God has placed margins (limits, boundaries) all around us. When we respect the margins around us, things tend to go well for us and we experience rest. When we push against the margins, life starts going sideways and we make ourselves miserable. Sunday I shared seven margins that have helped me experience rest and contentment on a regular basis.
1. Have a Quiet Time everyday. This helps me develop spiritual margin. You may call it something else. I grew up calling it a Quiet Time. It’s a time when you get away from everything else and spend time with Jesus. ‘Quiet’ means that there’s no distractions. ‘Time’ means it’s meaningful, not just a quick prayer on the way to work or school. Once again, this isn’t some rigid rule that if you break God is mad at you. It’s for your benefit. If you spend time with Jesus everyday by reading his Word, praying, singing songs, meditating on Scripture, it helps you. It gets your mind right. It gets your heart right. It gets your soul right. And remember, everything builds off of your relationship with God. Build margin here, and everything else benefits.
2. Just say ‘no.’ This helps me develop personal margin. If you don’t know how to say ‘no’ when you need to, all your other margins get messed up. Jesus even points to this as a deeply spiritual issue. Here’s what he says: You are consumed by the approval of other men, longing to look good in their eyes; and yet you disregard the approval of the one true God. John 5:44 (VOICE)
Some people can’t say ‘no’ to others. That’s a problem. Our inability to say ‘no’ to others impedes our ability to say ‘yes’ to God. Now obviously I’m not saying be a brute, I’m saying establish margins. No one else will establish margins for us. We have to do it. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to be willing to disappoint others and say ‘no’ when necessary.
3. Sleep and exercise. This creates physical margin. We need this. Eight hours a day we need to sleep. Those are some pretty big margins. I think God was trying to make a point. A third of your life devoted to rest. It’s a constant, daily reminder that we need rest. We were created to live within the margins. It’s when we disregard margins that life starts going sideways on us.
Exercise is just as important. If our bodies aren’t healthy, everything else suffers. We need to stay in shape. Some jobs require physical effort. Mine doesn’t. I sit behind a desk. I need to exercise to stay healthy. If we don’t have time to exercise, go back to number 2. Say ‘no’ to something else. Your physical health is that important. If you don’t have energy to exercise, exercise anyways. If you wait until you ‘feel’ like exercising, you’ll be waiting awhile. Good exercise and good sleep gives you the energy you need for the day. Your body needs that physical margin.
4. Fall out of love with social media. This may seem weird but it’s something we struggle with today. Our parents and grandparents didn’t struggle with it. We need technological margin. There have been several studies that have shown that social media can be just as addictive as smoking, drugs and alcohol. If you’re on social media all the time, that’s a problem. It’s stealing you from what’s important and replacing it with what’s useless. A study in 2012 actually showed that the more social networks you’re linked to, the more likely the social media will be a source of stress by trying to keep up with it all.
I’m not saying get off of social media forever. I’m just saying develop some margins. Fall out of love with it. I did several years ago. I have a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account. I never get on Twitter or Instagram, and I get on Facebook an average of less than 10 minutes a day. Now I’m active online because that’s where people are, but I schedule all my posts through Hootsuite and then forget about it. Social media is not the end all. It’s not the answer. We need to develop margins here.
5. Give ‘presence’ more than ‘presents’. This is connected to Christmas. We’re in the season of the year where we everyone starts focusing on getting gifts for each other. Gifts are fine and good, but what your kids, your family wants more than gifts is you. They want you to be present. This plays off of the last one. Once we fall out of love with social media and don’t need to be connected all the time, we remember what’s really important. Parents, your kids would love gifts, sure. But what they really want is you, present. Not just you at home with your face stuck in your phone or watching tv. When you practice presence with those you care for, being there, being attentive, removing distractions, you actually create the emotional and relational margin needed for healthy relationships to thrive. So, put your phone down.
6. Go ‘off the grid’ regularly. That means periodically, removing yourself from everything and just giving yourself time to think. This develops mental margin. One of the greatest downsides of technology today is that we’re always connected. Our brains never get a chance to rest and just be. Research shows that our brains are wired to need rest. If we never unplug and go off the grid, we may experience negative self-esteem, depression, worry, anxiety and health issues, all the opposite of rest. It’s why I’ve talked to a lot of folks who love to hunt and they say what they love isn’t just the hunting, it’s the unplugging, giving your mind a chance to rest. It’s how we’re designed.
It’s why years ago Robin and I made the decision to take the TV out of our bedroom. We were finding that with the tv in the room, we’d watch tv rather than talk with each other, we’d get less sleep because we’d be up late watching useless shows. Our minds would never get the chance to rest. However you need to, find a way to get off the grid regularly. Your mind is designed to need rest, just like the rest of you. If you never disconnect, your mind won’t find rest.
7. Downsize your life. This is financial margin. Quit buying stuff you don’t need. Quit over-leveraging yourself and making yourself miserable. Develop a budget and stick to it. Find your worth in God, not in stuff. Learn to say ‘no.’ Here’s what Paul tells Timothy in the New Testament: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:10
When we don’t have financial margins, we make ourselves miserable. When we are content with what we have, we find rest. And it means some hard decisions. Two years ago Robin and I decided to cut the cord and drop Directv. It was a tough decision. We were a platinum member. We’d been with them for 12 years. We weren’t sure we could survive without cable television. But the cost kept going up and we kept having babies so our priorities were elsewhere. We decided to go with Netflix instead. $7.99 a month. Can’t beat it. Here’s what we’ve found. Yes, we miss some shows, but we’ve survived. Now we have more financial margin in our lives and more time with them. Even more importantly, our kids are growing up without being bombarded with advertisements all day. The tv isn’t there all the time, so they play more.
When we begin to develop margins, everything benefits, and we begin to experience rest. Build margins in your life!