In writing, margins are the open spaces which provide a framework for legibility and order. They allow the reader to make sense of the content which brushes against their borders. Margins allow for pauses in thought. They provide limits, taming text which would otherwise fill up every conceivable space. Margins, properly conceived and maintained, prevent chaos by limiting the placement of text and thereby enhancing the focus and effectiveness of the content contained on each page.
We easily recognize the need for margins in writing. Why do we have such a hard time recognizing the need for margins and implementing them in our daily lives? From one-minute-management strategies, to techniques for multi-tasking, those of us in North America tend to live lives which are over-booked, multi-task challenged through most of the day, and which spill out into the time which should be spent with family in fellowship and rest. For Westerners, Sabbath largely has become a “wink, wink, nod, nod” idealistic legacy of another era which has nothing to do with the realities of modernity.
I am recovering from having been employed in the sort of work climate which seemed to idolize workaholism. I worked for a Christian business which extolled getting things done at any cost, even if it meant working 12-14 hour days for extended periods of time. Multi-tasking was considered normative and, like a good soldier, I ate it up, wearing multiple hats for a long period. I was a company man who was willing to pay the price for the company in the hopes of fulfilling personal dreams. I was a heart attack waiting to happen.
Since then I have chosen a secular job which values family life. It is located 1 1/2 miles from my home. I have the luxury of set, predictable hours. God helped me to find an occupation which has begun to restore margin into my life. I have much more ground to cover, to be sure. As I said, I am recovering. The process began when my previous employment closed. I began to ask tough questions about my priorities. I realized I prefer the safety of boundaries which are imposed by realistic margins, rather than the fleeting glory of employment exploits which produce primarily chaff, rather than wheat in the form of sustainable, substantive, meaningful results.
So for me, the first step was to find stable employment near my home which would allow me to leave work at the office so that I may focus on other priorities when not on duty. What a novel concept. It now takes me fifteen minutes to get to work, at most. On a good day it can take as little as five minutes, depending on how I hit the green lights.
The second step has been to become involved in the community of my local neighborhood, specifically my apartment complex. There is much more work for me to do in this regard, but I have made meaningful strides. I do not feel compelled to go to a building far away (my church, eight miles distant) in order to find community. This is a good thing. By merging the location of my residence with my need for community, I am creating margin by minimizing the need for constant commuting to and from other locations. I am investing in community within the normal rhythms of my life, rather than uprooting those rhythms to accomodate the varying schedules of other commuters.
This is not to say I do not have fellowship at church. I do. This also is not to say I do not go out and do things with friends from around the city. I do, occasionally. But it is hard to sustain meaningful relationships over the long distances from which most people commute to the church campus. It is not realistic. Therefore, I simply make the best of it where I am at with those whom I befriend in my immediate neighborhood, whether they belong to my church or not, whether they are Christians or not. As someone who finds it easy to be a recluse, this will always be an ongoing challenge, I am sure. My point is that I now have a better chance of developing lasting friendships by simply investing time in those who live in proximity to me. I will always befriend and support people in my church to the best of my ability. But I have chosen to give myself permission to develop deeper relationships which are not regulated by the official meeting times of the church facility. I realize that statement could make some wonder about my priorities. If that is the case, feel free to make an appointment to converse with me about it in person.
Margin in life in necessary for healthy relationships, effective work performance, physical and emotional balance and spiritual vitality. Work is important and ordained of the Lord. But it should be done within the boundaries he sets for us so that our families flourish and so that our communities regain a vital sense of interactive fellowship which late modernity has eroded in the last forty years.
Ask yourself, what margins need to be put into place into your personal life? Your family life? Your work life? What is a good first step for you?
Suggestions for reading:
Making Room For Life by Randy Frazee (Zondervan, 2003);
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.;
The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. (Both books published in one volume, Navpress, 2002).