Moms Need Margin

The other morning I was trying to do too much.  My husband walked out the door to attend Sunday school for an hour while I stayed back to:
  • Cook a casserole
  • Clean up from a cake I baked earlier
  • Put together a salad
  • Nurse a baby
  • Put on clothes and makeup
  • Change 4 kids
  • Prepare for church and a lunch at a park
  • and keep the house semi-picked up along the way
As he left he inquired, "Are you sure you're able to get all that done while I'm gone?"
"Yes, I'm fine.  I can do it."

Well, he arrived home an hour and a half later to find me frazzled and nursing (still in pajamas) while trying to discipline 3 small boys with a loud voice.  No one had been changed, no one was ready, and any task I had completed was done with an angry heart.  In hindsight, it's obvious to me how crazy and prideful it was to think I could do all of that in such a short amount of time (without yelling or becoming majorly overwhelmed).

As I had a moment to reflect on this later, the word the Holy Spirit kept bringing to mind was "margin".  I had filled my morning to the brim with some running over.  My task list was so full and ambitious that I had no room for love, kindness, gentleness or self-control.  I had no room for discipline issues, training children or quietly feeding the baby.  I had no room for some necessary self-care, and I definitely had no room for prayer and meditating on the word.  I was trying to go it alone, without God, and accomplish the humanly impossible.  No wonder the result was frustration and sin!

What is margin?
Margin is...
"The amount allowed or available beyond what is absolutely necessary."
"A limit in capacity, beyond which something ceases to be desirable or possible."

Moms need margin.  We need an few extra minutes, some space in our mind and our day for things to come up.  We need time to squat down eye level with our kids and speak in a gentle voice to explain our expectations.  We need time to join in a game or mediate a conflict.  We need time to keep things in order around the house so that everyone can breathe a little deeper.  We need time for ourselves, to fuel up on eternally important things so we can pour out to others.  We might think that we can live at or beyond capacity (trying to emulate lives we see on instagram - where everything seems 'perfect'), but we can't.  As normal moms, we can't have it all...we can't have the body, the perfect food, the thriving friendships, the fun activities, the greatest career, the awesome ministry, the organized / designed house, the best clothes, the richest marriage and everything in between.  Somewhere we need space.  Somewhere we have to say no.  Somewhere we have to keep things open.  Because even if you achieve 'perfect' on the outside, on the inside of your private life, something in your heart will be corrupted.

3 Ways to Increase Your Margin
1.  Listen to the Holy Spirit and say "no" where he prompts.
One thing I'm learning in this season (with 4 young children) is to say "no"more frequently than I feel comfortable with.  I can't keep living in the past, or longing for the future.  There used to be times when I could commit to a lot of outside activities, and in the future I anticipate I'll get back to that capacity - but for now?  I can't run at that pace AND reflect Christ in my most important relationships.  This is a very real battle for me, because I want to fit in and I don't want to miss out on what others are doing.  Even daily, I have to ask God to show me areas where I need to say 'no' to say 'yes' to really important things.  For instance, on that frazzled Sunday morning, I probably should have said 'no' to baking a bunch of homemade things and picked up some store bought things instead OR I should have said 'no' to something the day before to have extra time for baking.  I couldn't come to the potluck armed with a gorgeous food spread AND do everything else my life demanded that morning.

2.  Expect the unexpected.
Another thing I'm learning (which is necessary in all cases of margin) is to go ahead and expect that something is going to come up that wasn't in my plan.  I need to expect that someone is going to get sick, need extra training, have a dirty diaper right when we walk out the door, or wake up earlier than I anticipated.  The possibilities are really endless, and the point is that I often can't predict when they will happen or to what degree.  When I live life completely maxed out, without a minute to spare, I don't have the ability to gracefully deal with the unexpected.  Handling those situations means I'm going to negatively impact something else I've committed to, or I'm going to develop a grumpy and bitter spirit.  On my Sunday morning example, I should have anticipated my kids were going to act like... *gasp* kids.  Had I planned for them to need my training and attention, it wouldn't have been a big deal to spend my last hour doing just that.

3.  Leave extra time.
What this all really boils down to is time.  We have 24 hours in a day, and don't get to add more because we increased our task list.  So if I want to do more in one area, I have to do less somewhere else.  It's foolish to add, add, add without finding somewhere to subtract.  So as we've added a child, I need to subtract somewhere because that child takes REAL time.  If we add a church activity, I need to scale back somewhere because that activity takes REAL hours.  Of course, the practice of this is difficult because everything seems important.  But I think as I evaluate life prayerfully, I start finding areas where I can add back space.  For instance, in this season, it's pretty crucial for me to wake up before my kids to pray and get a head start on things.  It's crucial for me to go to bed early to make up for that sleep.  It's crucial for me to keep activities to minimum so my routine is flexible (able to add things back in where we find the ability).

Live Life Connected to Christ
For me, this concept of margin often feels counter-intuitive.  I want to be the best servant of Christ I can be, by reflecting God and performing my roles with excellence.  This isn't a bad desire, but I often try to accomplish it on my own and by adding more 'stuff'.  But the bible - the gospel - bids me to do the RELY on God more and to make space for people over tasks.  If I want to reflect Christ, I first have to have fellowship with him.  I need to love him, treasure him, and be in closer relationship with him.  Living a life closely connected to the savior gives my heart the margin it needs to overflow a life of joy to others.  Without first communing with Jesus, I fail to have anything of eternal value to offer.

So if you find yourself (like me) feeling stressed and overwhelmed, treating others around you in a way you aren't proud of - maybe it's time to ask yourself, "Do I have enough margin in my life?"  And even more importantly, "Am I feasting on the only food that will really satisfy me - Christ himself?"

See also:  The Gospel for Moms

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