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{Updated} White Space: The Distance Between Duty and Crazy

May 12, 2013

I’m an ad gal by trade. 15 years of scrutinizing words, economizing, analyzing…what can be said in the smallest of spaces with the largest of impact? We would spend hours – saying it this way, saying it that way and when it was right, you knew it.

In advertising, “white space” is the portion of the page, or ad, that is left blank. Empty. The space left over when the rest of the message has been placed.

It’s a necessary component of an ad. If there’s not enough white space, the person reading tends to just skip over the page entirely and all of the message is lost. The ad is not read, the message is not conveyed, and all that time and effort is wasted.

Statistically proven, time and again: without white space, they won’t read. It won’t work.

The more white space on a page, the more likely what IS there will be read, and the more impactful the message. It’s just how we’re wired.

Funny how the same goes for the white space in our lives. Without a little white space, all the rest of the “stuff” becomes pointless, doesn’t it?

My friend Susan calls this “Margin” based on the book by Richard Swanson. The leeway between duty and crazy. The smidgen of empty on a full calendar.

It seems like I never have enough white space in my life. Do you?

White space requires that we say “No.” With margin, there is guilt. “No” to things that are worthwhile and important. “No” to birthday parties, baby showers, or important causes. “No” to helping. “No” to leading. “No” to serving.

But, Jesus never said we had to do it all.

Martha, Martha…it might as well be my middle name. Martha, Martha…get it through your head!

Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.

Luke 10:41-42 The Message

Oh, don’t I just? Fussing. Getting worked up over the WRONG thing. Only one thing is essential.

So often I find that my margins align with my need for approval. The more I do, the more I will be liked (or so I naively presume).

Cutting back requires risk. Margin requires that I let people down. Someone will always be disappointed in me. Margin means I say no to glorious opportunities, fun parties, play dates, experiences.

But there are a few people, three to be exact, that will never suffer from a little white space in my life. My three boys, one big, two small, and they live in my margin. The time I have left over when the other commitments are met.

Maybe, really, what we think of as white space isn’t margin at all. Maybe white-space is what is leftover when the REAL needs are met – when my children have had enough of me, when my husband has had my full attention. When God has heard my voice, and His words have been heard by my soul – when all that is done, then whatever we do next…that’s the margin.

Working the priority instead of the urgency, I once again flip my focus from outside to inside, to what my boys need of me first, and what I do for others, second.

Guilt-free (or maybe with only a little guilt) I say “no” to others so I can say ”yes” to my highest priorities.

What do you find yourself saying “no” to so that you can say “Yes” to higher priorities?

Epilogue: This is an updated re-post. I needed to re-read my own words this morning. May and December are the two months out of the year where I walk around feeling like a failure every day, that I can never do ENOUGH.  In the last week alone I’ve turned down party invitations, weekend trips, ministry events. I’ve forgotten homework due dates, and we left the dadgum 4th grade mission project to the last minute. Not because we’re last-minute people but because it’s the only minute left! As I’m learning as I slowly chew through Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly – scarcity begets scarcity. The busier I am, the more inadequate I feel. !!! 

The busier I am, the more inadequate I will feel! 

I joked on Facebook last week that at times, my self-worth is directly related to the amount of dirty laundry in front of the washing machine. But it’s not really a joke – it’s true. If I have led a “productive” day, I consider it a good day. I am always doing, doing, doing. I’m not very good and being. Being present. Being in the moment.

Yesterday, Mother’s Day, Gabe took the boys with him to run an errand in the late afternoon and I had 45 whole minutes of daylight time all to myself. So, while there were still weeds to be pulled and plants to put in the ground, I set my iTunes to the Gypsy Kings, poured myself a glass of sangria, and just…

sat there.


I sat there in my yard, and I just listened. Looked. I soaked it in. The blue sky. the roses. The plants that are clamoring for life in this warm, early summer. 

I sat there, and then I started to be there, and in being there, I started to feel and the numbness that comes from doing, doing, doing, going, doing, started to wear off and I cried. I cried with gratitude that such a place was ours. I cried for my mom, because she would have loved it, too. I cried about the parties that are yet to be celebrated, birthdays, graduations, maybe even someday…weddings? 

I gave myself permission to just be in that moment, all by myself, for no other reason than it was there. It was not a productive use of my time, but it was a worthy one. 

And funny, the rest of the day felt the same. Worthy. Enough.

How will you build in some white space for yourself this week? 


white space is the distance between duty and crazy

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2012 8:38 am

    That is how it works. And man, it’s tough to learn. I continue to work on that…. But canceling a planned 2-week trip has suddenly given us the gift of white space. And we’re viewing it as exactly that…white space, filling pieces of it with family and fun and not much else. Thanks for this, Adelle.

  2. August 28, 2012 10:18 am

    I needed this today.

  3. Christi McGuire permalink
    August 28, 2012 1:27 pm

    Love this! This is confirmation of the decision I announced yesterday on my blog … to have more white space, more freedom to say “yes” to high priorities by saying “no” to lesser ones. Thank you!

  4. August 30, 2012 11:51 am

    Having opportunity to share this with several people….wish I could have read this when my sons were the ages yours are now. It is still something I need to take to heart and live by. You are wise beyond your years! However, I must say, glad you said yes to the wonderful opportunity to write for the Mothers of Boys site! So proud of you!


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