Margins and the power of no
The hardest adjustment since returning from over a month in Chile in February is the pace at which we live life here. The options we have are staggering, in all aspects and avenues of life. That we take those options for granted is a whole other post, or really worthy of a volume of books. When life is packed full and paced at a sprint, there is simply no room for the things that really matter. The loudest, most demanding, emergent needs are the ones that get met. I think most of our American culture lives this way. So when we step back and say no to things, not lazy no’s but wise and calculated no’s, there is kick back ranging from mild to monumental. The whole idea that to say yes to one thing means saying no to another, this is fresh news to me. It shouldn’t be. But as an oldest born, Type A, recovering perfectionist…it is. What has most struck me as I’ve soaked in this deep reality the past few months is that my yes to the louder things often means a no to my home, family and marriage. This stings. A lot.
When I am not maintaining a wide and healthy margin in the peripheral threads of my life, the things that slip are often small and seem like they don’t matter. For example, if I am too bone tired to make lunch for my husband. I crawl into bed instead. This translates into him eating chicken tenders from Safeway or stopping for Subway midday while he drives all day, every day for his job. This translates into a missed opportunity. Had I had just a little more energy, space, heart to give, I would have been able to mentally, physically put forth what is required to think through packing a lunch that can sit in his car all morning, staying cold and fresh until he has time to eat. When that lunch that I took time to provide for him is sitting there, it speaks VOLUMES to him. It says, I love you enough to make time to do this small but actually really important thing for you today. I want you to be fed well while you work hard to provide for our family every single day. It is such a small thing. Seems insignificant. But it intertwines our hearts a little. I think of him while I prepare his food. I stash bags of his favorite (not healthy) chips in the garage knowing he will smile when he sees I bought them. He thinks of me when he opens up lunch and sees food that I put together just for him.
After celebrating sixteen years of marriage last Friday, the power of the small steps toward each other and the way they strengthen the fabric of our union is nothing less than life-altering. If life is so full that there is no room for the daily love, the sweet gifts of words or actions that say “you matter to me” then we can forget. And when we forget and just live disconnected zero-margin lives, nothing good comes of it.
I wanted to teach a class next year. One that I would excel at and would love and people might even tell me “good job” or “thank you” and I would even get paid for it. As I thought long and hard about the commitment, I knew the only answer I could give was no. If I calculated the cost of preparing for it, there would exist a debt in my life. The debt would have been paid by my own children and my husband. I would have been more frazzled, less organized and spread too thin to love well. They would not have been aware of the price they had paid. Truth is we often aren’t aware of the ways we pay for a life with no white space in it. And with each passing year I believe that the cost is more than I imagined and I am constantly evaluating if I’m pouring into the right things, saying yes (and thus no) to the right things for this season, of mothering six children, five of them homeschooling, running a small farm, living a life wide open to love in every way. The answer to the question “is taking on this one more thing worth it?” is no more often than I’d like.
There were days over the past few weeks that I fought so hard to s-l-o-w down. Spring time on the farm is positively bursting with energy and work to do. I love it, on the deepest level. But combined with the rest of my life it was easy to get frenzied. So I talked to myself, more than once, forced my rear into a chair and sat with the (human) kids in the baby goat pen. This morning my husband called and true to my nature, I felt a tinge of guilt when he rang and I was sitting snuggling a days old baby with my oldest born daughter at 9:30 in the morning on a school day. But there was no where else in the world I wanted to be at that moment.
As the days pass since our constant 24 hours of togetherness for almost five weeks this winter, my desire to live a faithful, grounded kind of life with space in it for loving well is at the continual forefront of my thoughts. Saying no and disappointing people in the process is unfortunately a byproduct of this lifestyle. Being accountable for my choices however, rests squarely on my own shoulders. So I take deep breaths and do my best to be honest (to others AND to myself!) about what I can and can’t do. At the end of the day, the most important things are the most important things. And the loud things can still be loud and be left unattended. If I do life without the margin, time and heart to love, then it really isn’t life at all.