wise woman for picking this up at a young age. keep it safe and close by, as you will need it over and over.
    Always recognize the difference between margin and being stretched. It’s okay to let your faith be uncomfortable from time to time and

  20. 31

    oops….
    be stretched when He calls.

    What I have come to is this, God has not created me to fill myself with this world. I have a finite amount of time and each day an opportunity. I will be available for the things He calls me to or I will run around like that silly chicken, keeping myself busy enough to make the devil happy. The choice is mine… margin will help me choose wisely.
    great post, thanks.

  21. 32

    Learning to say Yes to more margin and No to being a people pleaser with a bleeding servant’s heart is extremely difficult. I find myself struggling with wanting to be Superwoman, knowing full well that is not possible or what God wants for me at all.

    I had become the hamster on a wheel. I kept running like that crazy hamster and spinning my wheel, but not getting anywhere, except exhausted.

    Like someone said above, I felt like I started serving others more than my family. That’s when the lightbulb went on for me and I knew changes needed to be made.

    So thank you Jessica for writing this and saying Yes to more margin. I am a stubborn soul and have to remind myself of this very lesson almost on a daily basis. Thank you and blessings to you and your beautiful family.

  22. 33

    I feel that by leaving no margin, I also am teaching my children to have no margin in life. I want to actually follow their example and have the needed time to chase for leprechauns and swing and ride bikes. I think God wants us to leave plenty of margin for these things as it draws us nearer to Him.

  23. 35

    I need to reread Dr. Swenson’s book, I think. It was a life-changer for my husband and me when we read it first. There are weeks where I have little margin, and there are weeks when I have a lot of margin. It all depends.

    Thanks for the reminder :)

  24. 36

    WOW! Our days looks remarkably similar.

    It’s tough being mommy, wife, and career woman…plus “yourself” too!

    For ME, I just try to focus on multi-tasking.

    Spreading the Good News…while at work.
    Snuggling my babies…while I’m drying them off from bathtub.

    I fit it what I can where I can. I am done being perfect. I’ll settle for being God’s perfect child. The world can think what it wants to (cause it’s going to go and do it anyways!). :)

    Great piece.

  25. 37

    I remember listening to this sermon once about time…and we all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s just a matter of setting priorities, because you’ll always make time for the things that are important to you. I say “no” to more things now, too…because when I do something, I want to be all in…and I don’t want to get burned out. My relationship with God is first, then my family…church and friends after that!!! I would definitely pray about it for sure, and God will give you the wisdom to make those decisions!!! Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  26. 38

    A few years ago I had that “margin” revelation and it has freed me to no end! I have learned that one can easily become swept in to things I have no business doing, and that just b/c I have the “talent” do accomplish many things well, doesn’t mean those are designated tasks for me. My husband and children come first. Between writing my dissertation, working full time, and having Sundays “home church” at my house – it is all fine and more than enough. Quiet evenings, baseball, swimming, weekend cookouts – these are the things I choose to spend my time and talents on – all include my family. Thanks for the post – such a great description of a day in many of our lives. Bless you!!!

  27. 39

    Saying “no” to good things gives us time to say “yes” to God’s best!

  28. 40

    I am a people pleasing person and saying no is very difficult for me. And honestly saying yes hurts my relationships with others. I want more margin in my life. I want my son to know that watching him shoot hoops in the driveway is more important than the dishes or laundry. I want to be more present in his life and in my fiance’s life. I want to care less about what others think of me and more about what God thinks about me. Thanks for this today Jessica!

  29. 41

    Jessica – thank you SO much for this post. He just confirmed through you more of what’s in my heart. Weight lifting from shoulders is amazingly freeing! I can’t wait to do more of that.

  30. 42

    In one of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos, he talks about how Jesus said no to some things because He knew what He had said yes to. That has helped me in considering what I can say yes, too.

    Even still, I struggle in this area because I do NOT want to disappoint. I loved what Jon Acuff said at Blissdom about having a list of people you know you are going to disappoint. That’s hard, but necessary I think.

    Thanks for sharing your pursuit of margins. I am right there with you in that.

    • 43

      Megan, thanks for sharing Jon Acuff’s tip about a list of people you will disappoint. What a difficult but tremendously necessary and good idea!

  31. 44
    Renae hildebrand says:

    I used to be a “yes” person and also a person who tried to keep up with all of my friends… the conversations would often go ” my kids are so busy in the evenings they do ____,______,____. So what are your kids busy with ?” and I would feel the need to say something too. So I placed my children in all sorts of activities and I was run ragged. God spoke to me very clearly one night and told me that I needed to give everything up for him. Surely he didn’t mean the activities… but that is exactly what he meant. So in one year I dropped all of my childrens activities and mine as well. I was freed to do what God asked me to do and availiable to His calling . So when an Uncle died I had time to be with my grieving Aunt, when a friend needed help I had time to cook her some meals, I had time to do what God wanted me to do… I was even able to read my kids a bed time story before they fell asleep! I wasn’t rushing them here and there.. we just were at home and took the time to be together. So now when people ask me what we do … I say ” We don’t do anything and it feels great!”

