Oftentimes I ask leaders to describe themselves in one word. The majority of the time, I get one singular answer—busy. Sometimes they brag about their busyness as if it is a prize to be awarded. Other times, it’s a word of frustration. Demands from family, work, and yes, even church, fight for their precious time and expectations.
The holidays are no exception. We fill our calendars with parties, plan our own events, and bake like we’re on a television cooking show. I’m already feeling the pressure just writing those words!
And then there’s New Year’s Day. We determine in our hearts that this will be the year where we slow down, read a book a week, start exercising, and lose those extra pounds that keep hanging around. It’s no wonder that after a few weeks, you’re more exhausted than when you began.
So, how do you create margin in your life and prioritize being present in each moment? How can you face this time of year when life gets crazy and prepare your heart for the year that is just around the corner?
Let’s start by looking at an ancient psalm penned by Moses. That’s right. While we often think of the Psalms as being written by David, not all of them were. A quick look at Psalm 90 tells us this song was a prayer written by Moses, most likely after the Israelites were sentenced in the wilderness for their unbelief and rebellion.
Moses reminds us our days, and our years, vanish like a sigh. He encourages us to be glad all our days. And tucked in this psalm is verse 12, a verse that we would do well to memorize. It says, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” In other words, we gain wisdom when we are careful to plan each day and allow the Lord to give us the work for each day. That includes time for rest and time for focusing on Him. And while we can’t always control some of our schedule and demands, it’s important to make time to focus on the One who orders our steps.
If you’re like me and you’re looking for some practical ways to develop margin, here are four things to consider as you approach the holidays.
1. Plan for margin. If you’re looking for extra space in your days, put it on your calendar. Make it a priority. If you are facing the demands of leadership, block out time to spend with the Lord and with your family. I usually begin each day by writing a list of things I need to accomplish. Within the list, I choose six significant things or priorities of the day. Those rise to the top of the calendar and if accomplished, then I can move to the others. It helps provide order to my calendar, but it also provides flexibility to have an unforeseen conversation or make additional time with my family. If you need to, block off time on your calendar that isn’t designated to anything except margin. In other words, schedule it.
2. Learn the art of saying “no” and allow others to help you. Many leaders I know, including myself, struggle with delegation. We tend to pride ourselves on our capacity to not just do important things, but many things. And pride is exactly the problem. Leaders need to develop the art of developing others as leaders, coming alongside them, but empowering them to carry some of the load. One of my mentors confessed one Christmas that she complained to her family that none of them were helping with the decorations. All of them were watching television and she became more and more exasperated. When she expressed her frustration, they kindly told her, “We would love to help, but when we do, we never seem to get it right and you complain.” I learned a valuable lesson from her that “my way” doesn’t always have to be the “right way” and it’s a good thing to allow others to take the lead.
3. Learn to be more “present” when you do experience margin. Even though the holiday season is full, there are also some “down times” for being with family and enjoying the company of others. You might not have the same amount of emails during this season, and work demands may generally slow down. Take advantage of those times and put your phone away, keep the computer turned off, and learn to listen to those who are in your presence.
4. Learn to experience the presence of Christ during the holiday season. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. God made Himself present by becoming a baby and He made Himself accessible through the cross and resurrection. Take time during this season to spend time with the Lord, even more than you normally do. Spend time journaling how the Lord was faithful in the past year and express your heart for the new one. Ask the Lord to help you make more margin for Him in the year ahead and to be wise with your time each day.
Kelly King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for LifeWay Women. She has a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary. She has been involved in women’s ministry and led Bible studies for more than 30 years. A native Oklahoman, Kelly and her husband Vic enjoy kayaking and exploring their new state of Tennessee. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church and Living By Faith: Women Who Trusted God.