Today was the last day of the semester. Although I am excited for next year’s classes there are certain aspects of this semester I will miss. This has honestly been the least stressful school year. I’ve been learning so much about being in the moment, appreciating everything around me, because before you know it that moment is just a faint memory. I had an assignment for a Spiritual Formations class this semester. In this class we read through a book entitled The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know and encounter God more. Our class was assigned to read a chapter called Margins and write a paper. Margins in a book or on a page is the blank space around the text. If this page represented our lives then how much margin space would we have? If blank space on page represented time then what would your margin space look like? Would it be filled with lists of things to do? Would it be overwhelming to look at? Would important meeting times be highlighted? I know for me this has always been a problem. I never understood how to properly organize my life because everything “needed to get done”. Everything always seemed equally important. By examining my life I found that I miss out on a lot of things that are going on around me because my mind is always focused on what lies ahead. I don’t often live in the moment unless it’s something I have been anticipating for a long time. I wanted to share this with you because I find this idea of “margin”to be crucial in our walk with the Lord.
In the book Margins, written by Dr. Richard Swenson, he says “We add so much to our schedules that we have no ‘margin’, no space for leisure and rest and family and God and health.”
Margin is a way to live life with ease. In our culture we often take on too much, believing this is more important than having time to ourselves. I’ve believed this for years. In high school I didn’t have my license or much freedom so I missed out on a lot of opportunities to be with friends. When college came I got my license and had my own car. This was my chance to escape from home. I overbooked my schedule constantly, never wanting to miss out on an opportunity. It became the norm for me to be twenty minutes late everywhere, including classes and sometimes work. Often times my mother would be frustrated because I was only home when I needed sleep. Needless to say my life was chaotic. Although I enjoyed all the interaction with my peers, I didn’t often get time with myself. I especially didn’t get the opportunity to spend time in the word near as much as I wanted. I went to church many times throughout the week along with prayer meetings but I didn’t get much time with God alone.
When I moved to Texas I was always in the books and hardly ever wanted to be with people. I would try to be busy with homework so I wouldn’t have to spend time being “unproductive”. At this point in my life I didn’t view working on my friendships as something productive. I saw it as a waste of time and only needed when I was in need of a break from homework. I had workaholic tendencies before but it increased when everything I was learning was about God. All I wanted was for it to be me and Him so I often ignored the community He blessed me with. This habit carried into my first year at Sterling College. Throughout the year the Lord was working on balancing priorities in my life. I always felt that I would crack at any moment and I knew this was unhealthy. In 1 Corinthians 14:33 it states, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace”. I feel most of my life has been confusion. I have had the hardest time finding my way but God is a faithful shepherd who “leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2, 3).
This year has been a break through. I always thought I was doing the right thing by being busy all the time. My mentality used to be, and sometimes still can be, if I am busy then I’m being faithful with the time the Lord has given me. I noticed, however, that James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God, gives examples in his book of a life with margins and they often involve others. He says, “Margin is a friend to carry half the burden”. This year I have been through a lot of spiritual attacks and have been learning to lean on those around me. To see what it truly means to have a friend carry half the burden by praying for me, encouraging me, and often times just holding me in their arms while I cried. In order for me to have a life of ease, a life with margin room, I must humble myself and ask for help when I need it. I didn’t realize until recently the amount of pride I have. I still only ask for help as a last resort because I don’t want to seem like a burden. I want to be seen as strong, but by allowing people to help carry these burdens in my life, I am beginning to understand what Paul meant when the Lord spoke, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Weakness is power when given to the Lord. Paul told the Corinth church that the word of the cross was folly to those who didn’t believe, but “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
By taking time for me, for friends, for God, it is a good, healthy balance. I find it’s important to be cautious of time. I am learning that I will say yes to opportunities in order to not let others down. This creates a lot on my plate that “needs to get done”. By saying yes I feel obligated to be faithful to what I have been given so that, once again, I won’t let people down. By not saying yes to certain things I can see that it is a way of communicating to myself that my time is valuable as well as my health. Creating practical margin space in my life means knowing who I am in Christ well enough to say no. I have tried to implement time for myself as well as for God. I longboard as much as I can each day in order to exercise so I don’t get down. By making this priority I have more energy and a more optimistic outlook on life. I know it is very important for me to get out and exercise so I’m working on figuring out ways to make this possible. With God I try to set aside time in the mornings around 8 or 10. I want to be filled for the day but in order to do so I have to stay awake during my times of silence and solitude. This involves the discipline of sleep. Sometimes the only time I get with my roommates will be at night. I need to set practical times for going to bed and hanging out with them so I can wake up refreshed and ready to listen for God’s voice. I also know that since I’m introverted I need to recharge by being by myself every once in a while. I would like to set up a time for me to get off campus. I also think this would teach me how to be content with being by myself outside of my quite times in the word.
In Psalm 16:11 it says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The first time I saw this passage was this past summer. It hit me hard. Although I have been walking with God for about 3 and a half years, I feel as though I have lost a lot of my joy. Since reading this passage I have been asking God time and time again to teach me about joy. I want this kind of joy more than anything. I find it interesting that Smith says, “When we lack margin in our lives we become tired and lonely and joyless, which seems to invite temptation….Margin restores balance and restores our soul, thus increasing our capacity for joy. Joy is a bulwark against temptation.” By seeking God first we learn to be whole in Him; to have “a life that works”. I see now how important it is to aim for balance, to rely on the community that God has blessed me with, and seek first the Kingdom.
This month allow yourself to notice and appreciate the small things around you; smells, colors, people, etc. Step back and examine your life. Are you overwhelmed? What could you cut back on? There will probably be times where you will have to choose one good option over another. In the end you’ll be glad you did. Pray through it with Him. He will guide you.
A Chosen Generation: Chosen by Him to know Him.