(This post is an adaptation of my notes for the Facebook Live that I did this week: “A Busy Woman’s Guide to Margin”. Come find me there and listen!)
We are the spiritual, emotional and physical wells that our families draw from.
Whether our children are young, in the middle, teens or even adults, we are caregiving. In the middle years, we may be taking care of a variety of people, including aging parents, friends with illnesses, along with our own families.
Taking care of ourselves must be a priority. When someone says “add self-care”, there is often no room in our over-scheduled lives. This is a problem. Margin is the foundation of self-care. We practice self-care so that we can live well and love well. We must have space in our lives to rest and recharge, sleep and renew. So until you make margin in your days, you will not be able to take care of yourself and therefore your people well.
What is margin?
Margin is whitespace. It is breathing room in your life.
“Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.” ~ Dr. Richard Swenson
Why do we need margin?
Without margin, our physical, emotional and spiritual health suffers. If we run hard and fast with chronic stress over time, we will suffer from burnout. If you are wondering whether or not you have burnout, google “symptoms of burnout” and there are many great articles to help you recognize that your exhaustion, illnesses, anxiety and anger may be due to that.
Margin is a wise management of our energy. Loving God and others is the foundation of what God commands of us. We cannot love well if our lives are empty, depleted, stressed and shallow. We often confuse a full schedule with a full life.
Creating margin is an acknowledgment that we are but dust. We have real God-given limits according to our personality types, life circumstances, physiological and emotional make-ups and by the very fact that we are HUMAN.
Who is our model?
Christ. The infinite God with all power and all provision chose to become a baby. A baby is the essence of limits. He chose a life that required rest, retreat, food, friendship.
In Mark 6:31 Jesus offers this invitation: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and a rest a while”. He recognized the physical and emotional limits of himself and his disciples. He retreated regularly from the crowds to pray, to quiet himself, to listen to the Father. He was never in a hurry or rushed. He was available to touch people, to invite interruption, and to do the next right thing each day without being over-scheduled, scattered, and driven.
What are some ways that we can create margin in our lives?
1. Pay attention to your energy levels.
As women, we are on a 28-day hormonal cycle. Our first week is high creativity and brainstorming. Post-ovulation is a good time for task completion and focused time for projects. As we near our periods, we need to make more room in our lives for the effects of drops in estrogen and progesterone. We say no more often and set boundaries on our energy and availability. Otherwise, we will feel over-tired, irritated and over-emotional. Menstrual time is big picture, quiet, evaluation.
What parts of the day are you more energized? Schedule the most important work for your peak energy, and honor the times of day when you are tired. Read books to your kids, turn off the phone and add things that rejuvenate you. The whole day doesn’t need to be filled with production. Consider a Quiet Hour every afternoon for everyone in the family. It’s a game-changer.
What is the season of the year? Winter is a lower energy time of year and Spring and Summer are more active. Our bodies and energy respond to warmth and sunlight and to daylight hours. Be mindful that there are seasons of reflection and then seasons of production.
2. Be realistic about time and Murphy’s Law.
Be under scheduled. Leave space in your day and week for the unexpected. Cars break down, children get sick, crises arrive. If possible, batch your errands. Do them all on the same day. Some people who work from home schedule their phone calls and meetings for Thursdays so that their writing/project days are uninterrupted. I try not to schedule any daytime appointments on Mondays. I use that day to regroup my home from the weekend, to finish up homeschooling work for my children’s hybrid school, and to begin my week gently and quietly. The week begins on my terms and not by outside pressures.
The 15-minute rule. Giving your morning self an extra 15 minutes can mean the difference in getting tea/coffee, stretching, reading a few pages, praying. Get to the school drop-off early. Church. Airport. When you have people over. Built-in buffer gives you a chance to breathe, to settle in and to have calm. Some people schedule their work in 90-minute chunks. The first 15 minutes are to get settled, organized, focused. The last 15 minutes are to evaluate and wrap things up.
3. Move away from last minute living.
Have a weekly dinner plan or for the next two or three nights. Dinner prep early in the day.
Don’t rush to an appointment with the car on E. Get gas in your car when you are at 1/4 of a tank while you have time and space.
Set out your children’s clothes at night before school. Find all the shoes and socks. Place the backpacks by the door.
Keep cash on hand. We always seem to need some dollars and keeping cash on hand (at least $20) saves time hunting for ATMs, owing people and feeling stressed.
4. Use the “do not disturb” feature on your phone for a few hours each day.
In our hyper-accessible society, we are constantly switching our focus from one thing to a beep, a ding or notification. Switch your phone to “do not disturb” for a few hours. When you scroll up on the iPhone, you will get a screen that has a crescent moon. This is the “do not disturb” button. Press and your phone will be quiet! If a person is on your “favorites” list, a phone call from them will come through in case you fear missing an emergency.
Be with God in silence for 5 minutes a day. Clean your kitchen without the phone interruption. Doing one task at a time without interruption reduces anxiety and scattered thinking.
At night, build better sleep by charging your phone in a separate room instead of next to your bed. Buy a cheap alarm clock to wake you. You will begin your day without the noise of the Internet and social media, and your soul and mind will feel peace and focus. Try it!
5. Guard your schedule.
When you are planning your week, schedule in self-care, family time, and your priorities FIRST. Then when opportunities come, ask, “will this activity really make me or my family happier or healthier?” Wait and pray. Don’t say yes immediately. Wait. Even if it’s a “good thing”. It’s the good things that end up robbing us of living into the great things.
Remember that NO is a complete sentence. You don’t have to tell people why or justify your decision. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to win the approval of man or God?” Are you an approval-addict? God’s approval of you came to you through Christ on the cross. We need not seek it from any other source!
As much as possible, receive the gift of Sabbath that God offers you every week. He offers 24 hours of rest, delight, presence and trust. Sabbath is an act of faith that we can leave things undone and God is still in control. If God, the infinite, perfect One, had a Sabbath rest from creation, then why in our limited smallness do we have the pride that thinks we do not need it?
Margin doesn’t just show up in our lives. It won’t magically land in your schedule. Margin must be cultivated. You will not be able to do all of these steps immediately. Remember, little by little over time.
But pray and ask God, what is the ONE THING from this list that I can begin to cultivate? If we want to love well, then we need to live well within our limits. We must trust God with our small, daily offering of five loaves and two fish, and that He multiplies our simple offerings to feed many!