The muscle I most need to exercise right now

I don’t know about you, but post-pandemic life just keeps coming at me. A lot of it is in great ways. Last week I was able to travel to Texas and see one of my besties. It was so awesome to be away.

But the month of May is shaping up to be chock-full of invitations, opportunities, and “places to be” as life outside the home continues to pick up speed around here. I have literally three places to be at noon next Saturday. And none of them is a zoom call.

Side note: You know I’ve attended two zooms at once. I’m not saying it was a good idea, but it was the heady days of pandemic stay-at-home when I could finally accomplish my longtime dream of being in two places at once.

Alas, I learned that even if you’re on two zooms at once (one on the laptop and the other on the phone), you’re still not in two places at once. Turns out, my mind can only listen to one voice at a time. So, a new rule emerged: one zoom at a time. Please. 

And so now, I need to choose where to put my body next Saturday at noon. More than just at noon, I need to look at what happens before Saturday noon, what happens after, and place these demands in context for me and my people.

In order to choose, I need to reactivate a muscle that has gone dormant. I’m going to call it the Margin Muscle

You see, when hopping from one zoom to another, I didn’t need much margin. I needed a five-minute bathroom break, a new swab of lipstick, and then I’d be good to go. By nature of staying home nearly all the time, I had a lot of blank space. I was not expending a ton of energy on the small things: commuting or planning what to take for lunch or just generally being around other people. No small talk in the faculty room. No chit chat with the checker at Trader Joe’s. No smiling and extroverting all over the many human beings that came across my path. No humans came across my path. So, I kind of forgot how energetically costly those experiences can be.  

Now that I’m back to that life, I need margin. I need margin so badly. I need planning time and travel time and recovery time. I need alone time and think time. And I need to build these times into my schedule. Margin.

You know how when you frame a photo or piece of art, it almost always looks better with a white mat around it? Margin. I can better appreciate what the art is offering when it is set apart with breathing room. 

Of course, there is precedent for this in our religious traditions. Psalm writers would include the word Selah into their writing to instruct readers and singers to pause and allow what has just occurred to settle into their bones. 

Jesus honored the need for margin. He even built the concept into the Lord’s Prayer.

Check out this juicy comparison from Marcie Alvis-Walker at Black-Eyed Bible Study:

  • King James Version: “Hallowed be thy name…” Matthew 6:9 
    Aramaic Translation: “Clear a holy space around your Name…” 

I feel the need for a holy space around that which matters.

And so I need to exercise my Margin Muscle. I need to get stronger at limiting my in-person commitments outright. I need to muscularly resist the temptation to stack my calendar and regularly look at the whole picture with these questions:

* How many nights am I committed this week? (For me, this number should be at or under 1).
* How many events must I attend this weekend? (For me this number should be at or under 2).
* What am I saying “yes” to? Because, as Johnathan and Melissa from Raw Signal Group remind us, every yes to one thing is a no to something else.

I need to take a sober look at the costs of participating as well as the benefits of not participating. 

When I can give myself the gift of margin, I know I am better. I am focused on what matters and can give more of myself to it. I am in touch with my limits and clear-eyed about what is mine to do and what is more appropriately left for others to do. 

I wish you blessings on tending your margins.

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