Since I am such a grown-up now, attempting to figure out life On The Other Side of Middle, I decided to take a big jump this year and get an official planner. Before now, I have only had the Mary Englebright calendar my mom gets me every Christmas… If I was not standing in my laundry room, Sharpie in hand, I literally could not make a plan. No more! I ordered Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner and I love it! Honestly, it takes me back to my childhood love of pretty pens and stickers as I sit down every week and write in everyone’s colors-coded schedules and organize meal plans. Everyday of this beautiful planner has a blank for each hour starting at 6am and ending at 9pm. And each Sunday, my Type-A personality resists the temptation to fill them all in.
The Lord had been teaching me a lot about margin lately.
All I asked for for my 40th birthday was Space and Silence… like monastery style space and silence (and a puppy! Do those things feel contradictory? Whatever! Stay tuned, by the way, on the puppy front). Anyone else? Psalm 118:5 says, “When hard pressed I cried to the Lord and He brought me into a spacious place.” That is what I find my soul desiring in the grind of life, and the role of ever meeting all the needs for all the people. Although we live on close to 7 acres here at the Ranchero, I am literally never in a space alone. You get me, moms? There is always a child, a chicken, a kitten, or dog underfoot. I could use some spacious places of the Spirit. But, that kind of space and silence feels special to most of us, doesn’t it? Like women’s retreat, girl’s weekend, spa day, romantic get-away with the hubs special… What I am realizing, here in the grind of real life, is that margin is much more attainable.
Margin. Margin is simply the extra time built into our days. Listen to me, not just happened upon, because we all know that never happens, but intentionally built into our days. We have to have some margin in our lives not only for our sanity and well-being, but to do the work the Lord has called each of us to do.
A dear, wise friend once told me that hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit is like driving a car and listening to the radio. Destination mapped out, we get in, start the car, and turn on the radio. At first all we may hear is static so we keep pushing the search button or tuning the dial until we begin to hear music above the noise. The closer we drive to the radio tower, the more “in range” we are, the clearer the signal and music is coming in. When we begin to get too far away, the static overcomes the voices. In our lives we should desire to be constantly heading in the direction that we can more and more clearly hear His voice. We have all found ourselves, our hearts and minds in some static areas, places we can’t hear from the Lord at all, places His voice is drown out by the numbing buzz of routine, and hurt and hopes deferred. Sin may have driven us out of range, but it may simply be because our agendas are so tight, the course for our day is mapped out in concrete, and we don’t even bother trying to tune in. Perhaps He has appointed a pitstop that isn’t on our route. And my question to us all is this, what are we missing when we don’t tune in and leave the margin to listen and obey?
The idea of tuning in and allowing God to change our path reminds me of the absolutely wild story in Acts 8:26-40 about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Go read it right now and meet me back here! Did you do it? Crazy, right? An angel of the Lord comes to Philip and tells him to “go south down a desert road.” Philip listens and obeys and comes upon a carriage carrying a high Ethiopian official. The Holy Spirit then tells Philip to “go over and walk along beside the carriage.” Again, Philip tunes in and runs up to the carriage where he hears the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. Philip simply asks if he understands what he is reading to which the man replies, “How can I unless someone instructs me?” and invites Philip up to do just that. In the end, Philip was able to share the Good News about Jesus, baptize the official in a roadside ceremony, and then get beamed up by God and set on a whole new path! If there ever were an example of the Holy Spirit changing your plans for the day, this is it! Imagine that, if when the angel of the Lord had told Philip to “go south,” he had said, “you know, my trip is already plugged in here to my GPS and it is telling me to go north.” He had no idea why he was supposed to split off from the rest of his group that day and head down a desert road. He didn’t know what he would find when he ran up beside that carriage. But what a powerful experience he would have missed if he had not changed directions when the Lord told him to. His work that day, his ability to tune to the Holy Spirit and willingness to obey took the Gospel to a whole new region of the world!
I know we don’t usually have an “angel of the Lord” visit and give us exact directions, but I believe if we are tuned in, we can hear God’s voice above the static. Here are some examples from my own life, “Stop the lazy scroll session and send that text to check on her.” “Give up your quiet lunch at home and reach out to that new/hurting/estranged friend.” “I know you had x, y, and z planned today (it’s even written in the planner) but she needs some encouragement/help with her kids/a meal brought over, etc.” See, if our days are filled to the brim WITH GOOD THINGS, if there is no margin to change directions when the Holy Spirit tells us to, then we will miss it! We may miss our biggest calling yet.
If I could live my whole day, accomplish all I have on my to do list, get to my destination by bedtime and never tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, never tune in and hear His voice, then can I really say He is the Lord of my day? Listen, you may have called on Him to be Savior without ever making Him Lord of your life, your days, your plans, your agendas. If He is not God of your margin then He may just be marginally God to you. We need to be intentional about putting margin into our days, and then invite Him in to Lord over it.
So the question is how, right? How do we find more of this margin, these spacious places in our real lives of jobs, and kids, and laundry, and the grocery store- for the love of strawberries- ALWAYS THE GROCERY STORE! We like a formula, don’t we? “3 Steps to Space and Silence,” or “A Busy Girl’s Guide to Margin.” I get it. I don’t have that formula but I think I have found some clues.
Psalms 16:5-6 says, “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” He alone is what we should be filled up with- our portion and our cup- not our own plans and agendas. How often do we yield them up, even as we are writing them in our planners? A secure lot paints the picture of something to keep intruders out, right? Maybe a fence, a gate, a guard. The fence around our property and the gate we use to lock out unwanted strangers makes me feel safe. Where is your lot less than secure? Where has the gate been left open to intruders in your life. It may be as simple as our phones… has that ringtone lied to your and told you that it deserves to trample every fence you have put up? What about boundary lines? Without boundaries there is no margin. If the words on a page went from very edge to very edge, filling every space, there would be no margin. How are your boundary lines? I expect that for some of us, at least in some areas of our lives and in some of our relationships, those boundary lines don’t always fall in pleasant places. We live in a boundary-less society, 24 hour access to everyone, to entertainment and distractions, to demands. If we indeed let our days be filled with Jesus first, keep the worthless intruders out so that our lots are secure, and allow the boundary lines to be pleasant, I think we can find the margin we are longing for.
I believe that ultimately we all do what we want to do. I believe we will find what we are truly searching for. If that is Jesus, and spacious places, and margin for Him to fill with His voice and power and will for our days, we will find it. If it is something to fill every hour of the planner, we will certainly find that too. Is He God of your margin or just marginally God? My prayer is that God is never marginalized in my life, that I can’t get down a single road without tuning in and adjusting the wheel. May we be a generation of women who are intentional about planning and protecting our margin and then surrendering it to Him.