I live my life in the margins.

When I first heard about living life in the margins, it was part of sermon series at my church.

It was years ago, but it continues to be the single most talked about series my husband and I have ever sat through.  We’ve had conversations with other adults where a couple has made a major change in life and provided a single word explanation.

Margin.

 

i live my life in the margins

I leave margin in my checkbook.  If I think my balance is $10.23 I don’t go to the grocery store and write a check for $10.23.  I might put $5 worth of gas in the car instead.  And I cook rice and beans.  (It’s been years, but I remember well.)

Margin.

I’m planning dinner for six and I cook eight chicken breasts, just in case someone wants seconds.

Margin.

I leave unscheduled time in my day for spontaneous visits on the porch, for the unexpected phone call from a friend, for the random errand my husband sends me on.  I leave space at the bottom of my to do list too.

Margin.

Deliberately leaving space for the unexpected and unthinkable to happen.

Got it?

I live my life in the margins.

As a writer and scribbler, it resonates.  My greatest insights and inspirations are invariable scribbled in the margins of the printed page.  My calendar, my shopping list, my list of goals… I always leave lots of white space for the inevitable margin scribbling.

(Yes, I write in books.  Hush.)

Because life is messy.

margin is a space

Now apply it to anger.

Pretend that your anger could be measured and displayed at any given point in the day.

It’s a number – somewhere between 1 and 100.

You know full well that at 60, you start yelling.  At 70, you start yelling things you regret.  At 80, you start slamming doors.  At 90, your head spins around and your hair stands on end.

The problem?  You woke up this morning and were at a 50 before you had a cup of coffee.  It happens.  No judgement.

Then your child forgot their lunch.  Your schedule is so jammed tight that the run up to the school throws the rest of the day out of whack.  You run late. Stuff gets missed.

And you’re done.  You’ll spend the rest of the day at a 59 and any little thing that ticks you off will push you over the edge.

Like that stop light.

And the missing keys.

And the smell of popcorn in the microwave.

And the cartoon voices

You know the drill.  (So do I.  Really.  You aren’t alone.)

Here’s the deal.

You need margin.

you have to fight for margin

A month ago, I started working on creating margin for anger.

My husband says it’s working.  He can SEE it.

I created margin.  I made space for anger to happen WITHOUT me needing to explode.

If you’ve been following along in this series, you should be feeling the benefits of a little margin yourself.

Four steps to creating margin

(at least as I understand them today)

Step one, I remembered that I don’t have to yell at 60.

I went back to what works.  Mommy time outs work for me.  So does calling my son “cute cuddly child of the couch cushion castle.”  It lets me hit about 65 without yelling.

Step two, I figured out how to drop below 50.

I didn’t hit 50 before my first cup of coffee this morning.  I was at a 20.  Until the doorknobs go on the closet doors, that’s about as good at it gets for me.

A big part of that was working through my list of little angries.  Each little angry that I worked through might have been worth one “point” of anger, but those thing add up.

Step three, I figured out that I have a RESET button.

Just because I hit 50 does NOT mean I’m going to walk around the rest of the day at 50.

I can reset my anger level.  I can get it back down to 20.

How?  Prayer works.  Prayer is really good. 

One of the few things left on my little list was “We’re out of milk.  Again.”  When I prayed about it, I realized that making sure my family has milk is part of my job.  It’s unreasonable to think anyone else is going to buy it or that we won’t run out of milk on a pretty regular basis.  I realized it just wasn’t worth getting angry about.  Prayer brings perspective.  Perspective leads to peace.

How else?  I made a second list of little angries one night this week.  I sorted it into buckets, just like before.  And once again, the anger drained away.

Step four, I realized that I can choose to get angry at 30.  Or 40.  Or 50.

Instead of waiting until I uncontrollably blow my stack, I can choose a measured sense of anger as appropriate and needed.

Me.  In control.  Using anger as a tool.  Choosing anger instead of just exploding.

(That statement deserves a post of it’s own, and possibly a celebration that includes chocolate buttermilk pie.)

Any of those four steps creates some margin for anger.  All four of them together create a sustainable margin that accommodates MOST of the daily upsets that life can bring.

Margin.

I leave myself some space to stay in control of my emotions.  I deliberately create “space” for the unthinkable and uncontrollable.

Margin.

I schedule time for a quick devotional in the car before I pick the kids up from school.  In the process, my anger drops 10 “points.”

Margin.

I realize that I’m “hangry” and ready to yell at 30.  So I snack.

Margin.

The television is so loud it feels like an assault.  Turning the volume down 15 notches seems to drop 5 “points” of anger from my shoulders.

Margin.

Rather than walking around for a week with 15 “points” of anger towards my husband, we talked about the whole doorknob thing.

Margin.

Got it?

If this is a big new idea that lights your soul on fire, start with the sermon series.  Or start with this blog post by Michael Hyatt on the subject of Margin.  His words are much more eloquent than mine could ever be.

I’ve pinned a few other resources on the subject to my Pinterest board for this series.

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Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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Comments

  1. First off, your last comment back to me moved in a positive way.

    Secondly, I think this is such a great idea. Yesterday, I literally shut my computer lid and cuddled with Zeva and Misty and watched my husband play a game with the boys too for over an hour, and it was total bliss. I even had several hours with my husband ALONE without kids or in-laws bothering us, and it was bliss. I took a margin I really shouldn’t have taken according to my to do list !! My house looks like a tornado ran through it, but you know what…. I woke up happier than I’ve been in a LONG time.

    Now if I can schedule a margin of time out of my day again to enjoy those prompt moments with my family that weren’t expected imagine how much greater it would be?? I don’t schedule enough margins in my day. If I did my mother-in-law popping over a hundred times a day wouldn’t bother me as much.

    • Oh Crystal! I’m so proud of you. You were on my heart yesterday afternoon. Now I’m doing a happy dance for you! It sounds like did exactly what you needed the most! Your afternoon sounds fabulous – great medicine for a weary mom. The house will wait. Hugs won’t.

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