How big are your margins?

In what is thought to be one of the busiest seasons of the year, I want to challenge each of us think about this question.  If your life was a piece of paper, how big would your margins be?  Would you have one-inch margins all around your paper?  Inch and a half?  Two inches?  Or is your life so overflowing with stuff that you HAVE to do that you are not even sure you have any margins.  If you do, then maybe they are like 1/100 of an inch. 

As I have learned the hard way in my own life, some of us have gotten so used to living life without margins, we do not even know what they are.  While we might like the idea of having more time and space in our life, we have no idea how to begin to function in a world where that might even be possible.  Some of us have lives that are so filled to the brim with stuff we have to do that there is no room to squeeze anything or anybody else in. 

Modern day living devours the margins that we may have in our lives.  Living without margins creates problems.  Now with some problems, we know how to fix them.  If somebody is homeless, we can bring him or her to a shelter.  If they are in need of medical care, then we can bring them to a doctor.  If you are in need of food, we can get you some food stamps, but if they are marginless, it seems as if we just give people one more thing to do.

Some of you might be wondering what I even mean by being marginless.  Marginless has been described like this:

Marginless, is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were 10 minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station and you forgot your wallet.

Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.

Marginless is the dinner burning on the stove and the phone ringing at the same time; margin is letting the phone roll over to voice mail.  Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift.  Margin is a friend to carry half the burden.  Marginless is not having time to finish a book that you are trying to read on stress, margin is having time to read it twice.

Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.

Marginless is forgetting to or not being able to pay your bills; margin is paying them on time and having money left at the end of the month.

Marginless is hurry; margin is calm.

Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.

Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture

Marginless is the disease of the new millennium; margin is its cure.

All too many of are living marginless lives.  Think about it, how many people do you know that are overloaded, overworked, overstressed, overburdened, or overwhelmed. 

Many of us recall a day when the culture itself supported the idea of a Sabbath, when on Sunday, for instance, the economy slowed and came to a halt. Stores, gas stations, restaurants were closed. Some of us experienced that as oppressive, I recall. Growing up in a Jewish household, I was not allowed to go places on Saturday and then on Sunday everything was closed.  All of that is gone now. We live instead in a market place that is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

We no longer just have time; time has been divided into days, hours, minutes, seconds, and now nanoseconds.  We no longer just have A workplace; work now happens everywhere, we wind up doing work in the car, at home, in elevators, over phones, over computers, in hotels, at conference centers.  And the faster and faster life seems to progress, the more hours we tend to work, the more stressed we tend to be, the less sleep we wind up getting and the less time we really spend with ourselves, with those we love and with God. 

But how can we continue to survive as individuals, as families, as a planet—with finite resources. "How can we live faithfully and with integrity, here where the pace of existence is so fast"—with such high demands and expectations and a finite amount of time.  We can produce many things, but we cannot produce more time.  There is a finite amount of time in each day.  We need Sabbath even though we doubt we have time for it.

What has happened to us? What has happened is that the threshold of human limits has been exceeded.  Overload has erased the margins.  When we have margins in our lives, there is room to expand.  When we are marginless, there is no room for expansion.  We can’t stop the progress that is happening in our world, anymore than we can keep time from passing.  But we can redirect how we use the limited resources that we possess as human beings. 

See for most of us, most of our resources are spent on our physical and mental environments.  The problem is that all too often we spend so much time doing stuff, gathering stuff, buying stuff, or working to get more stuff, that we run out of time, energy and resources to spend with friends, family, neighbors or the church.  We run out of time to honor our feelings, our emotions, or process why we feel what we feel about whatever.  We run out of time to spend with ourselves.  We run out of time to spend on our spiritual lives and our relationship with God.  When we are marginless, we find ourselves hurting and in pain.  We might feel as if we have made progress materially or intellectually, but most of our pain is felt in our relationships with others, with ourselves and with God.

We don’t just experience that pain as individuals, but as a community.  There are many social issues that we are dealing with in this city and in the world, but where do you think God would have us to search for those answers.  Is the answer to violence, crime, drugs, divorce, suicide, depression, teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS going to be found in the latest technological advances or on the most recent webpage?  Or are the answers going to be found through the one thing that God has commanded us to do – love.  Love God, love others, and love ourselves. 

At some level, we have this need to just stop, rest, and be like God.  At some level, we have this desire to have more time to give and experience love.  We have this desire to stop and breathe deeply.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, "On the Sabbath we specifically care for the need of eternity planted in our own soul."  Sabbath is important, because it is when we stop the busyness, work, and noise in our lives so that God can do God’s work in us.  It is not that work is bad, but when we work all the time work becomes a curse, not a blessing."

Sabbath is a deeply spiritual matter. Sabbath is a matter of grace; a matter of acknowledging that the world does not depend on our activity, that we do not have sole responsibility for the grain growing, or the sun rising or the birds singing; that there is in and behind all things a steady, creative grace, providing for our needs, continuing the creation.

It is there in the Biblical tradition from the very beginning. In the creation story in the book of Genesis, God is busy creating for six days, separating land from water, creating light, fashioning sun and moon and stars, plants and animals, creeping, crawling, and flying creatures, and then a man and a woman. And then it is finished. "And on the seventh day, God finished the work -- and rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it."

That is a different kind of God—a God who rests—and it is a very different notion of creation, which includes as 1/7 of the process, rest, and enjoyment. It is as if God is saying to us, I’m not going into the office tomorrow morning. I’m taking the day off. I’ve put in long hours every day all week and tomorrow I’m putting my feet up and enjoying all that I’ve accomplished." That is a new and different way of thinking—that work is not finished until it is enjoyed in rest. There is a deep, profound, and fragile wisdom in that.

So, do something radical.  Enlarge the margins in your life.  Make a Sabbath. Entertain the revolutionary thought that your work includes the necessity of stopping and enjoying what you have done. Create a Sabbath. Keep a Sabbath. God’s holy gift to you is time. Cherish it. Rest in it. Enjoy it. Keep it holy.