The speed of life tramples time in a cloud of dust. Meeting after meeting drains the day, leaving you spent. Nerves fray, and numbness results.
Deloitte commissioned a study that discovered 77 percent of employees encounter and suffer from “burnout,” Herbert Freudenberger coined the term to describe helping professions—nurses and doctors—whose brutal work schedules left them exhausted, listless, and apathetic.
They burned their candle down to nothing.
Since then, it describes housewives wondering if diapering children and cooking endless meals is the prison sentence life holds. Unappreciated workers become cogs in the industry machine and feel like furniture, a commodity to be used up and then replaced.
Burnout feels raw. It doesn’t hurt as much as it leaves a person confused, bewildered, and numb to their existence. The burned-out wander through life absent of purpose.
A simple remedy to burnout exists. It is called margin.
Margin is when life has elbow room to breathe, think, and become. Like the ruled notebook paper used by school students, a vertical line running down both sides of the paper is a boundary that warns “don’t write here.” Most know that the margins keep the writing “between the lines” without explanation.
In life, margins are times and routines that demand activity stay confined to clearly defined edges. A person with margin knows when to start and when to stop. He knows what to let into his life and what to keep out. Margin stakes out appropriate property lines, and allows life to recharge when batteries run low.
Even the Son of God knew that, as a man, he required margin if he would accomplish the purpose God sent him to earth.
The gospel writers sprinkle a word into the narrative of the daily life of Jesus Christ. The term was “withdraw.”
Jesus burst into humanity in a quiet, easy to ignore way. But as he preached, his message magnetized his listeners, drawing them to the message God had sent.
As his popularity grew, people pressed on him. Mobs swarmed, seeking healing for the sick. They would anticipate where they thought he was going so they could rush ahead to have a front-row seat.
In John 6, a crowd forms, and he has to feed the multitude. Feeding the people made them pressed on him even more.
With so many people to help and available for Jesus, he took the opportunity not to heal and teach but to withdraw.
“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)
Jesus refused to bow to the agendas of people. He would not allow himself or his life to derail in a crash made by demands. Instead, he knew what he needed.
He needed margin.
All hope for time to think, re-create (better with a hyphen than recreation), and recharge. And we persuade ourselves it is coming. One day…when we get everything done off of to-do lists or when on vacation. But even vacations allow cellphones to ring and skulking texts to appear.
Margin is expensive. The simplest word to say is no, but also the hardest. No one wants to disappoint. Some are so fearful of supervisors, they grit their teeth and white-knuckle it through.
In the end, the candle keeps burning, but the flame flickers into a seething resentment.
Margin forces us to confront two axioms of life.
You cannot find margin. You must make margin. You have to say no. Out-of-control activities need pruning. As one man has said, “you can do anything you want. You cannot do everything that you want.” Margin becomes a drill sergeant demanding you to test every moment stand an evaluation. Send whatever that does not help you become better person to the stockade.
Others do not give you margin. You must enforce margin. There is more to do than time to do it. When a request comes, stop and think. Say, “I need to consult my calendar” or “let me check with my family.”
Jim Collins wrote, “good is the enemy of great.” A good activity is seldom a single activity. Instead, we have a string of good things that we feel bad for not attending. But as Jesus did, the good things in life will be there the next day. Select the activities which feed your soul. Sadly, many bounce from activity to activity. All are good. Few are great. Keep the best ones and get rid of the intruders.
In the “always-on” age in which we live, margins shrink until they disappear. Shattered lives and “might have beens” lie in the wake of lack of margin.
Where is your life? Too full to spiritually inhale? Too full to reflect quietly? Too noisy to hear the small still voice of God?
Make some margin and start breathing again.