Margin. It’s a word that gets bounced around a lot these days. Webster defines it as
the part of a page that is above, below, or to the side of the printed part
: the place where something (such as a piece of land) stops : the edge of something
: an extra amount of something (such as time or space) that can be used if it is needed
I used to care about the first definition of the word (all through high school, into college, and, to be perfectly frank, as I turned in research papers for a class I took this semester. We all know that margins can take a person’s paper from not-quite-long enough to technically-OK). And I still write in the margins of books I own, so I think about margins along those lines too, naturally.
I don’t own land so I’ve never cared about the second definition.
But I care about the third definition now more than I ever have–because I need it. It’s having a cushion of downtime, monetary resources, or other safety net that allows one to thrive when times get tough or stress levels sky-rocket. It’s what people wish they had when they talk about being exhausted, living beyond their means, running the rat race, etc. In this context, margin is a hot commodity, and a person only achieves it when they purposefully schedule their time so that there are extra minutes in the day to simply ‘be,’ or when they choose not to spend every last cent of their paycheck each month.
People have written books about incorporating margin into our lives. I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion. I just know that we all need it.
I also know that Americans don’t believe in margin. They say they do but they live like they don’t. Now I’m not here to judge another person’s work schedule, homeschool schedule, class schedule, or bank statements. I’m still working on that log in my own eye, you know?
But I will say that since returning to the US after three years of living in India, my family and I have felt pressured (sometimes very subtly, sometimes not) to engage in more and more activities–more fun, more sports, more music, more service projects, more field trips, more work and money-making opportunities, more everything.
We’ve largely resisted the urge to fill in every blank space on the calendar. But we’ve sometimes felt like we have two heads when we tell people that we stay home almost every evening of the work week (though usually we go to Wednesday night supper at church).
I am not condemning kids’ sports programs, music lessons, outings, educational enrichments, date nights (I love me some date nights), or anything else people do with their time. All I’m saying is, if you have kids, and you’re really tired, or if you feel like there must be more to life, or if you never, ever sit quietly in a room and think or pray–not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t have time–I want you to know, it’s OK to start saying no to things.
Not only is it OK, but it might just save your (family) life. I promise your kids will survive if they don’t do 1,000 activities, and that it’s not lazy to come home at the end of a long day and just stay there until your eyes close for bed. ‘No’ can be one of the most life-giving words in our vocabulary.
Because when you say ‘no’ to hurried, overwhelmed living, you say ‘yes’ to margin. And that is a beautiful thing.