Last night was rough.
We got in bed late, and I had to get up and nurse a sick baby so many times I lost count. We were already exhausted after a 12-hour trip yesterday driving our four small kids from Nashville to Charlotte—with delays for van trouble, road construction, and a couple wrecks.
It’s a good thing we left early, or we wouldn’t have made it to our own beds.
Normally, I do all I can to protect my husband’s sleep. Since he’s an introvert, quality rest is important to his general well-being, and he’s usually the one to ferry kids to school in the morning before work. When he’s rested, he can cover for me to get a nap or go to bed early when I need it so I’m not running on empty.
We give each other margin, and we’re both healthier for it.
Last night, though, I was in survival mode. I had absolutely no energy reserves from which to draw, so I did the only thing I could: I brought the baby to bed with us, knowing none of us would rest well.
Today we’re all suffering because we’re too tired to help each other out.
. . .
Margin: extra space around the edges.
When our lives have no margin (of time, energy, or money), we are limited in our capacity to meet the needs of others.
Or, as Mick puts it, where there is no margin, there is no ministry.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Ephesians 4:28
. . .
Last night gave me flashbacks to when our third son was born. He was extremely colicky, and we basically didn’t sleep for the first two years of his life. We did everything in the book to try to fix his sleep problems, but in retrospect, there is one glaringly obvious thing we neglected to do for ourselves: create more margin.
During that really long season of no sleep, we pretty much continued with life as normal: long work hours, school and extra curriculars, ministry, social gatherings… you name it.
Want to know how that ended? Frequent physical illnesses, fatigue, depression, and complete burnout. There were many layers to it, but it took us nearly a year to recover. (Have we fully recovered?)
. . .
Last August, we had another baby—our fourth. Surprise! I learned a lesson from our previous experiences and decided to minimalize a LOT in order to give ourselves more margin this time around.
I started with our stuff. Following Allie Casazza, I got serious about cleaning out the unnecessary clutter. I had already started down this path when we lived in a tight apartment overseas, Allie just gave me the boost I needed to get serious and tackle the rest of the house. Less stuff means more space—and less time spent maintaining a low-stress house.
I’ve never regretted letting go of a single thing.
After that, we started to create margin with our time. Since sleep is such a high priority, we had to stop binging on our favorite shows and start going to bed early. I mean 9 or 10 o’clock early. We’re so old.
We also put limits on other screens, turning off phone notifications for email, Facebook, and anything else clamoring for our attention. We try to limit phone/computer use to designated times, though we’re still trying to find healthy boundaries. It’s hard, but we can’t afford to give everyone our attention all the time.
. . .
In January, the kids and I took a week-long media fast to kick off the New Year. We needed to reset after the holidays, and I needed to refocus on my priorities.
You know what? God met me in that space—in that little bit of margin I had created—and He gave me a fresh vision for taking care of myself and our family.
Since then, I’ve started reading for pleasure and writing again (which is why you are reading this now!) and I feel more satisfied in my motherhood. These creative outlets feed my soul. God gave me a restlessness, then He gave me the very thing I needed to satisfy it. I just needed the space to hear Him.
After that week unplugged, I also felt freedom to cut out things I thought were important.
Knowing that I would run myself ragged trying to juggle appointments and nap times during my husband’s busy season at work, I canceled most of our therapies (3-4 times a week) and took on no extra-curricular activities this year. There are lots of things I’d love for my kids to do, but I can finally embrace that we are in a season of life when those activities are an unreasonable expectation. The cost to our family would far outweigh the benefit.
Do you want to know the outcome? Our kids play outside more. We spend quality time as a family. We read books together and play games. We invite people over for dinner now and then. We rest.
When someone gets sick, or something breaks down, or unexpected events derail our plans, it’s an inconvenience, but not a crisis. (Just like everything that happened on our drive home yesterday.) Margin makes all the difference.
. . .
We’re in a hard season with four young kids at home, but I feel like I’m living an abundant life. There will be other seasons for other things, but right now I want to live simply so I can enjoy my family and make home a place they want to be.
I wasn’t sure how we’d even survive this season—how surprised I am to find that we can actually thrive in it!
Take a look at your schedule, your home, your finances. Are things so tight that you have no room to breathe? Do you feel overwhelmed? Make some time to pray about it and ask God to show you what’s really important in this season of life.
Don’t be afraid to let go of something—even if it’s for a year or two.
What’s a year in light of eternity?