Margin for error

As I pulled up to the middle school for my child’s sixth grade awards ceremony recently, I couldn’t help but think back to a similar day just a few years ago.  It was a Friday, my day off, and I’d been running around all morning trying to get here, there and everywhere, squeezing in one errand too many, as if I could defy the time-space continuum and make the fifteen minute drive from the store to the school in less than 10.  (I still believe it can be done.)  Barely on time to catch my daughter’s kindergarten awards ceremony, I parked the car almost completely off the road and ran up to the building, scurrying past the guidance counselor, a member of our church, who asked where I was going in such a hurry.

“To see Annie’s kindergarten awards ceremony at 10,” I told her, trying to not lose valuable seconds in the exchange but still wanting to look like my timing was intentionally efficient.

Margaret smiled that guidance counselor smile; the kind of smile that told me I was about to learn something, so I may as well put down my backpack and relax.  I wasn’t going out to recess today.

“Annie’s in the first grade, Jayne,” she said as gently as she could, “and that ceremony was at 9:00.”

I told this story in a sermon several years ago and a family joined the church because of it.  Go figure.  “That’s my life,” the wife said.

My hope is that they joined believing we would struggle along the journey out of a fragmented, marginless lifestyle together.  My fear is that they saw in the church a haven and accomplice for the over-loaded and sought refuge in its complicit blessing.

How are you helping folks in your church to create margins in their lives?  How are you helping yourself?  There may be no more important work for us today in the area of spiritual formation.

In school, our teachers taught us to keep our writing in the margins.  Didn’t you have to fold the right side of your lined paper to create a space equal to the one defined by the thin red line on the left?  And keep your lead-smudged second grade prose within the boundaries?  Margins not only prevented our work from recklessly running off the page, but created white space in which to think – a place where we could make changes or corrections; a place for the teacher to engage us, hopefully not in red ink.

It’s like the financial planners who tell us to live below our means.  Actually, my grandmother told me that.  To create room for the unexpected expense, to plan for what we cannot yet see.  There’s a peace afforded by such practice that those who begin to struggle with more month than money long to recapture.

Our spiritual life is no different.  Margins allow room for the unexpected encounter, the change of course the Spirit prompts, the ‘useless’ rest before God that embraces and renews our soul.  They are where we discern God’s engagement, where we reflect on our experiences, where we are protected from ourselves.  They keep us from running recklessly off the page.

A life with no margins leaves no space for God to move, no silence in which God can be heard, no time for the Spirit to shape our thoughts and bubble up from within us.  A life with no margins all too often proceeds at a pace that belies any concern for that reality.  Life becomes all about us.

Over the next few posts we’ll look at creating margins – in our prayer, in our calendars, in our relationships, in the church.  I know what you’re thinking.  “I don’t have time for that.”  Trust me on this one.  Margins are not a luxury.

There’s nothing worse than cramming life into your day, arriving by the skin of your teeth, only to find out that you missed what you desired the most – peace.  Grace.  Meaning.  Abundant life.  The first grade awards ceremony.


Jayne Davis

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About the Author
Jayne Davis is Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. She is part of the Hopeful Imagination ministry team, encouraging churches and church leaders in a changing world. Jayne is co-author of the book Hopeful Imagination and posts on Facebook at Spiritual Formation - Along the Way and is trying to learn to Tweet, though, being from the Bronx, is paranoid about people following her.

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  • gary

    My first thought when missed your daughter’s kindergarten ceremony was ‘don’t blink,’ as the country singer sang (not sure of the artist) – we open our eyes and the moment has gone. Many times I blink too rapidly, missing some important moment to serve or smile or say a kind word. ‘Don’t blink’.
    Margins? They keep us from going outside the lines when we need to stay in the lines. Sometimes the lines become planes, and prevent us from going outside the box. Boxes are filled with packing peanuts, to keep the contents from shifting around and breaking during transport; when the box arrives at destination, time to open the box and get out the contents. Enough about boxing – take off the gloves and take a break, I say to myself.
    Back to margins. In my journal, I prefer no lines and no margins; thoughts and words flow, but they can’s fall off the page – there’s an imaginary line at the edge of the page, and if I go past it, my pen slips off the page. So it is with God, too. There are imaginary and real lines, and God keeps moving them, but if we try to move them, we fall off the page.
    … and so I ramble on and on …
    Thanks, Jayne, for all you do :)