While driving recently, I saw a sign in front of a convenience store. It was handmade, on poster board, and stapled to a stick. That much was well-done. However, the hand-writing was not so well-done. It read, “We have your chicken supplies here”. At least, that’s what I think it was supposed to say (I wish I had taken a picture). You see, as someone was crafting this sign, they ran out of room for writing the word “supplies” and had to cram it on the right margin.
It seems like I’ve seen that a lot in handmade signs – well-meaning but hastily constructed. The end result is not quite what the author intended. And don’t we do that frequently in life? We mean well, and we know what we want to say or do, so we jump right in with little or no forethought. Things look good, we are making progress, and then we notice we are running out of margin.
Lack of margin is one of the greatest causes of stress in our lives. And by lack of margin, I mean that we run out of room for what we wanted to accomplish. We look up and the day is gone but we’re no closer to finishing that project around the house or at work. Our children are teenagers and we haven’t saved a dime toward their college. We find ourselves nearing fifty and are still working that job we said we would leave before it consumed our entire working career. We approach empty-nest status and barely know our spouse.
Margin. Space for mistakes, overages, or just to keep things looking neat and organized. Room for adjustment. On the highway we call it the shoulder – room for error, to get things back on track.
The primary reason we run out of margin is the same reason the creator of that sign did – we fail to plan ahead, to think about how things will turn out as we move forward. Then, as we do progress, we fail to space things properly. Why? Well, I believe self-deception is one of mankind’s greatest sins against himself. And one of the most common lies we tell ourselves is, “I have enough time.” Or enough space. Or enough months or years. Until we don’t. Until there is too much word left at the edge of the sign and we have to cram to get it to fit.
Sure, a word processor can perfectly adjust the spaces and give us identical margin on either side, down to the pixel. But in this life God has given us, there is no computer program to fix it as we go. No, like the author of the hastily-created sign, we have and edge, and as we draw closer to it, we press things closer together, hoping to get it all in, knowing it will not look as we envisioned. And, often, wishing we could have another clean sheet on which to work.
Do not despair, though, for tomorrow is that clean sheet. Next week, next month, next year – those are clean sheets. Surely, we know not how long we shall live, and tomorrow could be the last chance we have. But instead of letting that worry us, let us rather seize the coming time with ambition and zeal, having learned from days, perhaps years, of hurrying with no forethought.
Look ahead, consider what you want to get done and the space in which you have to work. And make your days such that, in retrospect, you are glad you planned them, rather than letting them run off the edge.