Two years ago, my September through December schedule was so packed that I wondered if it was actually beginning to change my personality.
While I was fulfilling my obligations and meeting deadlines in my work, I was experiencing a lack of energy to meet new people and felt less inclined to move toward longtime friends.
In short, I was exhausted.
John and I walked into that busy season with our eyes wide open. We knew we were intentionally saying yes to more things than usual, but we thought perhaps we could handle it.
That was in the middle of John’s year off, after he quit his job at the church and before we knew what was next. He was home full-time, and I had a lot going on with my own work, so we figured, “Okay, let’s try this!”
What happened during that busy season was I started to wilt on the inside. I’m not sure how else to explain it, but the constant deadlines and productivity combined with my travel schedule left me feeling empty and rushed.
As it turns out, my soul isn’t made for hurry.
I grieved slow weekends and normal working hours. I grieved margin and time to stare out windows. I grieved making dinners and walks in my neighborhood.
But I thought maybe this was the way it had to be in order to do what I felt called to do and be who I felt called to be.
I knew soul space and meaningful work could co-exist. I just hadn’t quite figured out what that balance looked like in my actual life.
Since then, I’ve been on an intentional journey to discover what it looks like to create space for my soul to breathe even in the midst of a busy life.
I’m finding it takes a lot more effort to maintain margins than it does to fill them up.
We are all made differently in the image of God, so I never want to imply that margin for one is equal to margin for another. We have to consider our season of life and our personality, as well as the needs and personalities of those in our family. We have to consider our goals, vision, and the resources we need to reach them.
It’s true that we all define margin differently depending on many variables. But here is one thing that it is true for all of us: We all need to define our own margins. If we don’t, they will be defined for us in the form of no margins at all.
Recently someone emailed and asked if I could come and visit their small group in a town thirty minutes away. They were reading my new book, Simply Tuesday, and would love to hang out with me and chat about it.
“We know you’re really busy,” she wrote, “but we just wanted to give it a shot.”
I love that they are reading my book.
I love their enthusiasm to talk about it.
I know if I went to hang out and talk about my book with kind, interesting women, I would have a good time and leave encouraged. What a gift!
But the thing about that request and many others like it is this: There is an assumption that the reason I would say no to that request is because I’m so busy.
In the past, that would be true.
But now, the reason I said no to that request was because I’m not busy. And I have to fight to keep it that way.
For the sake of my family, I have to fight for margin.
For the sake of my work, I have to fight for margin.
For the sake of my soul and my life with God, I have to fight for margin.
My soul isn’t made for hurry and neither is yours. We have to choose the margins in our own life and then fight to keep them in place.
This is not an easy practice. If you take this seriously, here is what might happen.
You will uncover a fear of missing out like you haven’t felt since middle school.
You will second guess your no and worry over your yes.
You will suddenly notice All The Important Things your friends and co-workers are accomplishing, planning, enjoying, and launching.
But here’s something else that might happen if you keep at it.
Your yes will become more clear.
Your no will come more easily.
You might smile more, laugh harder, and even be able to be more spontaneous with friends and family.
This isn’t a passive exercise. This takes courage and movement. Jesus invites all the weary and heavy-laden souls to come to Him. It’s a real invitation, one that promises rest as the result. But first, you have to come. And to come to Him in this moment means turning from the thing you’re holding on to instead.
Fear pushes us around. Love leads gently on.
Want some practical help to create space for your soul to breathe even in the midst of a fast-moving world? Emily has created a series of free videos to help you do just that. Watch the first video here.
So good, Emily! We’ve entered a new season with our girls in public school, and our little guy about to enter special ed preschool. At the same time we’ve just joined a church (we moved here in February) and the temptation for me is to jump into ALL the things that our church offers, our community offers, and the needs of my neighbors, etc. But I know what happens in the end when I say yes to too many things, even good things. I remember what Jesus told Martha, “One thing is necessary.” And, if I keep that in mind, somehow setting those margins, even when I want to make them smaller, keeps my soul in check to be able to know Christ more and truly receive the rest that He talks about. And then from that place, I’m able to enter into the ways that He wants to use me in ministry, relationships, etc. Thank you for the reminder!
Kristine Brown MTY says
Exactly what I needed to hear today, Emily. Thank you!!
As always, perfect timing. Haven’t been to (in)courage in months and here you are! I sent my kids out the door in a Monday Morning Manic and it was ugly and unsettling. There are always circumstances aren’t there and I’m finding that each life stage brings the need for more creativity in how I approach soul-rest. Right now, my challenges seem outside the realm of rest but I’m certain It’s to be found. Thanks for the encouragement!!!
