My sister-in-law is a professional organizer. She tidies with precision, and every space she touches transforms into fresh, clean, and beautiful. The other day she posted a kitchen pantry photo in which chaos had been magically put to rights, with the caption: It’s okay not to fill up every space on the shelf. In between neatly stacked cans and linear spices was space. Glorious space.
This margin has a soporific effect. I gazed at these pictures and grew calm.
Margin is not only for shelves and drawers and homes. Embracing margin is a chosen way of living that often paves a path to wonder.
When our children were young, I built a couple of hours of margin into our days. Rest time followed lunch, and for thirty minutes everyone had a book to read…a non-negotiable habit. After this, they played quietly in the solitude of their bedrooms for an additional hour. It was soothing. One son memorized football statistics, another played games with his toy rescue heroes, and another built endless Lego creations and puzzles. Our daughter lined up her many stuffed animals, and decorated her dollhouse and created delightful feasts in her toy kitchen. Sometimes I peeked into their rooms, and often our children would be staring out the window, just thinking. I wanted them to know that their worth was never tied up in their doings or accomplishments: they were designed by God, created in his image, and beloved. This set aside time of margin allowed their wonder to sprout wings and soar.
Over a year ago, I took part in a writing mentorship, and signed up for a Facebook account to interact with the other women in the group. This was my first go-around with Facebook, and I had been warned of its powerful sway. It proved to be a mighty pull, and as much as I enjoyed the writing information shared within our group, I quickly discovered the underbelly that lures with curling, baiting finger: Look at this and Come, see what you don’t have, or Spy on her and judge. Go ahead, waste five, ten, or forty minutes here. Within days I felt all slivers of contemplation dwindling, creative juices growing sluggish, and time in prayer shortened. An overall diminished sense of margin. I had allowed white space to vanish, eaten up in snippets of gluttonous waste. My heart and mind felt slow and dull.
One morning during this time, I sat down at my desk, and spotted a dazzling bluebird flitting upon the branches outside of our office window. It cocked its vibrant head, and its eye was so perfectly round that I could not help but stare. As it hopped from branch to branch, chirping, I felt a rush of wonder at the precision of God’s creation. Moments passed before a male cardinal landed upon a nearby branch, and suddenly I had the privilege of marveling over the beauty of these two bright creatures decorating our tree. I felt quickened, alive by five minutes of pure, uninterrupted thinking.
I tapped the delete account button on Facebook within the hour, and was filled with relief, exhaling as though I had personally bypassed something dark and uncontrollable: a thief to margin and wonder. With one click I had crushed a boulder blocking my path towards calm contentedness. Perhaps others may partake and thrive and even minister in such social media spaces, but I was definitely not one of them.
These small thoughts bring to mind one summer afternoon at my grandparent’s home on Washington Street. Their front door opened into a small, rectangular front hall which held a classic New England desk stained dark. An old-fashioned wooden mortar and pestle sat nestled against the leg of the desk, and within that container stood a pair of ancient bellows.
One afternoon, as a child, I ran my hands over the smooth bellows, curious. Grandpa happened through the front hall, and scooted down next to me. Those are antique, Kristin. Would you like to see how they work?
I nodded, and he compressed the leather apparatus which produced a fast and forceful rush of air. They are used to make a small spark or flame grow larger. These hold the power to create a roaring fire. I have remembered my grandfather’s words often.
Whatever I choose to fan in my personal life will grow. How much wonder and awe will I invite into each day by pumping the bellows of stillness and margin?
It is okay not to fill up every nook on life’s shelf.
Unclutter your life. Slow down for a spell. Pitch and delete and turn the things off. Look out the window, take a walk, or rock in a chair on the front porch and feel the simple goodness of a gentle breeze. Chisel pockets of margin into your day, a space to hear that still, small voice (I Kings 19:12 NKJV).
Experience the richness of the wonder of God. It is a gift.