no margin for error

When I was a young lad, all those years ago (wink), I had to write some long papers in college.  The longest I could recall was about 47 pages.  Not the type of document that you could pull off at the last second.  Unless, of course…
……you adjusted the margins on your document.
Wooohooo!  Did you know that you can adjust margins???  It’s fabulous.

just a little wider….

You see, there’s the standard setting, and then there’s the custom setting.  And wouldn’t you know, that if you made the margins wide enough, you could turn a 3 page paper into a 6 page masterpiece.  Well, at least a 6 page paper. The smartest professors would always include a “maximum margin of 1 inch” comment in the syllabus, but that didn’t stop some of us from adding an extra eighth in there.  Not me, of course.  My roommates (cough).

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed reading books with large margins.  I’m a pen reader, so that means that when I read something I like, I have to circle it, star it, or underline it.  I usually circle, because my underlines are squiggly and they sometimes look like I’m crossing out a giant section of the book.  Specifically, the margins give me room to write my own thoughts… to jot down something new.

Without a margin, there’s no space to write anything new.


Christmastime is around the corner.  Advent (the season of preparation for Christmas) starts this coming week.  Our faith community is currently reflecting on what it means to actually create space to slow down enough and wait.  Wait expectantly.  Wait on what God might be up to in us and in our communities.  And that takes margin.  I’m thinking that my life could use some larger margins.  Maybe all of our lives could use some larger margins.

Margin is that extra space, in between work and absolute responsibilities, that allows us to have an iota of perspective as we go through life.

Margin is what gives us the space to hear, to see, to think something new. Margin allows something to have time to grow in us. Margins keep us sane.  Margins allow us to rest.  To laugh.  To remind ourselves that we’re human beings, not human doings.

Our culture is crazy.  Our lives are crazy.  Our schedules are crazy.  And often we end up with no margin at all.  Or at least, the margin that once existed has been written in, and there’s no space left.

Running out of space should require us to change.  An example: I use my bible often. And I write in the margins a lot (but before you build a shrine honoring me because of my holiness, most of that time is because I’m getting ready to teach, lead a discussion, or find something I’ve forgotten.  Impressive, huh.). But here’s the deal: I’ve found that when a lot of my margins start to get full, it’s time to buy a new bible. I simply have no space for new stuff.  New thoughts, new inspiration. And that’s a problem.

Without a margin, there’s no space to write anything new.

Maybe we need to carefully consider reclaiming some new margins over this next month.  I know I do.   And it’s not about just having less time working for me, or even more free evenings.  In fact, margin for me often means that evenings are full of dinners with friends, parties, and time for relationships.  But it’s also about understanding that God does some of his best work in the margins.

After all, Jesus speaks more about God’s love for people who “live in the margins” than anyone else. Now this is a different kind of margin. The poor, the broken, the forgotten, the unaccepted, the hurting.  Those people are not in the body paragraphs of popular culture.  They’re in the margins.  And if I have no margin, I have no time to meet Jesus in the margins.  And well, sometimes in my life, I find myself in those kinds of margins too…. so I’m glad it’s where God shows up.

It’s when I understand the incredible value of margin, of sacred space, that’s when life starts to spring out of me.  You know…. real life…. the moments when you say, “Wow, this is where it’s at. This is where I find meaning, purpose and value.”

Because when I have space to hear God, and space to serve other people, life springs out of me. Without margin, there’s no room for anything of that.  Because we’re in a hurry.  On to the next thing!

Maybe my professors should have changed their syllabi to say “minimum 1 inch margin, but the bigger the better!”  I’m looking at you, Jay.

I’m hoping this season that I can develop enough margin to keep giving God space to write something new.  Enough margin that I won’t overlook celebrating beautiful moments because I’m rushing to the next thing on my schedule or to do list.  Enough margin that I’ll actually be able to participate in the “season of giving” by serving and loving other people well, and being truly generous instead of just trading nice stuff with other people who have nice stuff (ever thought about how that’s not really a season of giving?  We’re getting at least as much as we give!!! Different post, sorry.)  Enough margin that I can share this season with the many people in my life that I love.  I really don’t want to hurry through this.

And hopefully, as I create a margin of space in my own life, I’ll be moved to deeper compassion for others who have found themselves in a different kind of margin…. one not of their own choosing.  But only in my margin can I help them in theirs.  And when all of this starts to happen? True community is the brilliant byproduct.  Because we can finally be fully present with one another.

Want to adjust your margins with me?
I really can’t wait to see what new things get written on the blank space this season.


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