Did you ever read a book in high school that had absolutely no margins? You know those books, the ones that seem to weigh a thousand pounds and take you a year to get through despite your two week deadline? I always dreaded those books, wondering why the author couldn’t have included a picture or two, or at least some space between her thoughts.
Doesn’t life feel this way sometimes?
We have 24 hours in a day, and we cram those 24 hours full until they’re like an over-packed suitcase, oddly shaped and threatening to burst.
If I could just do one more load of laundry, or a few more errands, or take one more class, or get one more email written…we do this, jamming our lives full to the brim like one of those books, leaving no margin at all.
This is how my life has felt recently. Carl and I went to Washington, D.C. for my grandmother’s birthday and tried to fit phone calls and emails between family events. We arrived home on Tuesday to a messy house and a pile of to-dos we’d neglected over the weekend. Then somehow in the midst of coming home from a trip, cleaning, having several rounds of friends stay with us, Carl’s birthday, work trips for both of us, and normal things like…you know…showering and sleeping, I had to finish the final edits on my eBook.
All of life’s craziness seemed to converge in that one week—my most important deadline yet, friends in town, coming home from a trip, and a thousand other things that needed our attention right that second.
Worst of all, I kept saying yes. Yes we can stay in Washington another day, yes we have time to hang out or go to dinner, yes we’d love to have you, yes I can talk on the phone, yes I can get my book done by then, yes, yes, yes. And even though those were all good, important things, they were packed so tightly together I was left with no margin at all.
Carl started to worry about me as I was finishing my book. He’d leave the house every so often and come back to find me in the exact same spot, still pounding away at my keyboard surrounded by edited drafts and legal pads. That happened for days. He eventually started closing my computer for me, because he knew I couldn’t be trusted to take a break on my own.
The thing about this kind of living is that it’s okay for a while.
It’s okay to run at full speed, it’s okay to have seasons when all else falls by the wayside for the sake of this one important thing. It’s okay to fill in the margins sometimes, to pack a page as full as it can get. Without packed margins, I wouldn’t have finished my book. There are times when life has to be lived this way.
But now that my book is off being proofread and formatted, I have a second to breathe, if I choose to take it.
That’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m trying to slow down, and it’s hard!
Once you’ve been living a packed-to-the-brim life, it’s hard to live differently. It’s hard to let moments breathe, to allow items to stay on your list for a day or so, to leave them unchecked. It’s hard to shut your computer, to let your mind relax, to say “enough is enough.” It’s hard to take time to breathe, to reflect, to soak it all in, because it feels like a waste of time—there’s always more to do.
But it’s important, because the kind of life I want to live doesn’t happen all smashed together like that. More is not always more, and when we pack our margins full, we don’t leave room for full, beautiful life to unfold.
Full life happens in the margins.
Full life happens in over lingering dinners instead of rushing off as soon as you get the check. Full life happens on long walks, or when you can drive around just to enjoy the scenery. Full life happens on Saturday mornings when you can stay in bed an extra hour just to cuddle. Full life happens when you sit down to enjoy your coffee instead of inhaling it on the drive from one place to the next. This is the kind of fullness I want, not the kind I’ve had recently.
So this is the work I’m doing in life these days. My schedule is still crazy, and there’s so much more to do, but I’m trying to clear little margins for life to happen.
I’m trying to leave some space to watch the leaves turn, and to taste my coffee, to write because I feel like it, and to watch a movie with Carl. I’m trying to put down my phone believing that it’s okay to leave something to tomorrow, and let the laundry stay undone for just one more day.
Mostly I’m learning that a full life isn’t always a full life, and that full life happens best when we leave some room for margins.
Do you have margins in your life? What small changes could you make in your days to make life more full and not just packed full?