Emily-thank you for being brave and sharing your beautiful message. Your words do speak to my soul. They help me feel a relaxed love that I desperately want to be from my approving Father. Bless you and your family.
Ah yes… So good, Emily.
A couple years ago, I had become enslaved to all of my yeses. I knew it for sure, when my first words every morning were no longer, “Good morning, Lord,” but “Oh crap, how am I going to get everything done today?”
I ended up quitting my job as an adjunct journalism prof at a small Christian college here. A friend innocently asked me, “What are you going to do with the extra time?” For about ten seconds, I hemmed and hawed and tried to justify my decision and tell her what I was going to add into my schedule.
And then I said to myself, “Well, duh, Jennifer. You’re not going to add anything to it! That’s why you’re quitting!”
Our culture places such a high value on busy, busy. I fall for it so often, and it makes me certifiably insane. Thanks for the dose of reality here. xo
Dena Dyer says
Jennifer, I agree. Margin is counter-cultural. And I so identify with the insane…busyness makes me insane too! I had a wise person once tell me that nature abhors a vacuum, so that our responsibilities WILL expand to fill “free time” if we let them. It’s a daily battle to not fill in blank moments with more. 🙂
Wise words! Thank you, Dena.
Missy Robinson says
This seems to be a struggle so many are fighting these days. It’s so important to remember we are in charge of our margin and that if we don’t guard it, it slips away from us. Peace is so worth protecting!
Kathy Cheek @ In Quiet Places says
I hope you are smiling more and laughing harder, thanks for sharing these beautiful thoughts for the hurried hearts that need permission to breathe slow for a while.
Southern Gal says
Such truth, Emily! The lists of what might happen? Those are real, but worth the effort. I believe it. And when I have that moment to take a deep breath and drink in a wonderful fall morning like this very morning? Then I know I’m right where I need to be.
I believe you’ve got this, Miss Emily…Miss Lysa said it so well, “The best YES.” xo
Dena Dyer says
I love this so much. I agree that margin is much harder to maintain than I had thought, back when I started to add it in. Thank you for the ways you lead so genuinely in this area…and thank you for this encouragement on the WHY behind margin. We so need this skill as life continues to push in on us. Hurry can rob us of so much!
Lisa Appelo @True and Faithful says
Having read Simply Tuesday, I love hearing how this is playing out for you, especially your honesty about insecurity of missing out. Oh fb and instagram, you mock! As a now widowed single mom, I am trying to be okay with what I can handle now. It’s different than before. Thanks for reminding me it’s hard work to make margin!
Missy Haussler says
I read this as I’m reading The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. We are in a busy season where we have so many opportunities to get involved in school and in church, all good things. I have purposely backed out of a lot of obligations in the past 6 months to “be still” and I am feeling so much better, but what I’m finding is the balance and being ok with saying no when we aren’t busy! I find I’m excited to get involved but afraid also, of the soul drain, again. This is no accident that this was in my inbox today:-)
“This takes courage and movement.” ~ Doesn’t it, though? I’m in the midst of praying for wisdom (and, well, now that you mention it…courage) to–move–away from the good things that need to take a backseat again. Thanks for the reminder that the end result is worth the steps it takes to get there. <3
Fonda G says
Oh how I needed this today. I have overbooked myself from now through the holidays, with three very large events scheduled for this week alone. I am kicking myself for not delegating well and not taking the big picture into account while planning. Thanks for reminding me that (A) I am not alone in this behavior and (B) things can change. It is just going to take some work on my part to protect my margins. I really do need WIDE ones.
thanks for this. I too have been learning about protecting the margins although I hadn’t quite seen that that was what it was. It’s hard to say no when it’s not because you’re swamped, but because you quite like unhurried time. I feel encouraged by your words to keep choosing well and living deeply.
Jennifer Wilcox Knott says
This post hits me square between the eyes. Creating margin is my mantra for the Fall of 2015, and you hit the nail on the head with respect to how I feel about it. This:
“We all need to define our own margins. If we don’t, they will be defined for us in the form of no margins at all.”
“You will uncover a fear of missing out like you haven’t felt since middle school.”