  32. 45

    You are so right that culture promotes the supermom model of more, more, more. If you say no, well then, what does that say about you?

    When my hubbie and I took Financial Peace University, one thing that really resonated with us was learning to say no to the good so we could say yes to the great. Not only did we become much more intentional with our money, but it spilled into other areas of our lives as well.

    We experienced a heart change, our grasp on stuff got lighter, our fist no longer clenched as tightly to the dollars, we realized that we may have been idolizing money, our job and material goods when we believed we weren’t and never would. We became more intentional with our time, money and even with the gifts we discovered He gave us.

    Sorry to go so long, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart as well. God must want this message to get out, as I, too, wrote about it twice just this week. :-)

    You asked how we can support one another. I humbly offer my post that offers 5 different ways to create margin in your life. Thanks for highlighting this important issue!
    http://www.toodarnhappy.com/2012/03/19/5-ways-to-create-margin-in-your-life/

  33. 46

    I wish I had said “NO” more when my kids were little. When their daddy wanted them in every sport, and cubs scouts and boy scouts, too. I felt like I was always in the car, it was hard on me, I think most of all. I was definitely running on empty back then.

    I have learned, though, and now say “No” more. It is a matter sometimes of choosing between things that are good, better and best.

  34. 47

    I started saying “no” about a year ago and I find that I’m loving my time with God and my family more and more. Now I can be more focused on the “yes’s”!

  35. 48

    i used to struggle to say no at church volunteering in childrens ministry. but i volunteered at every single function and at both services at sunday. i literally drove myself crazy and i had a freak out and after that i knew when to say no. so even when they badger me to serve. heck i serve enough more than i actually should and i don’t even give it a second thought now.

  36. 49

    After being diagnosed with high blood pressure, I had a wake-up call and realized that nothing is worth the cost of losing my health. So, I decided to “retire” at the ripe old age of 41. Yes, my husband and I will do with less. I fired the maid and took off the fake fingernails and dove head-first into the rest of my life. A new phase. One with MARGIN. Time to decide what I *wanted* to do with my time. How did I want the last 3 years of having my son at home to look like? Did I want him to remember a stressed-out Mom who brought home fast food because she worked till 6? Or did I want him to feel love and calm and security and peace at his home – his haven? This was a real moment for me when I pondered this question. I am blessed that I have the choice on whether I want to work or not – I know some do not. We are sacrificing some things in order to do this (our eating out has tapered WAY down) but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love MARGIN. It also gives me time to talk to God and to listen to what He wants to tell me.

  37. 50

    I just got back in the office after attending a committee meeting for a huge event for our Christian school. I never should have said yes to the project … I’ve “served” my time in the 18 years our children have attend our wonderful school and now that I am in my last year as a parent of a student I am saying YES way too much…rationalizing that is is my last year…now I am fight back tears and working through the anxiety of getting it all done. Today’s post really confirmed I need to allow for margins in my life. So looking forward to April 27th & 28 relaxing with (in)RL! It’s the weekend after our big event.

  38. 51
    Melissa F. says:

    I have been struggling with this issue for as long as I can remember. I can’t ever seem to find a balance. If I am saying “no” to something then I struggle with wondering if I have made the right decision and/or guilt for not doing something I think others expect of me. Lately this issue has taken a different turn though. About 6 months ago my husband got sick and our lives have been turned upside down. We still don’t know the cause of his illness so we are going to many doctor appointments and are making it day by day only by the grace of God. During this time my daughter also has been struggling with some health issues and right before her 13th birthday she was thrown off a horse and broke her arm. We have seemed to have crisis after crisis (I have also had health issues–lump in breast last month, heart issues due to stress) along with the stress of medical bills. I had to give up two activities I was involved with at church and have had to cut back on many other things so I can be here for my husband and be available to take care of everything that he isn’t able to do right now. My struggle is that I wonder/worry what people must think of me not being involved and not participating in things like I used to. Not everyone knows the whole story of what we are going through–they just see me not being involved and no real reason why. I know we aren’t supposed to worry about what people think or compare ourselves to others, but it is just so hard. I need to create a margin so I can better deal with all of this stress but my challenge is that I have given up everything I had control over–what is left are things I can’t control. Thank you for your words today. They have blessed me and have helped me ponder some very important things.

