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The Importance of Having Margin in Your Life

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Do you feel stretched too thin? Is it hard to say no? Setting boundaries is an important part of a healthy life. Today I’m talking about the importance of having margin in your life and how you can find room to breathe.

The Importance of Margin in Your Life @ AVirtuousWoman.org #ATimeToClean

A Time to Clean: Day 8

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.

For years I tried to do it all. I had my schedule planned out in 15 minute increments. I was homeschooling five kids. I’m a pastor’s wife and I was determined to be the best pastor’s wife ever. And I wanted to please. I really wanted to please everyone.

As time went on, my stress levels began to increase as I felt rushed every single day to get everything done. Not only was I very active at church, I managed to run VBS, teach and plan children’s ministry programs, decorate the church,  and show up for every evangelistic series or revival meeting – for all three of our churches. I planned all of the church camp outs. I picked up the community kids for programs. I took community kids to weekend retreats. I cleaned the church. I made 2 -3 dishes for potluck every week. I did door to door work and bake sales. I had company every week. I cooked three hot meals a day. I rarely said no when anyone asked me to do something.

On top of all of that we had 4 elderly family members that my husband and I were primarily responsible for – medication, transportation, and more. Plus, I often had to babysit my grandkids and help my grown step-kids when they needed it. Not to mention the fact that I was running A Virtuous Woman and writing several books during these years.

Add on top of that all of my household chores… sometimes I look back on those days and wonder how in the world I managed to do it all. I used to show up for church and my heart would be pounding so hard I thought I’d have a heart attack from the stress of trying to get all five kids ready and out the door plus perform all of the “duties” that had been assigned to me.

It’s hard to describe the reality here without sounding like a martyr or a whiner. 

The point is, I was over-committed and stressed to the max. As time went on I became more and more frustrated with how my life was going. I was exhausted all. of. the. time.

I’ve talked about my burn-out before so it won’t come as surprise to a lot of you. But, I had classic symptoms of real psychological burn-out. By the time I realized something had to change I had reached the stage 4 level of burnout.

  1. Physical, Mental, and Emotional Exhaustion
  2. Shame and Doubt
  3. Cynicism and Callousness
  4. Failure, Helplessness, and Crisis

It was pretty bad. I began this year with a deep desire to heal my deep exhaustion. I was overwhelmed. I cried a lot. I felt helpless to change things. There were times I wondered why God had forsaken me because life seemed so hard.

related: How to Talk to Your Boss About Burnout

Setting Boundaries

People took advantage of my kindness – and my inability to say no. Other people’s expectations of me – because they were used to me doing things for them – were overwhelming. I had to learn to graciously say no.

I had to learn that healthy relationships – whether it be marriage, parents, kids, church members, friends, co-workers – need boundaries. Otherwise, it’s very easy for the nice Christian woman to get taken advantage of over and over again.

It’s so hard to say no – especially when we feel like “nice” people say yes. Or when we want people to like us. Or when we just really love helping other people.

I love serving. My whole life is wrapped around ministry. I love cooking for my family. I love showing people I love them through service.

I’ve learned that saying no doesn’t mean I’m not a nice person or a good Christian. I actually wrote down my boundaries last summer. A big long list of boundaries for every area of my life. Some of the categories were:

  • my home
  • my marriage
  • my family
  • my time

I decided what my first priorities were – my family and my home. Now, everything else is based on how it will affect those two things. That doesn’t mean I never go out of my way to help someone or that I always so no to everything. But I’m no longer allowing outside activities and obligations to come before my time spent with my family or what I need to do at home. I tell the truth in love – if something is really not a good time for me {i.e keeping someone’s dog for the week} I let the person know.

Having Margin in Your Life

It’s so important to leave room in your life, in your home, and add margin to your schedule. You need room to breathe, to think, to rest, to play, and to just be. If every area of your life is so cluttered with stuff that you can’t find time to enjoy life… you have too much stuff. I used to have too much stuff cluttering my schedule which probably contributed in a big way to all of the stuff cluttering my home.

What does it mean to add margin to your life? @ AVirtuousWoman.org

Real change began for me when I learned to view life differently. I decided to embrace every moment and enjoy each day with a spirit of joy. I accepted the things I could not change {something that was very difficult for me to do} and changed the things I knew were within my power to change {myself}.

It’s so easy to fill our days with too many activities and our homes with too many things. It’s so easy to think that happiness is found outside of home and that things will make us happier. But the truth is, we need to carefully choose how we spend our time. We need to carefully weigh each decision before making a purchase. And ask ourselves, will this {activity, thing} really make me/ my family happier?

And as wives and mothers – we make so many decisions for our families every day that can impact them for years to come.

It really is okay to have NOTHING to do. 

