Protect the White Space

“Our limitation is God’s opportunity.”

~ Denver Hall, Same Kind of Different as Me

It’s Sunday morning. Everyone’s up and bustling around pouring milk into cereal bowls, digging in the dryer to find matching socks and the tee-shirt without holes or stains on it.

But for Adam and I, it’s not working. We are running late, can’t find anything to wear, and frankly don’t have a good attitude about the day. We keep going through the motions though, hoping our want to will get the message and catch up. When I’m still in my pajamas with 15 minutes before time to leave, we decide to call it.

Kids, we’re not going to make it to church today.”

Of course, this was the one week they were ready early, so our statement met with disappointed faces. The week had been too full and Adam and I couldn’t go. Any. More.

Have you ever been there?

Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to remain at rest until an outside force acts upon it. I’m convinced it’s true of schedules too.

I tend go and go and go – saying yes, yes and yes – until I’ve pushed life to the end of the page, leaving no room for margin and the outside force of exhaustion knocks me down.

When you hear the word margin, what comes to mind? I think of notebook paper and how in school teachers insisted we write between the two margin lines. Margins created white space on both sides of the page. It made it easier to read the paper.

When you had a long word and saw that red margin line approaching, you had a choice to make: either start the word and hyphenate it, go to the next line, or the ever popular, write-real-small-and-cram-it-in.

In school I took the write-real-small-and-cram-it-in approach, and I carry that over to my schedule today.

What if instead, I paid attention to the margin lines, and spaced my daily/weekly words out accordingly?


That’s what the Sunday at home did for us. I hate that it fell on a Sunday and we missed church, but Adam saw we had crossed over our red margin line, and before a new line of words and activities started again Monday morning, we needed time to pull back as a couple, rest and get on the same page.

Respecting margin lines made for a neater, prettier paper in school and it makes for a simpler, more peaceful life at home.


Which paper would you rather read?


But to do that you have to learn to say no.

Saying no hyphenates the word so it doesn’t cross the margin line. Saying no sees the word is too long to fit on the line, takes a deep breath, and moves down to the next line.

In other words, saying no sees an activity is too much for the family to handle, takes a deep breath and says confidently, No, we cannot commit to that right now. We cannot do that sport, that many practices, have friends over today, go shopping right nowIt will be too much.

Saying no is the opposite of my natural tendency to write real small and cram as many words on the line as possible.

But learning to say no when life hits the margin line allows me to joyfully say yes to all the activities in-between the margin lines. And that helps me be a whole person.

Being a whole person teaches my kids more than 12 activities could.  If Adam and I don’t do what it takes to stay on the same page together and create margin in our schedule, we will be no good to our kids. We have nothing left in the tank to give them.


A friend of mine loves to watercolor. One day she was teaching a group of kids about the importance of white space in water coloring. She told them if they want to keep an area white, like for snow or clouds, they can cover it with tape. Otherwise the color will naturally flow to the unprotected white space.

I saw it as a beautiful life illustration: Protect the white space of life. Put tape over it if you have to! Activity, like color naturally wants to invade the white space.

We as parents have to guard our margins, our white space, for the wholeness of the family.


But it almost feels like we need permission to do that doesn’t it? It’s hard to say no, especially to good things. Here is your permission to say no to those activities that want to creep over the margin line. Sometimes saying no is the best teacher of all, even on a Sunday.

This is strong-willed parenting.

Let’s start the conversation:

What are some margins in your life? In your family? What happens when you cross them?

How can you protect the white space of your schedule?

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