  39. 52

    I have scheduled a lot of margin in my life to prevent a relapse into depression. Time in Gods word and flexibility to blog, spend time with my kids, and husband. I am blessed to be able to stay home from work for this season. Margin has allowed me to say yes to a lot of good and no to the bad. Thanks for your article.

  40. 53

    Sometimes it feels like an endless treadmill. When asked to do something or volunteer for something, before you say yes you have to think, who does it serve? Only say yes if it helps to serve one of your priorities, God or your Family. I tend to look at our schedule from a monthly overview and try not to over schedule. There is a new movie out about even over scheduling or programming our children. Take a look http://www.racetonowhere.com/home

  41. 54
    Vanessa S says:

    One of my favorite quotes is from The Sound of Music:
    “Activity merely suggests a life filled with purpose” Cpt. VonTrapp

    I think even in some Christian circles if you’re not “busy” it doesn’t seem like you’re important. Thankfully, we left the church we had been at for 20 yrs and now don’t feel guilty for saying no when we need to.

  42. 55

    This post is so insightful. It’s something God’s teaching me too. Sometimes the hardest people to say no too are close. I’m not talking my husband and kiddos but ya know, the guilty culprits who say you don’t call enough, come over enough and do enough for them to deserve their love. Wooo, I’ve had to learn healthy and right boundaries.

    Anyway I love your vulnerability and working to change those habits. I need to not let things rob my margins so I can be generous. Its such a bummer when a friend needs you and you are so booked you can’t help.

  43. 56
    Beth Williams says:

    Some days it feels like I have no margin. Although I don’t have kids–do have hubby, aging parents on both sides, pets and work. My days are up early (5-5:30AM) and go go go including housework, & exercise. Then off to work. My week includes Sunday church, Bible Study, grocery shopping, checking on dad.

    That doesn’t sound bad compared to others, but consider I live in the country and work is a 10 or so mile drive, church is another 10 or so miles, etc. Hubby drives 34 miles daily round trip work. Most of our time is spent driving here and there.

    We often say no to things, jsut because we’re tired of go go going. Perhaps in retirement we can do more.

  44. 57

    You start thinking more about it as you get older. Some interesting things start happening during menopause, and though I can say a good share of them I don’t like, my prayer life with God is changing. It is getting more specific, and not. He is teaching me different things, and giving me the freedom to say no to things I once might have done. He is freeing me as a woman. Sometimes I wish I had this knowledge when I was younger!

  45. 58

    I just love this post. That is indeed how we should think about our opportunities. Thank you for this!

  46. 59

    I found you via Lisa Leonard’s Design blog. I will be following you also now. This is a great post. Margins are so necessary – but it is so hard isn’t it? After all, we want to help people, and indeed, are called to do so by our Savior. It is such a balancing act!
    I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments, and as an (a-hem!) older woman, I can tell you that you will have more time when your babies are grown. Life is full of seasons, and I think it is hard to “have it all, all at once”. It is my turn now to be able to do things like make a meal for a new mom, or someone from my church family going through a rough patch. In previous years, the thought of feeding anyone besides those people living in my house that I was sort of required to feed, was enough to send me over the edge!
    So, here’s to all of us finding and defining our margins, no matter what our stage of life. And thanks to you for a lovely blog that I am sure is going to be both a fun and helpful addition to my days!

  47. 60

    Pastor Craig Groeschel did a wonderful sermon series on Margin…. http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/margin/1

  48. 61

    My friend Kim Hall recommended this post to my readers. There are wise words, Jessica. I do not like the word “no”. I don’t like to say it and I don’t like to hear it. But, I am getting better at using it when needed.

  49. 62

    Margin! Structure! Boundaries! Love this post and I agree so very much! I think it’s a maturity thing….I think as we realize in our lives what really matters to us and we can institute our values in our day to day living then we MUST have margins! I Love margins and God’s timing! Thank you for this post :D

  50. 63

    How funny. I JUST wrote about this too. I have the bad habit of saying yes to practically everything. One day while looking through the fruit of the spirit, I saw a check-list to help me decide if the thing I am considering is what I really need to be committing my time to. It has really helped. I also keep a list of things that I have committed to, and track the amount of time they take. That way I know if I even will have the time or energy to invest in that thing the way I know I will need to.

    I cleaned a lot of good things out of my schedule at the beginning of the year. That is so hard for me to do, but I also want to make sure that the things I am involved in are done to a certain level, so I had to say no to some things.

    Here is the link to what I wrote about finding balance.

    http://focused-on-the-center.blogspot.com/2012/03/finding-balance.html

    Interesting how God will theme a topic through several minds and lives. That is when I know I either need to pay more attention, or I am being confirmed that I am on the right path.

    Thanks for posting this!