So if I were to ask you now how ‘full’ your life is and you were to express it as a percentage what would you say?
60%?… 70%?… 80%?…90?… more?…
When is ‘too full’? And what implication does that have?
If that seems like a strange question then maybe its because you haven’t come to appreciate the importance of ‘margins’.
By ‘margins’ what I mean is living in such a way that you have plenty of space in life. You are not perpetually rushing – not hurrying from one activity to the next – not feeling like there is never enough time in the day, and even in the quiet moments feeling edgy because there must be something to be getting on with.
I remember as a 20 something living such a packed life that I simply ran fast from one activity to the next and it set the pattern for my existence for the next 10 years. It was largely ok as a single guy with boundless energy, as even emergencies managed to get catered for by just having a later night. In that phase of life the goal was to get as much done as was physically possible in one week. There simply were no margins and if there had been I would have filled them to overflowing!
But I don’t believe its a healthy way to live – running hard and squeezing as much in as is physically possible. In fact I would suggest it is a way of depleting the soul, draining joy and slowly but surely bringing us undone in every way.
The absence of margins inevitably means an absence of time in reflection – because reflection will be seen as unproductive time. And the absence of reflection leads to a life lived without examination. What was it ole mate Socrates said about the ‘unexamined life’? I don’t think I have ever heard of a more ‘contemplative’ leader having a moral failure (which isn’t to say it hasn’t happened), but far more often it is the driven, type A workaholic who finds themself here, and my guess is that it is in part related to the absence of reflective space and the ability to see their own vulnerability.
The absence of margins will see a productive body but a withering soul. However… because busyness and accomplishment is valued so highly in our society you can often get away with a depleted soul for longer than you can the lack of achievement. In reality busyness and hurry are like cancer to the soul and while their effect may not be immediately visible, the damage is being done. That’s not to undervalue achievement because I still love to get stuff done and I want to be successful, but its to say that it cannot be at the expense of the soul.
The absence of margins will inevitably have a detrimental effect on relationships. You simply can’t stop and be present with people if your brain is constantly focused on the next thing. You will piss people off because you clearly ‘need to be elsewhere’. You have better things to do than sit back and fritter a few hours away with friends. If you’re overly busy then it will show in your speech. You will talk fast and people will not rest easy in your presence… and if people don’t feel at ease around you then relationships will always struggle to take shape.
The absence of margins will also show up in your availability to people who call outside of your schedule. Margins are the space in life where the unexpected stuff can be attended to – and with care and focus rather than just as a duty to be dispensed with as quickly as possible.
I find it hard to measure ‘margins’, but I know when they are there and I know when they aren’t. Its been a long time since I lived with narrow margins and I doubt I ever will again.
To live with generous margins could be perceived as lazy, as wasteful even and at times I have struggled with being seen that way. But to live with margins also means to live in such a way that both people and God are paid attention to and given the time they deserve rather than being quantified as a task and allocated a slot in the diary.
In speaking of this I used to say that since living with margins ‘I get less done, but I’m a nicer person for it’, but more recently I’ve been questioning whether I actually ‘get less done’, or if in fact I just accomplish different things.
I guess it all depends on what we believe really matters in the end…