Springtime for educators is probably the worst time to talk about creating margin. Everyone is scrambling to teach as much as possible before the testing window opens. High stakes tests often end up determining the success of a year’s worth of work. While we know there is much more to success than test results, we would be lying if we said the results did not matter. Most teachers I know work tirelessly to ensure all of their students are successful come test time.
It is hard to meet a teacher in May that isn’t both physically and emotionally exhausted. Cue summer vacation. While summer gives us a time to rest and plan for a new start, creating margin during the school year will reap benefits throughout the year for our physical and emotional health.
Now, I am probably the worst person in the world to write a blog on this topic. I have spent 30+ years in education burning the candle at both ends. There is always so much to be done and so little time. If it isn’t work, it’s family, and while family time can be a form of margin, it can also be a form of work. Keeping busy and feeling overloaded has become such a way of life that I feel guilty if I do take time for myself.
Being a committed, high quality educator requires time outside of an eight-hour workday. Lesson preparation, grading student work, and completing basic paperwork can take hours in the evenings. This doesn’t include all of the additional hours required of academic and athletic coaches. Why do we do it? We love what we do! However, sometimes we need to stop and remind ourselves that being our best also means taking care of ourselves. We all need a bit of margin in our lives.
So, what is margin really? I like this definition from Paul Chappell.
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.
The gap between rest and exhaustion. This phrase really resonated with me. I would venture to say that many days that gap just doesn’t exist. In an effort to do our jobs effectively, we often push ourselves to the point of exhaustion. As a result, our health, relationships, and even our could work suffer.
God knew the importance of rest.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Jesus knew the importance of rest.
Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many
people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. Mark 6:31
I’m sure most teachers can relate to this verse! The only thing that would have made it more applicable is if it said they didn’t have time to eat OR go to the restroom! Seriously though, it is important to note what Mark notes in the next verse.
So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. Mark 6:32
I like the sound of that—quiet place, alone—a good example if we want to create margin. Creating margin has to be a priority, and it is best if we purposefully plan for margin BEFORE we reach the point of exhaustion and overload.
A word of caution. Margin may feel and look like laziness. I know I have let myself think this. As a result, I end up creating no margin. I read the following on stewardshipcentral.org.
The pause that margin provides is life-giving. Margin allows you to breathe, leaves room for creativity, and offers a quiet space for you to think and grow.
Activities associated with creating margin may not feel productive, but the long-term benefits are immeasurable. We need to give ourselves permission to stop and invest in our own spiritual, physical, and emotional health.
So how do we create margin? There are many places where you can seek advice on this topic, but here are my top three recommendations.
1. Get Honest. Come clean with how busy you really are. Are you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time? If so, admit it. Don’t feel guilt, just be honest.
2. Set Priorities. Be purposeful about creating margin. In a culture that is on-the-go, we may have to make some tough choices. You may have to say “no” once in a while! I would encourage you to consider these areas.
a. Self (Spiritual). This area is non-negotiable. If you want to create margin in your life, you must make time to pray and be in God’s Word. Are you setting aside a daily quiet time?
b. Self (Physical). When we are eating healthy and moving, we feel better. I know I do. It may be time to take stock of what you are eating and how much you are moving. Don’t set out on a major diet/exercise regimen. Just begin making healthier choices.
c. Family/Friends. Do you take time to be with or talk with those you love? Do they know how important they are in your life? In my humble opinion, social media isn’t enough.
d. Work. God never meant for work to be a burden. He has placed you where you are for a purpose. How can you create margin in your work life by focusing on eternal rewards verses temporal ones? Check out Colossians 3:23-24.
All of these areas are important and will require intentionality on your part. Plan your week ahead of time. Write down specific activities you are going to do to create margin. Be flexible as needs arise, but be careful to protect yourself.
3. Communicate. Let those impacted by your changes know your priorities. Encourage them to be understanding and consider doing the same in their own lives.
Ultimately, as Christians, we know we can lay all of our cares and burdens at the feet of Jesus. God doesn’t want us to drudge through life feeling burdened and exhausted. I am really going to work on this, and I welcome you to join me! Here are some verses that may help you as you seek to create margin in your own life.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 28-31
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7