Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why all the fuss about margin? (third in a series)

So why all the fuss about margin? Why is our housemate Dayna about to strangle me if I say the word “margin” one more time? It’s because for too long my life has felt overloaded and overfull. It seems as though I am just awakening to the reality that my family now has three children in it, not just two, and that significant amounts of time and energy have been necessarily taken by this change, but I have continued to accept responsibility at the same pace as before. I often feel like my mind can’t hold another thought, that my heart can’t take another disappointment, and yet I still feel compelled to say “yes” to things that add to those loads. Sound familiar to anyone?

I know that I’m not alone – I read a blog by a former GUPY and found that she was drowning in a sea of schoolwork and ministry. I listen to my neighbors down the street talk about the toll of a workday that begins at 6:30 am and ends after 9:00 pm. I realize that in a recent sharing time at my elder meeting, 7 out of 8 of us on the elder board feel overloaded by work, life, and family. And while there will certianly be busy seasons of life, I just don’t believe that this is how Jesus would have us live week after week after week.

It’s so tempting to live a marginless life. The things that we add seem so good, necessary even. Isn’t it good to teach a Sunday School class, to give someone a ride to church each week, to go to the beach for a weekend with friends, to visit family who live out of town? Isn’t it nice to have a late-model car, even if it means more debt? Aren’t the things that we spend our hard-earned money on the things that we feel are important and valuable? Sure they are. But one more thing plus one more thing plus one more thing equals three more things, which are added to what is already there. And at some point, we have to admit that there are limits to our time, our emotional reserves, and our finances. But you’d never know it by looking at typical American culture. We live as though there is plenty of room for more, that our days are 27 hours long and that we earn several hundred more dollars per month than what actually shows up in our bank accounts.

I’m making a fuss because I agree with the author of the book Margin when he says that marginless living is a disease that is robbing our nation and the Church of spiritual, emotional, physical, and family health. I think that while most people know that life ought to not be so overfull, few of us have diagnosed the problem correctly, instead thinking that there must be something more that we need to do or buy in order to fix it. And of those who have diagnosed the problem correctly, taking the step of making the change proves to be very hard, almost impossible.

But as an elder, I don’t want to shepherd my church into busyness and overload. As an IV staff, I don’t want to develop leaders for the Church who accept burnout as just part of what it means to be a Christian. And as a father and husband, I want to have more to offer my wife and children than the scraps of my life at the end of the days and weeks. There truly is joy in the margins, but right now myself and many of my friends are missing it.


todd said...

I know the feeling and think about this all the time. Activist Steve Cokely said once in a lecture that I attended that our jobs and lives keep us too tired to make change in the world. Change starts with our families; we have to find ways to give them the first course- not scraps as you so aptly put it. Hope things are going well- Todd.

MarySuz said...

Hey Marsh.

What about people who have a lot of margin and feel the pressures of our culture to fill it? These people feel guilty for having free time. This (as you know) isn't me, but I have a friend going through this. What do you think?

Marshall said...

That's a great question, Mary; one that I will most likely answer later in a post, but for now my short answer is that we play our lives to an audience of One. If God is calling them to give some of that margin, then they should give it. If culture is telling them to just fill the dead space, they shouldn't. Listening for God's leading is a lost practice for most Christians.

MarySuz said...

thank you, o wise one! (not sarcasm)