During the past several years a painting of my life would look like a margin-less page. Sadly, there have often been no margins and no empty space. There has been little breathing room. It took me quite a while to come to the realization that empty space is not necessarily negative space. The pages of my life looked like the picture in this post – no room to hold the book comfortably; the type disappeared into the middle gutter; and there was no place for page numbers. No one living or reading a life like that enjoys the experience. It is margin-less living; living without air; suffocation.
“Just one more thing” thrown on the stack of things I had to get done always stretched my margin even thinner. Even the normal easy things in life become stressful and the pain of the workload was off the scale. I had an ongoing hum in the back of my head telling me there was just nothing left to give. One slip at any point could spell disaster, whether it was emotional, spiritual, financial, or physical. My life became a prison of responsibilities.
Last Christmas season was what I fondly call the “Mother of all Christmas Nightmares”. For years I have had one reoccurring dream: I get up one morning and realize that I am scheduled for a concert that morning but I can’t locate the music or the venue for the concert. Frantically I am running late on the clock and when I arrive at the destination, the concert has already begun. In part, that dream was last Christmas. I was running multiple concerts with my acappella choir while at the same time directing a big event with a children’s’ choir, an adult choir, and multiple solo musicians. For the grand event I made the unwelcome discovery that the support staff I had anticipated (and thought was promised) did not exist. The night before the large concert my husband and I were setting up platforms, chairs, and microphones, and I found that all my emails indicating our sound equipment needs had gone into someone’s circular file. This was death’s door for a person like me who usually plans months ahead down to the last detail. Though the final concert ended up going extremely well, I was totally spent in mental and physical energy. I rediscovered how limited my strength is.
This year I am trying to bring into my life the margin of contentment versus living in chaos. In God’s sense of humor, I am presently teaching a class that deals with the entire subject of stress. I think the angels have chuckled over that one!
The Apostle Paul wrote from a jail cell most of his letters which are included as books in the New Testament. I like The Message paraphrase of a portion of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4: Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. With a philosophy like this, I think that Paul found balance, even when circumstances didn’t appear that way. I don’t think he would have found himself perpetually running late, short tempered, and blowing a gasket as I frequently found myself doing. I remember the time I was late getting out the door for work because I had been frantically looking for a Tupperware lid for my lunch. My dear husband had decided to be helpful and relocate them to a different location and neglected to inform me. I should have looked for the stuff the night before, but I was way too tired from the rat race I had placed myself in. The words out of my mouth that morning weren’t happy and relaxed and they definitely weren’t the words out of Paul’s mouth when he found himself stretched beyond his limits. I don’t think Paul would have stressed over expectations of people that were simply beyond their abilities. Paul wouldn’t have become overwhelmed and erratic. Paul would have sat down with Jesus and “chilled”. Paul would have made sure he had that open time in his margin and made it Jesus time.
So what have I learned from all of this? There is the saying that “The minute a person goes into debt, he loses a portion of his freedom”. My paraphrase is that “The minute I make a commitment which I do not have time to effectively do, I will be imprisoned by that commitment”. I’m exhausted from living in this type of slavery. Changes are necessary. This Christmas there will be no large extravaganza concert. There will be small venues, but they will be manageable venues. There will be no screaming in my house when I can’t find the Tupperware lids and no frustration over expectations of people who don’t have the capabilities of meeting those expectations. There will be peace and contentment. I may have a smaller list of responsibilities in my hands, but the only way that list will land in my hands is because God directly put it there (after I thought and prayed about it a great deal). The items won’t end up there due to a sense of guilt, other peoples’ expectations, or my own problem with expecting too much from my own small hands.
Paul couldn’t have said it better: It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. The life truly given to Christ produces a life supplied with margin, oxygen, and peace. That’s the kind of life I want to live, a life with Spirit-filled breathing room.