Wide Open Spaces: Four Ways to Necessary Life Margins

My margins are shrinking again.

I’m not sure I like it.

Pre-pandemic, in response to years of living out the tagline, “I thrive on chaos,” I’d placed some solid margins and boundaries in my life because the reality was that I wasn’t thriving. At all. For a season, my margins grew wider, and it was good. Then came the stillness of the pandemic, when it seemed as if all I had was margins. This year has been a learning curve of finding and making room for margins when things are in a constant state of change. Now that it’s summertime, you’d think that I have tons of free time.

Yes. And no.

As the school year drew to a close, filled with the last things of a daughter graduating and my own work responsibilities, I recognized the familiar feeling of weight on my shoulders, the exhilaration of events well planned and executed, and I relished in the accomplishments and recognition of my daughter.

Yet as I pushed through the final weeks of the year, I found myself exhausted. This, too, is a familiar feeling. And while some of this feeling of exhaustion can be attributed to jumping back into a pace that I hadn’t trained for, a bigger part of it was due to overscheduling and lack of rest. 

In some ways, summer days stretch before me filled with promises of time for writing, reading, and laying on the beach. In other ways, we have so much happening, that I feel like it’s practically over before it’s even started. This is a familiar feeling, walking that line of between rest and chaos. Every single thing on my calendar this summer is a GOOD thing. Nearly all are NECESSARY things. This is where I find myself: the paradox between the good and the necessary, and the need for margins and rest. 

As I consider the rest of my summer, the goals I want to accomplish, and the rest I know I need, I am left trying to figure out how to find my margins again. I feel like I’ve gone from one extreme (nothing but margins) to the other (no margins at all). I feel like a new athlete who finished a season of rest, and is jumping back into training. But like many new athletes, we’ve tried to jump back in with an all-or-nothing attitude, which, I know from experience, will only lead to injury.

Events and plans are beginning to fill my calendar without my say-so. GOOD things. IMPORTANT things. NECESSARY things. I’m often not the one driving these plans, and it would be really easy to just go with it. After more than a year of forced stillness, maybe I need a few less margins?

But I’ve lived that chaotic life, and I know what resides on the other side. Burnout. Anxiety. Irritability. Creative death. Living passively because I just don’t have the energy. This is not what I am called to.

So how do I find that place again of defined margins and healthy boundaries? How do I keep the THINGS from taking over once again?

I have a few ideas.

Name what’s most important.

Sometimes I feel like everything is supposed to be more important than everything else. That work deadline. The sporting event. The milestone in a child’s life. If our priority list tells us that EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT, we live in a state of constant stress, trying to pick and choose what really matters. This is why it’s so important to know for ourselves what truly is important to us.

When we don’t name what is important to us, we can easily fall into the trap of filling our time with things that are less important to us, leaving us with less capacity to be fully present for the things that do matter. My list is short, but encompasses so much: Family. Creativity. Wellness.

When my margins create space for these most important things, my capacity for other important things increases as well, and I am more fully ME when I’m practicing these three things.

Communicate.

We need to communicate our needs to those who help drive our schedules. As a pastor’s wife, there are things that come up that I literally cannot say no to, even when I might want to. GOOD things. IMPORTANT things. NECESSARY things. But sometimes we need a reminder that those good, important, and necessary things can be spread out over time. When I communicate my feelings of overwhelm and being overbooked to my husband, I’m honoring our relationship instead of being resentful or letting myself get so emotionally exhausted that I burn out.

Be flexible.

I am a lover of routine and struggle with change, but if there’s one thing that I learned from the constant change of 2020, it is to be flexible. Things come up. Appointments have to be made or changed. Writing days get rerouted when there’s a church member in crisis. Cars break down and pandemics happen. Sometimes margins have to be infringed upon. That’s the nature of life. And while it’s always important to have grace for yourself and others when unexpected changes come your way, I’ve discovered is that it’s easier to be flexible when there are already margins to work with.

Rest. 

This should go without saying, but our culture tells us differently. The messaging we receive day in and day out is to work harder, build your side hustle, strive for the top. Without rest, all those things do is lead to burnout. For someone who loves to be creative and do creative things, I find that stress and emotional overwhelm that comes from constant striving usually ends up with me feeling too overwhelmed or drained to be able to do the very things that feed my soul. It’s a strange paradox that when I don’t take time to rest, I find it nearly impossible to rest when I finally DO have time.

As I look at my calendar for the rest of summer and heading into Fall, I’m guarding the precious white space that hasn’t been filled up with things. As of this writing, I’ve already communicated with my husband about how I feel like the schedule is filling up again, and he agrees. We plan to slow down, to be intentional about what we say yes to, and to remember to do those things that matter the most to us.

If you’re also struggling with finding necessary margins again, I’d love to hear from you. Did any of these ideas help you? How are you intentionally making space for what matters most to you?

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8 thoughts on “Wide Open Spaces: Four Ways to Necessary Life Margins

  1. Becca,
    My wife and I are have been talking about this very thing. In fact, I’ve written recently about missing pandemic life because it offered us an opportunity to do all we wanted to do. There were so many blessings during that time, which often made is feel bad in some ways, because we knew there were a lot of hurt and challenges other people were facing. The biggest blessing though was margin being restored to our lives. Much like you, 2021 is finding us being challenged to maintain the margin we’ve created, or at least not let it all be invaded upon from all sides.

    Very timely post. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! I agree, there were many unforeseen blessings in the middle of the challenges that the pandemic brought. And while I appreciate getting back to normal, I also appreciated that time to reset my priorities! Blessings to you!

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  2. YES!!! My post this week addressed the same topic! Protecting our margins going forward is going to be a tedious balancing act between pre-pandemic over-stimulation and pandemic under-stimulation. Thanks for sharing your take on the topic!

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  3. Becca,
    Wow. What a resonating, resounding post! I am thankful for your words-especially the designation of locating and identifying the IMPORTANT things. Knowing that creating margins isn’t selfish-it is self-preservation. At the root, I want very much to understand the difference between important and necessary things. I think I am still at the far end of the learning curve on that one. These words are light and life. Thanks for writing them.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words! I think, for me, a big difference between the important and the necessary is how I feel about it (whatever it is). As in, it’s necessary that my family gets dinner every evening, but some of those meals are more important than others (birthday dinners, for example). And while my 6 month dental cleaning might be necessary, it’s much less important to me than, let’s say, a concert or sporting event that includes one of my children. Maybe that helps? Thanks again for commenting!

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