Live with Margin


A margin is the portion of the page that you intentionally leave blank. You’ll notice if you open that unfinished book on your nightstand or coffee table that the printers didn’t put text all the way from the left side of the page to the right side. Rather, they left space all around--those are margins.

Yet, in life, everything in our culture is telling us to ignore margins. Spend more money than you make, and you will have no financial margin. Fill your schedule from early morning until late night, and you will have no time margin. Surround yourself with needy people and constantly be reactive to their expectations, and you will have no emotional margin.

Mark Batterson wrote, “You need margin to think. You need margin to play. You need margin to laugh. You need margin to dream. You need margin to have impromptu conversations. You need margin to seize unanticipated opportunities.”

I want to live a life with margins.

When I live on less than I make, I have the financial margin so an unexpected expense won’t capsize me, and so I can respond in the moment to someone else’s real need.

When every moment of my life is scheduled, I don’t have the margin to stop and listen to someone who needs an ear; I don’t have the time to jump in and help a neighbor fix their sprinkler; or don’t have the flexibility to go to my kids sporting event that was scheduled at the last minute.

Margin makes you pleasant; no margin makes you grumpy.

Margin allows you to be generous; no margin makes you Scrooge-like.

Margin helps you listen; without margin, you come across like someone who doesn’t care.

Margin gives you the space to learn, grow and dream; without margin and you become stale and empty.

Margin increases the chance you will hear the still small voice of God when He speaks; without margin and you might continue through life without the blessing of God.

And yet, I think it is safe to say that most leaders in America live without margin. We don’t want to live that way, but we find ourselves constantly trying to catch our breath.

Here are some short, practical tips  on how to create margin:

  1. Carve time in your week for margin. Write “Unscheduled Time” in your calendar and stick to it.

  2. Live on 80% of your income. Give another 10% of it away, and put the last 10% in a separate account to respond to emergencies or whatever God may prompt your heart toward.

  3. Know yourself. What drains you? What fills you up? Schedule time to refill your tank with activities that add life to you.

  4. Minimize the number of life-sucking people around you. It’s okay to have some relationships where you do all the giving and none of the receiving, but you’ll live a sad, lonely life if all your relationships are like that.

  5. Every now and then, turn off the noise. Schedule an electronic detox on occasion, and take time to listen to God, others, and yourself.

Where are you feeling the lack of margin in your life? What should change?

Excerpted from “Fairness is Overrated,” chapter 1