I live in the nation’s capital. There is a badge of honor worn proudly around here, and it’s called “busyness.” The extent of one’s busyness is understood as being directly correlated to their value and purpose. “How are you?” “I’m busy; I’m extremely busy; I’ve never been so busy.”
I confess that I, too, have succumbed to this disease. Hebrews speaks of the “sin that so easily entangles.” This one is insidious in our culture today. It is seductive because to do things—lots of things—feels right and productive, even faithful.
But there’s a cost: we no longer have margins in our lives.
Without margins, we lose the space and intention to be attentive to what God is doing in our lives and our communities. Without margins, it is hard to join with God on mission in the world. How many conversations have I rushed past, how many relationships have I dishonored, and how many opportunities have I missed because I was so busy?
Life at the Edge
In the Old Testament, God’s people were invited to engage in practices that would set them apart as different from other nations, practices that reflected the character of God. One of those laws commanded, “You shall not reap to the very edges of your field.” Why was such a command given? Because following this law meant that there would always be some room to share with those who were struggling, hungry, and far from home.
What would it look like to stop reaping to the edge of our field today? We often think of it in terms of our income and see it as invitation to giving, and that’s certainly a piece of it. But what would it look like to stop filling our schedules to the edges of our capacity? What would it look like to intentionally create margin in our time for things that reflect the character of God?
And what would it look like for churches to stop reaping to the edges of their fields, busying everyone with so many internal concerns and programs that there is no room to engage with the world beyond its walls?
Fresh Expressions of church begin with listening, loving, and serving. This requires space in our lives to engage with people authentically and organically, setting aside our agendas and plans to be present and responsive to what God puts before us. These things are hard to do if there’s a constant, pressing need to get on to the next task.
4 Ways to Create Margin
As one who desires to live missionally but who has had to claw her way out of the trap of busyness, I offer the following thoughts for creating margin.
1. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
What do you really need to say yes to? We often say yes to please others, but in doing so, we burn ourselves out and reduce the room in our lives that could be used to engage in missional practices.
What do you really need to say no to, even if it’s a good thing, so that you can say yes to loving and serving those whom God is inviting you to engage?
2. Make room for relationships.
We must intentionally make time to pursue relationships—not just those close relationships, such as family and close friends, but also those with neighbors, affinity groups, and the overlooked and marginalized. When we are rushing from commitment to commitment, we don’t have the time to engage the auto mechanic in conversation, or sit down with that scared single mom, or play basketball with the neighborhood kids.
Begin to reframe “tasks to get done” as “opportunities to join with God on mission.” The trip to the grocery store may be just that, but with openness beyond completing the task, it may just become an opportunity to engage with someone along the way.
3. Integrate margins with your real life.
As the mom of teenage daughters, there is a lot that keeps our family busy. But what does it look like to embed margins into the things we’re already doing? How do I make space for loving and serving others in the midst of the activities that are already on my calendar? What does it look like not just to transport my children to activities, but to be intentional about building relationships with kids, parents, coaches, custodians, and others in the midst of those activities?
4. Pray for eyes to see people—not just tasks.
My busyness is usually driven by my need to complete tasks and get stuff done. And the truth is we all have things that need to get done. Supervisors expect work from us. Our homes need tending. Bills have to be paid.
But when I pray for eyes to see the needs of the people in front of me, I discover that I’m more likely to hold my agenda more loosely and give God space to point me towards ways I can encourage others, connect with others, and serve others. Sometimes those are fleeting moments, and sometimes they are profound interactions.
Until we stop reaping to the edges of our fields, we will not be able to start fresh expressions of Church; fresh expressions don’t develop without the time invested to listen well and to foster relationships. These things require margins in our lives. They require us to lay aside our to-do lists and be truly present with people.
Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.