On the benefits of 'margin'

In high school, I was way over-scheduled. I was busy every night of the week- with good things! I was working, leading bible studies, helping plan campus ministries and events, and sometimes even doing homework. There was nothing wasteful I was doing with my time- it was all purposeful and meaningful, but my schedule was just full.

The full schedule was something that I chose. I equated a full calendar with success- I was important because I was needed at all these different meetings every night of the week. I was doing something useful, so I had more value as a person. Something I missed out on, though, was friends. I did very little spontaneously. My ministry events were planned- Monday night, Tuesday morning, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday morning. I didn't grab a Coke at McDonald's afterschool with a friend to develop relationships or share my heart or listen for the afternoon- I had places to be. I had to get home after school so I could quickly eat dinner and move on to the next activity.

There was value in this- I learned how to manage events, plan details, and lead discussions. I can juggle a calendar pretty well. I remember once, there were 5 of us driven, busy teenagers on a leadership team for a campus ministry, that we had a planning meeting for the group at 9pm on a Friday night, because it was the only time between all our schedules we could find 2-3 hours.

I realize, now, though, I tend toward task rather than relationship, and relationships are the heart of God. There was no margin in my schedule, and God works in the margin times- when I leave room and time for him to show me unscheduled, unplanned opportunities. I have a spontaneous God.

In college, I learned my lesson (to an extent) and tried to cut back on activities. I knew better than to sign up for everything- but I still wasn't very spontaneous. I envy my sister, who, in the midst of wedding planning and finishing her last semester in college, has enough room in her schedule to take a 3-day weekend to go help with rebuilding efforts in New Orleans this weekend. If I had heard of an opportunity like that in college, I would have been excited about it, but would have done the boring, responsible, task-oriented thing and stayed home.

My husband, on the other hand, moves at a slower pace that I do. That's one of my favorite things about him. I need him to reign me in, to force me to slow down and rest and not plan every free minute of the week. I can handle way more planned activities than he can, and I've learned over the last year that its not necessary to be busy every weekend- even if the 'busy' things are good, family-oriented things. Slowly, I'm learning to appreciate rest, rather than allow everything I ought to or could be doing run through my head.

This weekend, we had margin in our schedule. We only had one get-together planned for Sunday, and nothing on Saturday. So, when we happened by the church Sunday afternoon and heard before the services started that there were a couple areas they needed help with , we were able to jump in and help, right there on the spot. There was no time-pressed stress related to taking on an unplanned activity for the afternoon & evening, and the only downside to it was eating a later dinner than expected. I was only able to serve because I left margin in my schedule, and was willing for God to alter my plans.

I'm still really, really bad at anything 'spontaneous' and 'unplanned', but I know that it's what my God is all about- surprising us with the ways he's working, and letting us get in line with it. I just have to remember to allow time for my spontaneous God.

At some point, I'll do an "In defense of Martha" post, the bible character I most relate to. For now, how do you create unplanned, 'margin' time in your week?


Lisa said...

1. Having a spouse who encourages one to slow down
2. Calling people up out of the blue just to talk. I do this with my family but am absolutely horrible at doing it with anyone else.
3. Having some hobbies (or a profession) that you enjoy which require large blocks of unscheduled time

Joanna said...

#2: I'm awful. Friends, family, anyone. I don't talk on the phone. Some friends understand, some are offended, and others make a point to call ME, because they know I'm awful.

Lisa said...

Do you talk to the ones that call you, or do you just hate talking on the phone, period?

Anonymous said...

We schedule our unplanned time. Saturday has been dubbed "Family Fun Day". We may have other plans, but we usually devote atleast 1/2 of the day to do what the boys want to do. It is our reward for making it through the work week. They know that family time is to be protected and it is special.
Sunday is usually pretty open too. We try to go out for lunch or dinner. It is probably the day that we spend the most time together.
The main spontaneous thing that we do is to call up K&D and invite them over for dinner and games during the week. It gives someone a night off from cooking, or at the very least gives them someone to share the work with. It is a good way to relax and get caught up with one another's lives.
Boy...I'm windy tonight ;)
One more thing...you know you've married into one of the most "Fly by the seat of your pants", families, right?! You should be taking last minute out of state roadtrips in no time. They are fun!

Joanna said...

Lisa- If a friend calls, I talk to whoever called and am usually glad I got to catch up with them. I just don't ever take the initiative to call anyone. I'm a bad friend...

Heather- I really respect the way you guys set aside a "family time" in the week. I think it's really cool. Having people over for dinner & games is another fun way to stay in touch. And, coming from a family that is ALWAYS on time and scheduled, the unscheduled, 'fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants' mentality has taken a LOT of getting used to. Did you hear the story of how our parents-in-law made fun of me because the first time I drove out to Josh's house, I called because I was going to be 5 minutes late?

Anonymous said...

No I hadn't heard that story. That is cute :) I used to be punctual until Matt and I started dating. Then I got tired of waiting for him to pick me up on dates, so gradually our roles have reversed. He would appreciate having the old punctual Heather back!


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