The importance of presence is a common theme that runs throughout the culture of Forge. We strive to understand the necessity of spending time with people. One practical expression of presence involves the simple act of neighboring. When we carve out time and space to get to know our neighbors – know them by name, eat and drink with them, listen to their stories and tell our own – we are practicing the ministry of presence. But why is it so often difficult to spend time with people that live in close proximity? What gets in the way of sharing life with those that live on the same street as we do? What keeps us from being radically hospitable?
While there are multiple reasons behind the lack of relational vitality in our neighborhoods, I believe one of the most prominent issues has to do with the lack of margin in our lives. In the book titled Margins: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, author Richard Swenson uses the illustration of the margin found on the pages of a book as a metaphor for the way our lives should be organized. You never see the words on a page run to the very edge of the paper. Neither should we live our lives constantly pushed to the very edge. In other words, there must be space, or margin, around our lives where we not only experience rest and be refreshment, but where relationships can be birthed and cultivated. Swenson writes:
Margin is like oxygen— everybody needs some. If we have too little, we suffer from the shortage. If we have too much, the excess will not benefit us additionally. But having the right amount permits us to breathe freely.
Margin is a space, specifically the space between our load and our limits. It is this space that enhances vitality and resilience. It is this space that guarantees sustainability. It is in this space where healing occurs, where our batteries are recharged, where our relationships are nourished, and where wisdom is found. Without margin, both rest and contemplation are but theoretical concepts, unaffordable and unrealistic.
We do not follow two inches behind the next car on the interstate— that would leave no margin for error. We do not allow only two minutes to change planes in Chicago— that would be foolish in the extreme. We do not load boats until they are nearly submerged— that would invite disaster. Why then do we insist on leaving no buffer, no space, no reserves in our day-to-day?
Why then is creating and maintaining margin so important? As Swenson states, margin provides sustainability for the hard work of mission. But equally important, margin creates space for the ministry of presence to occur. Truly loving our neighbors cannot be added to overburdened lives. I like to say that relationships happen in the margins. So where do you need to cultivate margin? What might you need to stop doing to create margin in your life?