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Defending the margin

Do not write in the margins!

Swamped. As I begin the Advent season I’m already feeling it. I’ve written year-end reports, participated in our Christmas decorating event, and attended a church dinner. But there are still new classes to teach, new songs for the praise team to learn, a youth mission trip that needs my attention and an adult one that needs to be researched, new committee members that need direction, worship series for 2012 that need to be planned, and more. As if that wasn’t enough, our worship computer crashed last week, turning an hour of routine editing into 4 hours of slide creation. With all of that to do, taking care of the people in my congregation, not to mention my family, seems like an imposition. Wait. That can’t be right. Something is out of whack here.

As my day off approached last week, I was tempted to work instead. There was worship planning to be done, calls to be made, and people to visit. Maybe I could get ahead and make the rest of my week lighter, I thought. Many would applaud my dedication if I gave up my day off. But I know better.

We are very busy people. We go through our daily routines, moving from task to task without much thought. There is little time for reflection, after-action processing, or even adequate planning sometimes. At day’s end we collapse in bed exhausted, thinking about what did not get done. The next morning we are up with the alarm clock, not quite fully refreshed but ready to start the process again. Day runs into day. Week into week. Year into year. Although it might seem sanctifyingly selfless, it is not healthy.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I know the best thing I can do is take time for myself – read a book I want to read rather than one I should, catch up on my favorite TV show, play a little guitar, or work on my motorcycle. Although I know how important margin is in my life, every week I have to re-talk myself into defending my day off.

I like that image of margin. When we write a letter, create a lesson plan, or prep a sermon you and I are careful not to fill the entire sheet with text. We leave some white space between the work and the edge of the page. Those margins keep the text from becoming overwhelming, make room for others to enter into the conversation, and give our stories room to breathe. Like the margin on the page, we also need margins in life – boundaries between work and the rest of our existence.

Taking time for yourself may sound selfish. I promise you it is not. Ratheer, it is the best thing that you can do for your congregation, your coworkers, your friends, and your family. Take care of yourself. Take time to be refreshed. It will make you a better pastor and a better person. We do ourselves and everyone we love a favor when we contain the work and leave some white space in our lives every day. Defend your margins.

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