Thinking Out Loud

December 4, 2011

When There’s No Margin in Your Life

I want to extrapolate something different that was triggered by something our pastor said this morning.

He was talking about the importance of having margin in your life.  Margin to hear from God, to wait before Him and to expect miracles.  That’s vital at a time of year when margin is slim because of the busy-ness of the season. 

But then he picked up his Bible and talked about the margin that exists on each page; space to add your own notes and record observations.  I’ve thought of margin on several levels but never from a printing or graphic arts perspective.

In printing, margin is necessary because sometimes the paper gets trimmed a little off center, just like the time runs out on some days (and weeks, and months, and years) a little unexpectedly.  Without some white space, there is the risk the text would simply get cut off.

But if your house is like mine, you probably got flyers, circulars, brochures or whatever they call them where you live delivered to your door or mailbox; and if you examine different types of printed matter, you see that in many cases there is no margin at all because the photo or background color is meant to look like it runs right to the edge.  In fact it runs a good inch (2 cm) over the edge and is then trimmed back.

In graphic arts, this is called a bleed, and the designer will markup the text with the word ‘bleed’ to tell the printing people that the background gradient or pattern should overrun the page to be cut to size in the trim process.

And that, is my message to my readers for this Christmas, straight from the graphic art and design industry:  If you don’t have margin, you bleed.

[insert rim shot here]

If we don’t (literally) take the time to build margin into the busyness of the holiday season, we pay the price for it.  If we try to do too much, there’s pain.  If we fail to accomplish essentials we should have prioritized, there’s tears. 

Which is odd considering the potentially frantic story of incarnation — in a crowded village that has run out of hotel accommodation because of a census registration —  begins on what we regard as such a peaceful, silent night.

The celebration of the birth of Christ was never intended to drive us crazy on an annual basis.  Slow down, and take a cue from the printing industry: If there’s no margin, you bleed.


  1. Your post about margins in life was beautifully put with a great analogy to bleeding. A recent newsletter of mine commented on the reason for our lack of margins. I refer to Richard A. Swenson’s 1992 book Margins. Swenson says we pay a price for each change we face. You may recall his Life Change Index which assigned health risk to the changes experienced, detailing the various ways change overload affects us. Many of us have activity overload, choice overload, commitment overload, debt overload, decision overload, information overload, noise overload, possession overload, technology overload, and work overload. And he names even more. If this was a problem in 1992 imagine what it is today.

    We need time to be still. We need margins for prayer and worship. Thanks for your thoughts. Dottie

    Comment by Dottie Parish — December 5, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    • Even though they were different, I always thought that Swenson’s Margin made a great companion to Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s Boundaries; since saying “no” is the beginning to establishing margin in your life.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — December 5, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

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