Did you ever hear about the tricks you can play to lengthen a college writing assignment? You know, things like changing the font to something slightly wider (I’m looking at you, Verdana. They say it’s big boned, I say it’s fat.), or making the font size of periods huge. Probably the biggest trick, though, was messing with the margin.
Increase the margin of the paper, get a longer paper. These were the tricks a bunch of my classmates would do. I think I only tried those tricks once or twice. Not because I’m a great student or writer, but because I have this remarkable ability to be able to blather on endlessly on almost any subject.
It’s amazing to me that, outside of college, people play with margin too. But instead of a line in Word, they’re messing with the margins of their lives.
I know some people who are amazingly productive. They get lots done. But they do it by packing their time with work. They shortchange the rest of their lives, and even sleep, to get more and more and more done.
I also know people that don’t have much substance to them. They have tons and tons and tons of margin. They’re constantly increasing their margin lines and there’s not much to them as a result. But they have lots of free time.
There are lots of different margins. There’s time margin. There’s money margin. There’s relational margin. There’s moral margin.
In each dimension, you can bump your margin up to the edges of the paper and up against near-disaster. Or you can dial it back so far that there’s just not much on the page. It’s up to you how you want to go.
On time-margin, I tend to go too far to the edge. I cram more and more in until I’m overwhelmed and unable to do anything. Sometimes I go so far I want to curl up into the fetal position and cry.
On money-margin, I’m the opposite. I generally prefer to (and do) eat out of the peanut butter jar just to save money on groceries than buying dinner. There’s not much on the page when it comes to my money. (this is called being a “saver”. Most of you think I’m a spender, but I’m just a saver with a bad gadget addiction.)
God has been teaching me better margin management. I’ve dialed back (and quit) a bunch of commitments to have more time-margin. And God is slowly but surely teaching me to both have faith in Him (saving too much means I trust Him too little) and to be more generous towards others, and we’ve been eating away at the margin I’ve built up financially.
But, what’s most remarkable? I’ve also been learning that what you put on the page is really important too.
I can fill my pages with work and life – my life. But, the rub is this: my life needs to be less about my life. I wrote that simple phrase on my mirror because I want to see that every day. I want to keep at this. Keep pursuing a life that is less about my own life and more about others.
It’s not exactly the same thing, but Paul’s imagery here is great: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering”. (2 Timothy 4:6)
What if we decided what we put on the papers of our lives was less about us and more about others? What if, to use and maybe abuse Paul’s analogy, we poured our lives out into the cups of other people? What if?
For me, this plays out this way: I want big fat margins in my life. I want the time and money to be able to do things, crazy things, with generosity and spontaneity. I want to have enough margin that when God calls me to do something scary, something intimidating, something beyond my mind, my reaction is: “I’m scared but let’s go!” and not: “I’m sorry, I’m already at the edge.”
Time and time again, I’ve seen God write his love for others in the margins of our lives. We have to give God space. Space to write His love for others through us.
That’s what I want my life to be life. Not some neatly ordered academic treatrise neatly stacked in a library somewhere, but a sprawling paper mess where I wrote what I could, but God scrawled all over my pages with His handwriting.
I want big margins in my life so God can fill them in with His loving care, not so there can be a bunch of white space of boring nothingness.
Here’s how that played out this week. A week ago somebody came up and told me their brother didn’t want to come to church because he decided he didn’t have any friends and nobody liked him. I texted him, and through like 3 mis-steps and failed plans, we were able to finally hang out and I got to take a crack at correcting that (false) idea.
I got to spend time with one of our 7th graders and his whole family at his jazz concert up in the mountains. I got to hang out and learn some great wisdom from one of my favorite (and one of our best) middle school leaders on the way up.
I got to talk to one of my guys on the phone and encourage him with some stuff going on in his life.
I got to have meals with two (very different) groups of guys and “just do life” and talk about how things are going.
I got to talk to two seventh grade guys about their challenges with faith and difficult questions their friends are asking about God and about faith.
I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out, and probably forgetting others, but these last 7 days have been busy. I’ve had something going on with others every night this week.
But I protected the margin of my life and let God fill it in and (hopefully) write how much He cares about each of these guys through my life. Not every week looks like this. Some are heavier. Most are a little lighter, but I’m keeping the margin high so God can fill it in with whatever God pleases.
At the end of my life, what will matter, really matter, is not going to be how much I accomplished. How much money I made. How many promotions I had.
It’s not even going to be about how much money or time I gave away. Or how many people I baptized, or how many people I “won over” to the faith.
What matters is going to be how much I let God write His love story through my life.