Creating Margin

Written by Kevin P. Gilmore

My congregation, along with over one hundred other churches from denominations across the Kansas City area, recently completed an emphasis aimed at creating an appropriate level of margin in our lives. We utilized Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to focus on the financial side, as our pastors preached messages about developing discipline with respect to time and relationships.

Some years ago, I read a great book by Dr. Richard A. Swenson titled, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. He gave an illustration of how difficult it would be to read a book, newspaper, or magazine without margins—no space at the top, bottom, sides, between paragraphs or sentences. Can you imagine how that would look and how difficult it would be to understand? Margins create a framework for information to flow, allowing us to more easily read and understand the text. They provide pauses where we can take a breath or ponder what we’ve just read, and they produce a sense of order.

Most of us can relate to flying on commercial planes. Recently I was reminded of how some airlines have little concept of margin, except for those who can afford the luxury of first or business class. I don’t usually fly such carriers, so on this particular trip I heard the attendant announce the flight would be full. As I sat in my preferred window seat, I began to wonder about the person who would end up next to me. I have the challenge of carrying a bit more weight than recommended for my height, so I really hoped the passenger in the adjacent seat would be the most petite person possible.

Imagine living life constantly seated in the jam-packed economy section of a plane, or reading books and magazines with no margins.

My spirit brightened with the arrival of someone who seemed like a nice, relatively small lady. We smiled, exchanged pleasantries, and then she proceeded to sit down—with her heavy winter coat still on! She held a soft-sided carry-on that she quickly discovered would not fit under the seat, and there was no space in the bins above. So, she decided it was better to leave the bag on the floor in that teeny, tiny space between her right leg and my left. I assumed a flight attendant would soon come by, discover, and correct the problem, but I was wrong. I also made the mistake of leaving the armrest between us in the up position. So, for two hours, I was joined at the hip with my big-coated friend, a bag banging against my leg, and her right arm firmly ensconced in my side. Oh, what I would have done for some MARGIN!

That trip seemed to take forever. Imagine living life constantly seated in the jam-packed economy section of a plane, or reading books and magazines with no margins. Yet, many find themselves living life from paycheck to paycheck with no rainy day fund, endlessly running children to and from extracurricular events like sports, or giving too much time to their jobs at the expense of relationships.

Margin is God’s idea. He directed us to take one day in seven to rest, take a breath, reflect on life, and make a concerted effort to focus on what’s most important—our relationship with Him and the ones around us. He created us for fellowship with Him, and when we allow life to absorb our margin, we end up breaking that fellowship.

I wish I had learned the lessons of margin when I was younger. I’m not saying I’ve been a complete failure at it, but too often I’ve allowed life and the tyranny of the urgent to take priority over what’s truly important. Of course, in many situations such urgent matters are good and noble things, but they may prevent us from achieving God’s best for Him, others, and ourselves.

If everything is important, then nothing is important. I trust you will accept these words as a challenge to prioritize the handful of things that are most important to you, and then build an appropriate level of consistent margin into your life. It will change your perspective.

Kevin P. Gilmore serves as director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.