Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Living inside the margins


"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

(Matthew 6:25, 33-34, New Interpreter’s Study Bible)


By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

Mrs. Wells was my fourth-grade teacher, who will forever be remembered as the person I most feared as a child and also loved most, excluding my mother and father.

I feared her because she was a strict disciplinarian, with little patience for the whims and practical jokes of 10- and 11-year-olds. My classmates and I thought she was a distant relative of Attila the Hun.

However, I loved her, too, because beneath that crusty exterior Mrs. Wells was a kind and caring person. She not only went the extra distance to make sure I learned what she taught, but also affirmed me even when I got things wrong. Not until many years later did I fully realize her uniqueness and commitment to her craft.

Mrs. Wells had one habit that I dreaded most. Whenever I wrote over that thin red line on either side of a page of ruled school paper, she would pull the bottom of my ear and remind me, "Stay inside the margins!" (Although I can’t prove it, I believe my left ear is slightly longer than my right ear, simply because that was her ear of choice.)

Her words have stayed with me throughout my life. For 2012, I want to pass on what Mrs. Wells really taught me.

The year is young. The 11 months ahead are much like a fresh sheet of school paper: clean and unsoiled, full of possibilities. No doubt many people have taken out pens and pencils to jot down some resolutions and goals for 2012.

Before you go further, let me remind you: "Stay inside the margins!" Live inside the margins to fully embrace the opportunities of today.

Inside the margins are those things within your control:

  • The grace to meet this day’s needs; and

  • The wisdom to know that within the span of 24 hours you have the capacity to be agreeable, responsive, cheerful, charitable—the best you can be.

Within the boundary of today you can express appreciation for what you have, and lift your concern and prayers for those who have little or nothing; you can change someone’s day with a smile, or expend yourself in service to someone else.

Outside the margins are those things beyond your control. The unexpected and unfamiliar wait, perhaps keeping you awake at night. But those things outside the margins are beyond your ability to change.

Outside the margins is where your limitations, restrictions, and uncertainties begin—and that is where God’s providence takes over. Life outside the margins belongs to God!

Jesus cautions you: Stop robbing tomorrow of opportunities by being anxious today about them! He urges you to live one day at a time, and to leave what’s outside the margins to God. He reminds you that God knows your needs. He confirms that God cares for the flowers in the field and the birds of the air, and God also cares for you!

Jesus bids each of us to do one thing only: Strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all those things over which we have no control will be handled by God.

I have referred in the past to a "Worry Chart." Statisticians describe:

  • 40 percent of what we worry about never happens.

  • 30 percent of our worries are about things that belong to the past.

  • 12 percent of our worries deal with unconfirmed health issues.

  • 10 percent of our worries deal with petty and miscellaneous things others say about us.

  •  8 percent of our worries are legitimate.

Only 8 percent!

Filmmaker J. Arthur Rank had a special way of handling anxiety and worry. Rank decided he would do his worrying on one day only, and created what he called his "Wednesday Worry Box." When a worry occurred to him on any other day, Rank wrote it down and put it in the box. Each Wednesday, when he opened that box, he discovered most of the things that disturbed him already had been settled.

You don’t have to create a "Worry Box" to deal with your anxieties and fears. Instead, identify those things beyond your control, outside the margins of your life, and let God handle them. Make the kingdom of God your priority, and 2012 will be the best year of your life.

Thank you, Mrs. Wells, for pulling my ear each time I drifted outside the margins. Thank you, God, for helping me understand the lesson of a lifetime.


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