Imagine laying in a hammock in your backyard, riding a bike, or enjoying the sunshine in the quiet of autumn. Or imagine just curling up with a blanket and a good book all afternoon.

Or… what is your idea of the ultimate peaceful afternoon? What if you did that every week… or once a day? Would the world stop spinning?

In fact, you might just find room to breathe and think and laugh. You might find joy.

What Does It Mean to Have Margin in Your Life?

Having margin in your life also means leaving room in your home – empty space. Just because you have ten closets doesn’t mean they all need to be filled to the brim with stuff. It’s okay to have room to move things around.

“Margin is the boundaries, the rest that is built into your every day life.  It is the space between our load and our limits. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. It is the opposite of overload.” – Nourished Planner

Having margin in your life means leaving enough time at the end of the day to get adequate sleep. Quality sleep is vital to your health and well being. In fact, fatigue can cause you to feel grumpy during the day – which could in turn cause you to be short with your husband and kids. Coffee is not an adequate or helpful solution to your tiredness problem!

Bible Verses About Having Margin in Your Life @ AVirtuousWoman.org

Having margin in your life also means not always being rushed. I know it’s hard when your a mom! But I’ve found that I routinely under estimate how long it takes me and the kids to get ready to go somewhere. So, in the end we’re usually rushing! Wouldn’t it be nice to arrive somewhere on time without feeling like you have to rush?

Creating margin in your life might also mean not spending so much time connected with social media and spending more time connecting with your family. I had to learn to shut things off and get down on the floor with my kids on a regular basis. I never regret taking the afternoon off to go on a hike, play a game, or take a walk. It’s always a blessing.

Creating margin in your life basically means not filling up every available time slot, closet, or space in your life and leaving room to move, breathe, and be free.

Bible Verses About Having Margin in Your Life

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:2-3

“But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Today’s Goal

  • Is your life filled up to overflowing? Is it time to cut back on outside activities and live a simpler life? Do you need to create margin in your time, family, and home?
  • Ask God to show you what you need to cut out so that you have room to grow and breathe.
  • Pick up a journal and write down your thoughts about what He has shown you or print my free prayer journal.
  • Choose an area in your home you want to tackle. I’ll be working in my bedroom today.
  • Fill at least one bag or box full of stuff to give away.
  • Take a picture of your bag. Share it on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram – use hashtag #atimetoclean {optional}
  • Leave a comment below about what you chose to get rid of.
  • Do your best to wake up early tomorrow and spend time in prayer. Use your prayer journal. I’ll be waking up around 6:30 am.

Do you need to create margin in your life? What things do you to do make sure you have margin in your life?

