Six weeks ago I made a resolution to make margins in my life. How well did I do?
To start with, I missed the bus.
And then I missed it twice more. Three times in six weeks.
Missing the bus was not my intention in this margins experiment. I was supposed to stop hurrying, but I was not supposed to miss the important things I was hurrying toward, like buses and classes.
It dawned on me as I sat waiting for the next bus, knowing I’d be half an hour late for class, that you don’t just suddenly enjoy wide margins in life unless you get to the root of the problem. If I wanted to find margins of unhurried time, I would have to learn to trust God and learn to prioritize.
One help for me in learning to make the tougher choices of time management has been a book called Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace by Jan Johnson. The book even has an entire chapter on “The Intentional, Unhurried Life,” including a section on margins. But the book doesn’t start by diving into making margins. It starts by asking deeper heart questions — What are you treasuring? Are you operating on autopilot or focusing on God?
It’s those deeper questions that help us make the right margins instead of frenetically cramming some activities into our days and tossing aside others.
A Tight “No” Filter
I realized over these last weeks that an open door does not necessarily mean the right door. Plenty of what flies at us in life, even lovely enticing opportunities, does not come from God. Christians sometimes use an “open door” approach to choosing options in life — if the door seems closed, it must not be our path, and if the door opens, it must be. I’ve used that excuse: “I’m not seeking all this activity. I’m just receiving what comes, and since I didn’t seek it myself, it must have come from God.” Wrong. Sometimes we need to walk right past some very nice open doors. I find that terribly difficult.
Last month I turned down a very enticing summer job opportunity that would have used my gifts, built up my resume, and earned us some cash. Together my husband and I did some serious heart examination as we considered the job — would we and others be more blessed if I took the job? What were our motives for choosing either option, and were they pure? In the end we decided that taking on a twenty-hour-a-week job during my precious summer days with my children would add more stress than it would bring joy. God hadn’t put my name on that opportunity, no matter how enticing it looked.
My husband and I often remind ourselves out loud, “There will always be more good things we want to do in life than what we can do.” We find it freeing just to admit that. Our “to do” lists will always include items we weren’t meant to get to.
Sometimes We Will Hurry
On the flip side, though, clearing our schedules should not be an end in itself. We can go the opposite direction and so tightly protect our “free” time that we fear commitments and end up missing what God has given us to do. Sometimes obeying God requires us to make ridiculous backbends with our time. I recently had lunch with a friend and felt I needed to spend a couple more minutes wrapping up a topic before I left. That meant rushing the 12 blocks to class and showing up ten minutes late. I don’t regret it — I actually smiled as I jogged down the street in my dress boots with my computer bag over my shoulder. The rush was worth slowing down for that conversation.
Making choices grows out of a lot of honest conversation with God about what our motives are, and whether we’re treasuring God. These questions help me discern when a good conversation is worth the necessary frantic run down the street afterward and when it’s a day to turn down an enticing job opportunity. And they may even help me learn how to stop missing buses.
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