In the fall of 2003, a few short months after the first Woody book was released, Ron, Woody, Chloe and I traveled to Hopkinsville, KY for a presentation and book signing. At the event, we met a beautiful little girl named Ellen. Ellen’s grandmother, Wanda, had brought her to the event. After the presentation, Wanda bought Ellen a book that we signed, took a picture of her with the pups, and let her spend some time with Woody and Chloe. It’s our standard MO at events. Over the next several years, anytime we were in the area, Wanda brought Ellen to see the pups. In fact, Wanda coordinated many events for Woody in the Christian County area – all to see the joy on her granddaughter’s face.
I received a call from Wanda recently, informing me of Ellen’s passing at the young age of 19 years old. It was a tragic car accident that occurred one morning while Ellen was going to her younger brother’s school event. As one can imagine, words can’t describe the overwhelming sadness Ron and I felt. Although the accident happened many months ago, no doubt our grief paled in comparison to the grief her family and those who had the privilege to be close to her daily felt.
Over the years, this is the third time we’ve been notified of the death of a precious young person we’d met through Woody Three different young people – ages 3, 16, and 19 respectively – who had passed at a very young age. During the call, Wanda said, “I just wanted to thank you for spending time with her.” I assured her we were the ones who were thankful. We were the ones who’d been blessed by knowing Ellen. When the call ended, my mind raced with “What if?”
What if I’d been too busy to talk this little girl?
Remember the story of The Good Samaritan?” A traveler is left for dead alongside the road. A priest and a Levite come by but ignore the injured party. Yet a Samaritan comes by and assists the helpless gentleman.
We don’t know why the priest or the Levite didn’t stop. Maybe they were too afraid. Maybe they were on their way to church. Maybe they had something pressing at home or a deadline at work.
It seems as if we our society is in perpetual motion. A recent study showed we sleep less yet work longer hours than we did years ago. We are overloaded with activities, commitments, choices, media, and work. We’re overcommitted, overscheduled, overburdened. And this creates havoc in our life. Rather than accomplishing more, we underperform. Consequently, it brings on stress, causes our work to suffer and can put a strain on our relationships. It results in burnout.
I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. – Job 3:26
I’m a firm believer in having a margin of time in our life. While Ron and I keep a schedule, we also have a large amount of time in our week that we don’t schedule any commitments. To rephrase, we have a large amount of time in our week that we schedule to keep open. That unscheduled time always results in something beneficial.
In his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Dr. Richard Swenson describes margin as the space between our load and our limits. He calls it a reserve for unanticipated situations.
If our time is filled with things – even good things – then we aren’t free to accept opportunities God puts in our path. Christian psychologists all agree the following steps will get us on the path to creating margin in our lives:
1. Protect time with God and your family.
2. Set boundaries.
3. Prioritize your life and goals.
4. Don’t say “yes” to everything.
5. Learn to say “no.”
6. Learn to stop feeling guilty for saying “no.”
7. Stop unnecessary time wasters.
8. Work smarter.
Be still and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10
It’s hard to be still when we’re overcommitted and running in several directions. When we have a margin of time, we can help the elderly neighbor on a moment’s notice, volunteer to babysit for the single mom, or have a conversation about Jesus with someone without having to look at our watch and rush off. We can stop and help the girl whose car is stalled on the freeway. We can get on our knees and look in the eyes of a child. Sometimes the biggest difference we make in a person’s life is by giving them attention. I wonder what blessing the priest and the Levite missed by not taking the time to stop for the Samaritan?
My challenge to all of us – myself included – is for us to evaluate our schedule. Are there areas we need to tweak? Do we have time in our lives to be still and talk to God, to help others, to enjoy our spouse and families? I’m sure there’ve been countless times I’ve rushed away from someone or a situation because I was overloaded. Yet there are times I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to relax, to lean in and listen to a child. It may or may not make a difference in their life, but I will be blessed because of it. Do I have the time to help others? Do you have the time?