It’s like you’ve been in my head! Because I’ve been in a season of no margin for a while now. It happened slowly, subtly over time, and before I knew it, there was nothing left for my heart’s greatest passions. I felt over tired, over busy, and underwhelmed. In breaking out of that cycle the last two months, my biggest fear has been missing out on something extraordinary. But I’m saying no to things I would never have dreamed of before. And I’m finding that the extraordinary exists in the margins.
Thank you for these words of encouragement! I needed to hear them today!
priest's wife says
This year I am saying no…and it is helping- no more 4 day-a-week-tae kwan do for the boy who didn’t miss it….much less driving… so I loving giving myself some grace!
Laura Fleetwood says
A hurried soul is precisely the reason I had an emotional breakdown last year. Stress is dangerous to our well being on so many levels: physical, spiritual, and emotional. Emily – Thank you for reminding us that it’s ok to care for our souls in a world that too often tells us the opposite.
This is amazingly timely! Living with invisible chronic diseases, friends and family believe I am the multi tasking, all knowing, all doing wizard of my past. And worse than that-I keep trying to be that person too! The result is ugly. I look unreliable. I promise far more than I deliver. I feel defeated, stupid, ashamed. All this on top of being terribly sick. I am grateful beyond measure for you Emily and can’t wait to watch your videos and dig deeper.
Ms. Witi says
Why is it when I say no I feel SO GUILTY and often find myself thinking about it for days on end. I don’t like that and its not that I say YES a lot, because I find I do pick and choose already, but I feel others don’t understand that I need more “down time”, “family time”, “ME time” to be ready for “OTHERS time”.
I hope the guilt will go away some day. 😉
These are very wise words. You are right in that finding time to not be busy is an intentional practice, not passive. As a people pleaser, I’m learning that and it is not always easy. I just finished reading your latest book and I literally had many moments where I would take a deep breath and exhale deeply. It was like therapy reading your book! Seriously. Thank you for your words of encouragement and wisdom!
Logan Bagley says
Funny how something lands in your lap (email) at just the right time. Thank you, Emily.
Hannah Smith Hall says
This is lovely, Emily. So, so true. Yes’s are easy. It’s the no’s that require intentionality. Well said. Thank you. 🙂
I can’t quite put into words what this means to me Emily. Just – thank you.
This was so encouraging to me and just what I needed to hear today. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂
LeeAnn Taylor says
As usual, your words bless me. This weekend I said “yes” to something out of self-imposed obligation because I wasn’t “busy” during that time. It was a good thing, with good friends, however it squeezed the margin out of our day and led to a stressful beginning of the week. I’m learning ever-so-slowly that it is OK to say ‘no’ to good things to keep other good things (and my sanity!) in tact for our family.
I agree in principal – in an ideal world for sure.
But for many of us, margin is hard to come by because we don’t have much choice. When the kids are at school and the house is quiet, I have to be at the office. After school and work are done, there is homework, driving to lessons, dinner, laundry etc. Work isn’t particularly “life giving” except in the way it gives salary and health insurance. I can’t say no to that. So sometimes I squeeze in a yoga class or a small group or volunteering. If I don’t do that, I am lonely. So I can be busy and tired with people, or stay home for margin and be lonely. I am right between introvert and extrovert – I need both people and quiet. There is very little space for both with a job and family.
Balance has been elusive. And choices are slim.
Nancy Ridder says
I have slowed down and enjoy saying Yes to only the important things. But what happens if we all slow down–who does all the volunteer work–seems like there isn’t enough volunteers as it is. Or do we make work and is God just shaking his head since He will look after it?
Davina P says
I need this, just at the right time. Just starting service in His ministry two years ago, as the demand of the ministry starting to grow, I finds myself couldn’t organise as I use to be. Not only in terms of balancing family and office life, the most is spending the quite time to listen what God wants to speak and spend time with me….
I love this so much, and I ache for more margin. Right now it feels like I’m grasping for more margin, and it is consistently out of reach. I’m fighting for it, fighting hard, and it feels like daily. I’m so exhausted from fighting. So many of the circumstances I’m pushing against are these walls of stone, that are not within my power to say “no” to, like my son’s health issues, my husband’s job, the daily needs of my children. We live in such a remote location that there just isn’t much help available. Though I completely and enthusiastically agree that we have to say “no” more often, and fight for that margin, I have also learned that margin sometimes has to be a soul status. I think of Saaed, a prisoner in Iran, who is living out is faith in a jail cell, being beaten often. Where is the margin for him? We can’t always pick a life with margin. Sometimes circumstances are beyond our control. But God’s peace is not circumstance dependent. I’m so very thankful for that.
Love, love, love this ❤️