Here’s a little exercise we actually take worship service time to practice occasionally.  Follow the instructions carefully (yes, I mean I want you to actually do this):

  • Take a deep breath
  • Let out half of it.
  • Hold
  • Smile
  • Repeat the following out loud, in a calm soothing voice:

“No.”

Repeat this exercise regularly, just for practice, and as needed in live game situations.

Not, “No because…”

Not, “Maybe later…”

Not, “Let me pray about it…”

Certainly not, “See if you can find somebody else, and if you can’t, I’ll see what I can do.”

Learning to graciously, kindly refuse is one of eight steps to building or rebuilding margin in your life.  Margin has to do with creating gaps – cushions of time, money, energy, or spiritual strength that act as living shock absorbers for those who have them.

Imagine how it could revolutionize your attitude, relationships, productivity, and health if the next time somebody says, “Got a minute?” you actually do! Imagine how deep and relaxed your breathing will be when a surprise bill comes in the mail and you actually have set aside some extra money to cover those kinds of surprises.  Can you conceive of an entire day spent helping others cope with pain, crises, or other overwhelming circumstances – and actually being energized in the process?  I’m here to tell you, it’s possible.

As it is, most of us spin our wheels, chasing lost time, wondering how we’re going to break free financially, or living a spiritually spoon-fed existence.  You need some gaps.

Check the Map to Find the Gaps

Do you have a Bible with maps in the back?  Check out the travel of Jesus and the disciples.  Hey, those were regions, not neighborhoods.  And they were all on foot.  It sometimes took days to get from one place to another.  So what do you think they did in-between?  I figure they cooked meals.  Took occasional naps.  Horsed around (they were a bunch of guys, after all).  Took a bath or two.  Played practical jokes on James the Lesser.  Told fish stories.  Talked about life and dreams and fears and whatever people did before football was invented.

This was gap time – occasions to hit the “Reset” button on their minds, bodies, and emotions.  This is the time we instinctively try to eliminate from our lives in the name of “productivity.”

You need gap time.  I need gap time.  But it will only happen when we intentionally reclaim it.  Here are 8 suggestions for capturing it back:

1.  Re-think: Go from “I must” to “Sez Who?”

We lose an enormous amount of margin because we feel so obligated.  If the phone rings, we must answer it.  If an email dings, we must pounce on it.  If one of the kids wants something, we must get it.  It’s time to re-think some things.  How important is this, anyway?  Really?

2.  Rest: Rediscover the power of a little nap.

You don’t have to become Rip van Winkle.  But you don’t always have to be doing something “productive,” either.  The compulsive desire to always be doing something helps in the short run, but costs you in the long run.  Compare that to long-cherished (and long-ignored) encouragements:  Be still and know I am God (Psalm 46:10).  Rest in the Lord (Psalm 37:7).  Do you do that all the time?  No.  But you should do it some of the time.

3.  Re-create: Do something different.

Know what the “stars” discovered on the hit show Dancing with the Stars?  We build gaps by changing the scenery or activity.  There is a time and place for playing and praying, as well as working.  There is great value in using different parts of your brain or body.  Get a hobby.  Learn a new skill.

4.  Resist: Avoid impulsive purchases and commitments.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  This is a one-day-only sale.  Blah, blah.  I know it makes you feel important to be asked to do something, or guilty for saying no.  But no one has actually invented a golden-egg-laying goose or a 30-hour day.  That means you don’t have unlimited time or money.  You will have to say no to something.  Here’s a thought:  Why don’t you decide what to say no to, rather than being forced to when you’ve run out of margin or gaps?

5.  Rivet: Focus on what you do brilliantly.

There’s an important reason for this:  our giftedness actually energizes us when we do it.  People ask me all the time:  “Doesn’t it stress you out to have to get up in front of people all the time and speak?”  Heck no!  It’s what I do, and something I’m passionate about.  Working on your weaknesses sounds noble, but at the end of the day, they’re still weaknesses, and they’re still huge energy drains.

6.  Refuse:  Learn to say “no” without guilt.

Okay, one more time… deep breath… let out half… you know the rest.

7.  Relate: Find someone to help you share the load.

Read this carefully:  There is not enough of you available to live all your life. You’re a fool to try.  You were designed to be part of a community, a tribe, a family, a network.  But these days, you must work to make it happen.  And all those “friends” you have on Facebook or MySpace don’t count unless they’re actually helping you shoulder some of that life of yours.

8.  Respond:  Avoid procrastination.

Do it now.  If you put it off, it usually adds tension and stress.  If you feel compelled to put it off, see #1 and #6.  If you’re avoiding it because it’s hard, see #7.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m out of words that start with “R”… except maybe “respirate” for deep breathing.  But MS Word is telling me that “respirate” isn’t really a word.

I’d love to hear your ideas.  Let’s get back some gap.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jessica November 10, 2008 at 2:55 am

Great article :)
exactly what i needed to hear after feeling intense guilt for putting my feet up and relaxing for a few minutes instead of doing washing, paying bills, doing the dishes and tidying. It will all still be there when I”m ready for it, right?!

jessicas last blog post..Life changing Moments

Andy Wood November 10, 2008 at 9:46 am

Yep. And more importantly, YOU’LL be there – fully engaged, more productive, and probably ready for some fun with all the stuff, or at least with a more positive, energetic outlook.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: