Well, it is into the middle of the first month of the new year 2020. And, we are all busy back at our regular routines. Christmas – both the western version and the eastern Orthodox version – are over and done with for another year. And, New Year’s celebrations have become a vague memory. We are back to normal, whatever your normal is. Even in the world of ministry everyone is back to ministering. Normal has returned.
However, regardless of what you do, it is a good time to remember that if we always do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. So, it might be a good time to look at making some changes. After all, 2019 was not the most fulfilling year of your life. You finished the year in a different place than the one you were originally aiming at. Things did not work out the way you planned they would.
There is a word that I have been using a lot more recently. It is an easy word to know, remember, and speak. It is a one syllable word. Simple and easy. Practice it with me. “No!” That it. But, this simple word will change your life allowing you extra time to think, pray, and journal. To just be instead of always doing. After all, you are a human ‘being’ and not a human ‘doing’. To be a human being and have a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus you need margin in your life.
In his best selling book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson defined the term ‘margin’ as “the space between our load and our limits.” What we are currently carrying is our load, and our capacity to carry that load is our limit.
Sadly most of us have erased that space entirely. We live with zero space between our load and our limit. We are living on the edge with nothing to spare. Many are at their breaking point and have nothing left to give. We are just one small decision away from the load circle and the limit circle overlapping on top of each other perfectly. When our limits become our load, that’s when we experience personal (and professional) burnout and depletion.
But this gets tricky in Christian culture, because we often encourage the idea of being busy to the point of leaving no margin in our lives. How do I know that? Because I hear such statements as:
- You are doing the Lord’s work!
- He will fill you up and sustain you!
- You need to be doing big things for God!
And, these statements are spoken when, no matter what job you are doing in the world, you express that you are tired, broken, over-worked, frustrated…These words are meant to encourage you because you are a Christian and God will support and encourage you. Nonsense! He only supports what He has asked us to do – and He certainly has not asked us to burnout and live without meaning and personal space and time. We were made for more and better than what we are experiencing.
If we allocate 100 percent of our time, we have nothing left over – so if something unexpected happens in our days (which we can count on to happen), we are left trying to rush to the next thing. We are now hurrying ourselves – and those around us. And, we need to remember, “Hurry is violence to the soul.”
One of the quickest ways to curb that violence to our own humanity is learn to say “no” in a world of “yeses.”
If you’re not saying no to good things, you’re probably not saying no enough. With the increasing access we have to each other, we have to make sure we’re saying no frequently. I have personally been trying to starve my schedule a bit more recently. I discovered that whenever I feed it, it seems to only grow plumper – needing more and more food the next week and the week after. More activity, More involvement. More appointments.
Since I first read Dr. Swenson’s book (and I reread it at least once a year) I have placed a ruthlessly high value on space and margin. I fight for it relentlessly, which takes an enormous amount of work. And, at times I still fail and book more ministry and more appointments and more writing deadlines than I can actually comfortably handle and still maintain margin – personal space and time. But I am working on it on a regular basis and moving forward in maintaining margin.
I find it weird that people admire others who are extra busy. But honestly, can’t everyone do that? Last time I checked, it’s easy to fill an entire week. I’m now more interested in people who schedule as little as possible, only what is essential and best for their flourishing. THAT takes work. And commitment. Focus. Vision. That’s countercultural to the society and world in which we live. And totally opposite to the Christian and church culture.
When we don’t make this decision to live with margin and follow through then we will learn the hard way. You will learn from the great teacher Burnout. You will first spend time with Master Overwhelm. You will continue to do things that seem great and awesome and important (which is what hurry feeds on best), but you end the week feeling unfulfilled. Burned out and a little more on edge. Depleted and wound up.
It is time for Christians – and especially Christian leaders – to be asking ourselves: Why do we have a full schedule? Why do we think we have to do these things? What stuff is necessary to live and what stuff isn’t? What if we prioritize doing nothing? What is “being” becomes more important than “doing”?
And, how will al this happen. Ready for it? Make your default answer no.
That’s it. Without realizing it, most of us make our default answer yes. So, a simple switch from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ and you will, over time, regain margin in your life. And thus regain and reclaim your real life.
More next time…