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  1. What a wonderful article. I have given of myself and hve a servers spirit. I love people for who they are. But it has also gotten to the point that when I do say no to things people get .. Annoyed. I am trying to put God and my boys first while dealing with many life changes. I am building boundaries and leaning on God to aid in healing being stepped on for so long. Decluttering is my very next step!
    1. Jennie, I'm glad to hear you're setting boundaries and leaning on God for strength. People will begin to get the idea that you mean business and they will begin to respect you more. If you have any questions, let me know. :) God bless you!
  2. Thank you so much for this post! I have had a struggle saying "no"! I work full time and too very active at church! I also reached stage 4 of burn out and made a goal a year ago when I turned 40 to say no! To start making my family and my needs come first...I have always lived to please others and do what I could... but it had taken its toll on me...but by saying "no" I do feel mean, I do feel like I am not a nice person... with this post it has opened my eyes that I am not the only one with this struggle and that it is ok! Thank you so much for putting the time into this web site... I was turned on to it by a friend just last week and already it has made a difference in my life! I love your study chaos to calm and the encouragement to de-clutter! You have really "hit home" for me on a lot of what you write! You are a blessing!
    1. Susan, I'll be 39 next week and I've spent years and years being taken advantage of and 2014 marked the year I decided to stand up for myself and change things. It's taken me this long to finally feel like I'm healing! I'm glad you're on your way to recovery too! Thanks for sharing some of your story with me. I do hope you'll visit with me again soon! God bless you!
  3. I have only gone through spurts of extreme stress while my kids were small and I was working full time and when I ran my own business and wasn't home like I should have been. Now, I do say no and I pick and choose my events and volunteering. I have friends that have not learned this yet and I hate to see them that way. Thanks for sharing!
  4. This is an awesome article! I am finally beginning to learn all of this. Isn't it funny that when you make a discovery in life, the information you need just suddenly starts falling into your lap? He opened my eyes and now I see. You have some really good thoughts and ideas here :)
  5. Another great post! My problem; however, is the exact opposite. I retired last April and have way too much time on my hands. I live in a very small town and there's not much opportunity to do volunteer work. I am also shy which makes it hard for me to ask people if I can help in some way. Please pray for me to find a place to serve.
    1. I am enjoying the journey for 30 days. I have collected holiday decorations and taught for 32 years. I have been trying to simplify my life and deal with my possessions. Your daily posts have been extremely helpful for me sort my thoughts as well as my things. Thank you!!
  6. Wow, that was good to read! I went through the process of creating margins in my life a couple of years ago. I was a young bride, newly moved out of home trying to figure out how to run my own household, teaching Sunday school, running a youth ministry, hosting bible study and teaching primary school full time. On top of all that I became pregnant and had chronic morning sickness all day every day. It was such a terrifying and humbling challenge to step back and say no. All the things I was doing were good things but it wasn't good for me to be doing all of them. I cut right back. God challenged me to have a year off everything but my marriage. It was one of the most peaceful and best years and really laid the foundation for my family life. Thank you for today's challenge. It's easy to feel guilty, lazy or incompetent for not doing it all and it's good to be reminded that I'm not the only one that has boundaries for my time and actions.
  7. This may sound a little drastic, but my husband and I are selling our fixer-upper home we love and are moving to a smaller, much less expensive house that needs no work done. We are both in burnout and have been for several years. We have tried other measures to create margin, and they have helped but not enough. Three of our five kids are in high school and college, and we have two younger children still to raise. We want to have the energy to invest in them because after investing in the older three with the house and all the other responsibilities (my husband works in ministry, and I homeschool), we feel we have nothing left to give, and that grieves my heart. I want to parent my younger two with the joy I had with the older three. No one really understands why we are selling our beautiful home, but I know that setting our mind on the things above will bring rich rewards that can't be quantitatively measured. Thank you for your article.
    1. Emmy, I can totally relate to this! Maybe not in the exact same way, but I went through something very similar and needed to give up a lot of things so I could really focus on my kids while they were still at home. I think you're smart to recognize how draining your house situation was and making a change for the better. Thanks for sharing!
    2. Thank you for sharing this - it really encouraged me. My husband and I are in a similar situation. We moved this past summer, and I’m starting to realize it maybe wasn’t the best decision. We no longer have any margin financially. It brings so much stress. There is so much pressure from society to “keep up.” Even within our church friends, it’s seems most families prioritize careers and making money. It’s all they talk about! They don’t understand why I would homeschool my son. It’s so hard not to live under the pressure of financial success. Trying to keep up with that removes any margin, and keeps me from putting my son first. Thank you for sharing your decision to downsize. I definitely needed to hear that. Bless you!
  8. I'm interested to see your response to my situation. I have an abusive, elderly relative who lives with me, and who professes Christianity. This person has chronic illnesses and needs almost constant care, both physical and emotional. Taking care of their physical needs isn't too much trouble, but I have attempted to limit it to only their physical needs. I cannot be around them for more than a few minutes without them starting a fight. They scream four-letter words at me and then call me disrespectful when I ask them- very calmly and politely, as I've been practicing staying calm in the middle of abuse- to stop abusing me. When I say, "I can't take anymore, I have to leave," they chase me down, force me into a corner, and block my path, then continue to scream until I finally crack and fight back. The worst times are on Sundays, because they don't believe in church. As a result, I've had to tell them that I will no longer socialize with them, celebrate with them, or be in the same car with them, except to take them to the doctor. What do you think? Am I doing the right thing? Do you have any suggestions?
    1. No one, regardless of age, situation, or relationship to you, has the right to mentally or emotionally abuse you, same as they don't have the right to physically abuse you. These sounds like healthy boundaries. If this is still on-going, I would suggest having the person evaluated for dementia (often can show up in this type of angry and antagonistic behavior, especially if it's different than their usual behavior for the majority of their life), and look into hone health options. Being the main person responsible for them does not mean that you literally have to be the one to do everything.
  9. As people become older, they tend to form more and more questions in their minds – “What do I want to do with my life?”, “What are my long-term goals?”, and “Where is my life heading to?” These questions usually come to mind whenever a person is dealing with a life crisis. They can cause a great amount of anxiety, fear, and stress, especially when one is completely clueless about what the future holds for him or her.
  10. I’ve always craved a slower, simpler life. I finally stepped down from full time college ministry 3 yrs ago as I reached extreme burnout and decided to focus on being a wife, caring for the home etc. Instead now I make no money but I have filled every waking moment with investing in and serving my neighbors, friends, my husbands ministry, extended family and continually find myself just as burned out. I want to live a life pleasing to the Lord, one that is sustainable long term, this is when I found your post on building your life around margin. I know it won’t happen overnight and requires constant refiguring and asking the Lord what HE wants me to do. Feeling hopeful, thank you for writing this!

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