I opened a contract on my desk the other day, prepared to spend the good part of the hour reading through the legalese, but the 2nd page caught my attention for longer than expected. In this document that was nearly 30 pages long, there was a single white piece of paper with these simple words:
“This page intentionally left blank.”
In a world of efficiencies and concern over wasted paper and print resources, it seemed like such a waste, but I had seen it before in many different types of documentation. As I went on to read the document, I began to also notice the wide margins and the double spaced lines. I realized that this 30-page document probably had only 10-15 pages of content.
Today, I haven’t been able to get that document out of my mind, not because of the content, but because of the space. I’ve begun to think about my own life and that of some close friends and family. I am so much more efficient than the creator of that document. My life might have started out with a blank piece of paper, wide margins, and space between each line, but I have done my best to fill in any space available.
Somewhere in my past, I think I got the impression that because my life only had “30 pages” I needed to fill every space to the fullest. I use that blank page for some really great things, like community events, board meetings, and volunteering. I started typing in the space between the lines so that I could go the extra mile for our the school and for my church. And the margins have long disappeared in order to cram one or two things into a life lived to its fullest. The hard part is that they all seem to be good things.
I’ve lost the blank page. I’ve lost the margin in my life. And that concerns me. Without margin, there is no place to reflect and take note of the beauty of the life that I have. Without margin, there is no place to add the unexpected hospital visit, family crisis, or celebration of joy. Without margin, there is no place to learn a new hobby. A life without margin is not what we were created for.
I ran across a quote from Richard Swenson out of his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. And I’ll be honest; I’ve only read this quote because I haven’t had enough margin to read the book.
“Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.
“Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.
“If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.”
I was given an intentionally blank page for a reason. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, student or parent, I want to encourage you to live a life with margins and don’t be embarrassed by that. One of these days, you will need space, or your friends will need you to have space. How can you add intentional space to your life?
Director, NNU Doceo Center
Director, NNU Doceo Center