A friend who had come to spend the week with me said, “You know you can’t keep up this
pace. You have to set some priorities.”
“But I enjoy everything I do,” I protested. “In fact, I love most things.”
“But you are going to wear yourself out. You have to let some things go.”
“I’ll try,” I promised.
A few days later another friend brought a book to me. “I thought you’d like this,” she said.
When I read the title: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to
Overloaded Lives, I smiled and said, “Thank you. I need this!”
The author, who is a medical doctor, advocates adding some space, some reserve, some margin to
maxed-out lives— and he provides practical suggestions for doing so. Don’t just watch your margins decrease,
he says. Do something!
As I reflected on the good advice my friends had provided for me, I thought about “margin-less” Moses,
whose father-in-law had to have “a talk” with him. Although Jethro was delighted with all the good things the
LORD had done for the people and for Moses (their leader), Jethro saw the harm of a too-tight schedule.
After observing Moses for a day, Jethro said, “’What you are doing is not good. You and these people who
come to you will only wear yourselves out… Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God
be with you’” (Exodus 18:17-19, New International Version). Then Jethro suggested a plan that would provide
relief for overworked Moses.
Now, I had read that Scripture many times, and, in fact, had written a column about it years ago. Even then I
was battling burnout. Even then I allowed little margin in my life, filling each day with so many activities that I
had little time to rest or to reflect.
Had I ever consistently applied to my life the wise counsel Jethro gave Moses? No. That’s why friends who
saw how I was pushing my limits felt compelled to counsel me to set priorities and to allow more “margin” in my
As I struggled to do that, I rediscovered another familiar Bible passage that really spoke to me. It contains
some of the advice Moses gave to the people prior to their entering the land God had promised to them:
”’Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your
children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.
By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess’” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47, NIV,
emphasis added).
Those words convicted me. “Oh, Father,” I whispered, “forgive me, for I have treated Your words as idle
words. Instead of conscientiously applying them, I have responded flippantly to much of Your counsel,
treating it like nice-to-know-but-I-can-disregard-it-if-I-choose advice. Help me to truly believe that Your words
are not just idle words but that You intend them to be the principles by which I live—moment by moment and
day by day.”
© 2003 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. Contact her at


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