“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul..” Psalms 23:1-3a
Without fail, every trip our family would take to Devon you'd find the last entry in my journal brimming with sentiments of deep joy, peace and gratitude yet coupled with longing. A quiet desperation echoed each thankful sigh, 'How do we hold onto this, how do we take this home?'. In an ever busy society our family was fighting to find that age-old skill of being able to 'shut the front door' on the outside world. Immersed in an environment of 24/7 connectivity we were struggling to find the off switch.
Leading into our holiday we were usually overwhelmed and burnt out, we became like lost desert wanderers; crawling, thirsting, driven forward on our last legs of energy with hopeful desperation towards the pool of water on the horizon. The annual holiday was the renewing practice which reset us spirit, soul and body, it had become the only means of escape. To live overwhelmed yet know there is relief you can't have 'just yet' makes for a slow, miserable existence.
Our holiday was a privilege, there are many, many precious people who don't get a holiday for most of their lifetime, some not at all, how did they navigate this well? A couple of issues needed to be addressed and some new skills learned if we were to create the sense of personal space and renewal in the everyday living.
The foundational issue was to stop living for that holiday moment and to begin cultivating a lifestyle of moments, which, strung together intentionally made for a more sustainable daily life. One way to do that was to build in some margin.
Margin is that clear space alongside the full page. In this space you add in the touches, the notes, the changes needed, the edits and omissions. We all need clear space in our lives, regularly. Jesus would often take himself off for solitary prayer, times alone, also very often time with those he loved or was ministering to. Being with others can be a renewing practice. The aim of allowing margin for these practices is to find yourself again, to sit your heart at the feet of Christ and see him afresh. In doing this we are rested, filled and ready to go out give out of a full cup.
What Are Some Renewing Practices?
- Taking a walk
- Enjoying a lengthly bath with candles and soft music, or silence
- A cup of tea or coffee with a book
- Reading aloud together
- Seeing a friend
- Productive time for your own interests
- Quiet time
- Taking a nap
- Creative projects such as painting, crafting, photography, sewing, baking
- A massage, facial or manicure
- Putting your phone, TV, screen time away at certain hours
- Going for a drive
- Listening to a podcast
- Housework. Yes, a good tidy or declutter can get anxiety down and restore peace!
These will be different for all everyone, maybe you are an extrovert type personality and so being with others and reaching out to meet their needs is what reenergises you. If you're an introvert the opposite is true, too much 'peopling' and you want to crawl into a cave, building in time alone is vital to restoring your balance.
When I first began creating margin I missed the point entirely. I would have an evening or day free so when someone would ask if I could do this is that activity, looking at my calendar I'd say, "Sure, I'm free!". Well you can guess that pretty soon the newly created margin was filled again and any space to renew myself was quickly gone.
Margin is a balancing act.
We know we are called to live selflessly, servant hearted, pouring out our lives for the good of those in our span of care and contact, but we've all experienced burn out and know you can't live a sustainable, life-giving existence always giving out. We need a life which Jesus can interrupt whilst giving ourselves permission to guard some measurements of time. We learn the art of doing this on the job, Jesus was the master!
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. (Mark 4:35-38a)
Note two things here: 1: Jesus went 'just as he was'. If you go back and read the full context you'll see that Jesus had been giving out all day meeting the needs of the multitudes; teaching, preaching, healing, being with the crowds. He had no time to grab a cloak, eat or rest.
2: Jesus was sleeping on a cushion, he took a nap.
On the fly, on the job, where he could, he took the rest and renewal he needed for what lie ahead. The Message bible translates Matt 11:28-30 so beautifully, that Jesus can teach us the unforced rhythms of grace'. We only need turn to him to learn them.
I know the signs in myself when I need a little time out, learning to read those signs is very important.
Begrudging service, thoughts and feelings of resentment, being quick to take offence or to anger, emotionally raw, touchy, snappy, feeling entitled, measuring my giving, a lack of joy, lack of motivation, tiredness, sorrow, thankfully not all at the same time!
When I read the signs I know I need a renewing practice. That could mean a 5 minute moment in the bathroom behind a locked door ignoring the war taking place between my children downstairs, and I don't take my phone with me. Kevin DeYoung in his book Crazy Busy likens the notifications on our phones akin to being constantly tapped on the shoulder by someone different in an over crowded room. Take your phone with you for a break and you may find you don't get one.
Our family has been to the tipping point of living a constantly connected yet mission minded life. In these times, we need to find and fight for the art of closing the front door and carving out margin time more than ever if we're to live a joyful, fruitful sustainable life.
In his book Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about 'that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviour cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire'. Could it be possible we are at the tipping point with connectivity and activity, that we're seeking ways to reimagine what it looks like to shut the front door? Are we becoming hungrier for renewing practices which will restore and put us back to rights making us happier people and less like grumps on a perpetual diet of busyness.
My sister put her Christmas decorations up the first week of November this year. Dealing with some life challenges, she was in desperate need of something to lift her heart. For her, taking the time aside to put up the pretty tinsels, turning on lights in the darkness was the renewing practice which gave her heart hope again to look ahead. We all need those practices which renew hope in the darkness.