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Marginal Faith: You Probably Should Be Doing Less


Have you ever read a book that was inviting and endearing, but the words ran all the way to the edge of the book? Probably not. Stories without margins are nearly impossible to enjoy reading. It’s the same with life stories. Margin is not the wasted space on the page where more words could have gone if only we would knuckle-down and work harder. Margin is the place where the words we carefully compose and place show their best. When we read, we rarely notice the margins, unless they aren’t there.

Our stories shine because of the margin that others often don’t even notice. But if we forget about the importance of the margin, if we endlessly erase it to cram more and more content into our stories, we lose readability. We lose credibility.

It’s the sign of a cheaply-made book, the work of an amateur, easily and advisedly ignored.

Margin makes your story clear, legible, and beautiful. At least, if your story really is beautiful, the margin will not contradict it. It will enhance and testify to its worth and beauty, to how compelling it is.

Margin-making is an act of faith. It is a surrender to a providential God. It is a humble act. It is ceding power from ignorance to omniscience. It is childlike, hopeful, brave, and beautiful.

You will today be told you need to do a hundred more things to qualify as productive, as righteous, as loyal. You will hear it said, infer it from passive aggressive counselors, and probably say it to yourself on repeat all day. You will be invited to do more, then cajoled, then shamed.

You need to think this. You need to do that. You need to do more. More. More. More. More!

I don’t know about all those details in your life. I don’t know which of the thousand things you must absolutely ignore and say “no” to today in order to accomplish what you actually should do. But I know this.

You need to figure out what you’re called to, the smaller and more precise the better, and then do that with all you’ve got. And you need margin to make it stand out.

If you have a reasonably clear vocation and a somewhat healthy margin, you will have to defend it like the walls of Troy. Beware of well-meaning Greeks bearing “gifts” of guilt-inducing demands.

If you have no margin, or have lost it to those cunning Greeks, you must go to war to reclaim it. 

And I’ll say this to those who have lost, or are holding on to, a little margin.

Fight. Fight as though your life depends on it.

It does.



  1. What an important message and what a relentless struggle! This is something I am working on but it is so incredibly hard. You are right – the guilt is incredible at times. But you’ve given me another angle to take today – God is not a God of guilt. He draws us to true repentance when we have done something wrong, but guilt? For not finishing things on our to-do list? Or living up to another’s standards? You are right – it’s time to wage war on those things that are stealing the margin from our lives.

    God bless and thank you!

    1. I’m right there with you, Kelly. I probably should have made it clearer that I needed to hear this myself. (But I’m trying not to qualify everything to death.)

      Grace and peace to you!

  2. I don’t know when you wrote this, but it sounds like you’ve been visiting my house without telling me. Encouraging stuff, my friend. Thank you!

    1. James,
      I’ve been meaning to tell you something about those noises you keep hearing. And by the way, great choice of book you’re reading right now.

      🙂 Peace, brother!

  3. I really appreciate this. So much of life is go here, do this, you need to do this as a Christian Father, you need to be more of a leader and here is how you do that, buy this, do this….it’s exhausting. God called me to exhalt him in all things, but if I’m sitting around worried and haggard from not checking off 18 things I needed to do, then what good is it? I appreciate the post, and thank you.

  4. This is excellent Sam. So relevant in for me in full time Christian work, trying to fight against the expectation to do everything. God bless you

  5. Thank you so much for this, Sam! You are so right and this is really a continuance on your thoughts from November about picking only a few things to do and do them well with your whole heart and being by doing His will. As a homeschool momma I can say that this is a constant battle I wage each and every day and the voices are always calling after me to do more, be more, go more…run, run, run like a hamster on a wheel! I have proclaimed that this is the year that I rest in Him and trust Him and try my *best* to do His will and it all begins in prayer and staying there throughout the day. For me, that means to try to tune out the Greeks and stay focused on what is truly my vocation and be diligent in the little things because that is where the fruit lies.
    Happy New Year, Sam, and keep fighting those nasty Greeks 😉

    1. Anne-Marie,
      Yes! I know it’s like that in our home too and we are in a battle for margin! I wrote this a while back and posting it today was a big challenge to my routine and expectation for the coming months. It’s SO challenging. but worth the fight.
      God bless you!

  6. At a time when I find myself with a bit more white space than usual, this provided a timely caution about refilling all those spaces. Good, needed stuff. Thanks.

  7. Thank you so very much for this. I want to send it to everyone who has pressured me to take THEIR mission onto MY shoulders. Even when I succeed at keeping my margin and saying no to their requests or invitations, I struggle with the backlash of guilt they try to impose and judgment they feel compelled to share.
    God calls us to be still and know him. How can we possibly do that if we are too busy and have no margin?
    This post might just be the best thing I have read all year.

  8. I couldn’t read this blog, the margins were too small. Just kidding (though not entirely–the internet shortens my attention span). I totally agree with the point (in relation to novels and life, at least, though occasionally margins are forcibly small and one must struggle through). Books and studies are calling me right now, to be chosen over noisier things, and I’m making a careful selection. True I don’t read everything on my shelf but I always feel satisfied when I read (offline), like I’m where I’m supposed to be. “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”-Francis Bacon

    1. Tiffany! Cheeky, but fair. That thought DID occur to me as well. Ha!

      I read WAY less online now than in recent years and expect that trend to continue.

      Peace to you!

  9. I just saw this today. The title caught my eye on Laura’s facebook wall and my motto for 2016 is ‘to define what I want (/God wants) my daily life to be’ and to pare down all the extraneous stuff that keeps hindering me from doing it. Yes. Margin. Thanks for being a voice of affirmation and a fellow warrior!

  10. So encouraging and thought-provoking, as always. Thank you, Sam!

    I was also reminded of this Henry Nouwen quote which was very recently (um, today) pointed out to me:
    “In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”

    God certainly ordained that I receive all these words today, from two of my favorite thinkers and writers. Thanks again!

    1. I’m delighted to hear this was helpful to you, my friend. Nouwen says it so well, and gets at the why better than I have here. Thanks for sharing that!

      Grace and peace to you and Tim and the Joyners all,

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