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Sabbath Keeping Versus Margin Keeping: Practices We Must Foster

Exchanges between friends on Twitter often raise some great questions.

On November 24 Tyler Braun posted the following:

Challenging post from @MarkBatterson on maintaining margin: http://bit.ly/gMJmjP // I lose it far too often.

My reply to Tyler was:

@tylerbraun almost everyone who ends up in therapy with me has no margin…it’s a consistent theme and issue that affects EVERYTHING!

And my good friend from the church I grew up in Phoenix with, Anna Broadway, replied with:

@tylerbraun @rhetter How would ya’ll say margin in his/your use compares to rest/sabbath? Is sabbath practice a means of protecting margin?

So how does margin compare to Sabbath? And is keeping a Sabbath a way of protecting margin? Those are great questions.

I talk quite frequently in my work with families in both the counseling and church ministry setting about the topic of margin in their lives. I talk about creating “white space” on the calendar, where there is nothing scheduled. It is protected time for families and members of the family to just be…to rest…or to participate in something that hasn’t already been planned. It’s a time to be free of “should”, “have to”, “tasks”, and to simply rest. It’s a great time of connection in families, as they are free to be creative, and do things that aren’t demanded of them.

Margin, “white space”, boundaries…whatever term you use, it is essentially the same. It’s the act of creating space that is free of busyness and activities.

I see this task of creating space and margin as being very different from Sabbath.

Genesis 2:3: Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Sabbath keeping is something that I believe we as Christians should want to do. It is a day where we rest in the work that God has already done. It is a laying down of our wants, abilities and demands, and to be content in what God has already accomplished in our lives. It’s a discipline of saying I don’t have to produce, or do something in order to be right before God. It’s an act of being versus doing. This is reflected in the New Testament, especially at Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:9-11, where Jesus identity is in his being in relationship with his Father, and not in his doing.

Creating margin, “white space”, boundaries, I view as something that we do on top of Sabbath keeping. It is built in times that are focused on rest, and allowing the creativity in a family/ourselves to come to fruition. Many families/individuals over-schedule their lives with busyness and activities like sports and hobbies because they have somewhere lost the ability to just be with one another outside of having to always do things with one another. There is a distinction there, though subtle, can have huge impacts on our relationships with one another.

I believe we protect the Sabbath because that is something we do to foster our relationship with God, and to state that we are dependent upon him, rather than ourselves.

I believe we protect margin, “white space”, and boundaries in our lives because that is something we do to foster our relationship not only with ourselves, but with those we live, work, and play with.

When an individual, or family loses the ability to foster a Sabbath, or create margin in their lives, I know that there are usually deeper things at work. Often individuals and families are afraid to just be by themselves, or with another, without something planned to do. That fear and hesitation points to the very need to create that space and practice a Sabbath.

Any thoughts that you all have on Sabbath, margin, creating “white space”, etc.? I would love to hear them.

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rhettsmith@churchleaders.com'
I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (MDiv, MSMFT, LMFT-A) and pastor to youth and families. I write about the relationships between psychology, theology and technology.