Cultivating Margin in the Midst of Hardship

I used to think margins were a luxury for the very, very rich. I thought that if someone felt good enough about their work done in the main hours of anything to cultivate spaces in between it all, then they must have been rich indeed. Or maybe they really just had money seeping out their ears while they slept on the couch after a movie marathon, and that was how they could justify the rest. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.

But just the other day the thought struck me; that it’s more than margins. It’s more like refusing to do the opposite of leaving margins. It’s refusing to cut it too close.

“Well, you probably missed that one,” we heard from under the furrowed brow of the man clicking on his computer at the Air Canada check in desk. My best friend and I had just enjoyed the most magical week on Prince Edward Island. We saw some sights, walked on the red sand beaches and ate Canada’s most famous Cow’s Creamery ice cream. But when it came time to leave early that Friday morning, we had forgotten that we needed to put gas in the rental car.

I secretly wish there had been a camera filming the action as we struggled to figure out a) how to open the gas compartment on a mini-cooper b)how to pre-pay in liters for enough gas to fill said mini cooper, and c) how to realize earlier that google was taking us on a 45 minutes detour instead of just telling us to make a u-turn, on our way back to the road from the gas station.

When we ended up on a one-way dirt track we realized it: we had cut it all way, way too close, and we were very possibly going to miss our flight to Toronto. But we had a hope, that since the airport we were leaving from only had two gates, that we would probably be able to sneak in 30 minutes before our flight left.

“I don’t suppose you can get two more suitcases on the plane Brody…” the grouchy man with the furrowed white brows spoke into the walkie, he seemed to be willing Brody to say no.

“OH YEAH…” we heard the cheerful voice on the other side, “No problem at all!”

We owe the happy ending of this story to a man with a cart who was not afraid to come and get our tardy baggage. We made it on the plane just as the sun was coming up over the Island, but as we stood on the stairway waiting to board, there was no doubt in our minds, that aside from blindly following google’s directions, the main problem was that we had cut it all way too close. Though this week of rest with my best friend was in so many ways a testament to my learned ability to rest in the midst of seasons of intensity and hardship, I had forgotten to leave margin at the end of it all, to leave room for inevitable hiccups that come when you are traveling, especially in another country.

For so many years I lived a “cutting it close” kind of life. I respected following distance when driving to be sure (I was and am, a rule follower by nature), but when it came to cultivating any kind of personal margin to preserve my sanity; I wasn’t into it. I think I actually felt crazier when I tried to STOP what I was doing in order to rest. As newlyweds, my husband saw this monster of perfectionism up close and personal, as I obsessively cleaned late into the evening and refused to respect my bedtime. Always to my own detriment, and his. How would it be that years later, when I became the parent of a daughter who suffered from terrible tummy pain, that I would finally learn how to rest?

I think so often when we are faced with suffering of any kind, but especially the suffering of our children, it can be so easy to swing the pendulum the opposite direction, and try desperately, to control the situation. And to be sure; as parents we are called to steward our children as best we can, to keep them safe from harm and to help them heal when harm has been done. But there is also peace in realizing that it is not all up to me. There is a heavenly father who loves my daughter, who cherishes her, even as He cherishes me. He watches over Ellie on the couch when I take five minutes to go get a glass of water and wash my face. He comforts her in the quiet dark when I can do nothing more than sit next to her and rub her feet. When I am hungry in the middle of the night, having stayed awake every hour when I would normally be resting to take care of a little girl in flare-up, it behooves me to leave enough margin in my own heart, to accept the rest that God wants to give to me: to heat up a bowl of the soup a loving friend brought for me, and then go and resume my place next to her on the couch.

This is how I refuse to cut things too close; not that I take or fight my way for what I feel are my own personal needs—but that in those moments, I quiet my heart before the Lord, and I accept the rest that He wants to give me. I leave room. As I provide, I must also accept His gracious provision.

It is in the spaces in between; the space between the loading of the groceries and the drive home. The space between the laying down of the last sleepy head, and the laying of my own weary head on the pillow. The space between the alarm clock ringing, and the words I write so early on the page. These are the spaces that God invites me to rest in the fullness of who He is; and who I am as a result of that. He invites me to create space in my mind and my heart, to welcome Him into whatever difficultly, I am currently facing.

If you are suffering; or if you are walking through suffering with someone else, what would it look like for you to cultivate a little margin today? How can you accept the rest that God wants to provide to you, even in the smallest moments, so that you can endure the trials and cheer on others who are enduring with you?

Dearest Reader, it takes a recognition that we are not in control to sit down for a moment and rest in the midst of hardship, but in the end, that surrender is where peace comes. Here we make space for the small things that could become as urgent as a missed flight if left unattended. Here we make space to fill up a glass of water for ourselves, as well as for someone else. Here we make space to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We are finite, and so needy, and that is not a liability, it’s an opportunity for God to meet us.

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