As a child, one of the things I didn’t like about New Year’s Day was that it was the day we boxed up our Christmas tree for another year. The tree would go to the basement, the chairs and TV would go back to their normal places and our living room would look empty. These days, I like the day all the decorations get put away and the house feels a little less cluttered. Some people are ok living with a lot of clutter and others despise it. It’s not that one is way is good and the other is bad, it’s just two different ways of living. My mom is fine with clutter but my Dad is not. My Dad’s closet always looked like something from a marine’s barracks. Everything was hung to perfection and all the shoes were lined up perfectly. My Mom’s closet, on the other hand, was so full that many times you couldn’t get the door closed. They are two very different people.
Closets that overflow and basements packed to the limit are ok, but overstuffed and cluttered lives are not. If our calendars are so full that there is no time to rest and if our finances are so tight that there is no room for error and if our family relationships are so cluttered that everyone is going in 100 different directions all at the same time so we never see each other – then we have a problem. You may be saying to yourself, but that’s just how life is or how it is right now and it’s ok, but please hear this – it’s not ok. God did not create us to live life at the edge of our limits. God created us to live with breathing room.
Breathing room is the space between our current pace of life and our limits. We all have limits. We have limits on our time, limits on our money and limits on our emotions, which mean there are limits on our ability to relate in healthy ways with the people around us. While we all have different limits, our limits are real and when we live right up to the edge we can’t fully enjoying the life God has given us. What we want to do this month is look at how to create space in our lives so we can get some room to breathe. We are going to look at three key areas where we often live dangerously close to the edge: our time, our money and our relationships, and as we reflect on how we are living we hope to find some ways to create some much needed room to breathe.
The reason breathing room is important is because without it our stress level goes up and our ability to focus goes down. You know this is true. When we don’t have the time to do all the things we want or need to do in a day or week, we get stressed. When we are rushed with our families, have to cut corners at work and end up working until early in the morning just to get things done - we get stressed. When we don’t have an extra dollar at the end of the month, there is nothing to put away in case of an emergency and we are afraid that the check we just wrote is about to bounce – we get stressed. When we try to live life at the very limits of our life it creates stress and so finding some breathing room can bring peace.
Breathing room also helps increase our ability to focus. Let me give you a great demonstration of this. If I were to preach this entire sermon today walking right on the very edge of this step, what do you think my mind will be focused on? Right – not falling. And what would you be focused on? Right – me not falling. But if I step back and create some space I am able to focus on so much more. I can actually think about what I am trying to say and listen to God when he wants to speak and your ability to listen and keep focus increases as well. Breathing room helps us maintain our focus on the things that matter most in life, like our relationships with family and friends and our ability to listen to and hear God.
So if we know that breathing room is so important, then why don’t we maintain it? Why do we live life at the pace we do when we know it is not healthy? Andy Stanley has said that the underlying reason we live at an unsustainable pace is fear. First there is the fear of missing out on something. We pack so much into our schedules because we don’t want to miss an event or activity. We load our children’s lives full of sports and dance and music and church because we are afraid they might miss out on some experience that will benefit them. In a world where we can instantly hear about everyone else’s experience and see what fun they are having doing so many different things, we suddenly have the urge and drive to do everything. We are afraid of missing out on something wonderful that will absolutely change our lives.
Sometimes the fear that pushes us to the limit is the fear of losing something. If we don’t work all the overtime we can and volunteer to take on that extra project we are afraid we might lose our job or not be in line for the next promotion. If we don’t take the extra job we are afraid we might lose our house or lose the ability to buy the house we want or retire when we want. Sometimes the reason we do so much and fill our lives to the limit is the fear of losing face. We will do everything possible and say yes to everyone because we don’t want people to think we can’t do it all. We are afraid people will think less of us or see us as a failure – so we try to do it all.
In many different ways fear keeps us moving at an unsustainable pace because we think all we are doing will make life better but what happens is that all our activity and the stress it brings is keeping us from getting ahead and keeping us from those things that matter the most in life. This is important because we only get one life and if we go through it afraid of missing something or losing something then at the end of life we are going to find that we missed out on all that’s really important and the real meaning and value in life. So we need to name our fears and confront what it is that is driving our schedules, spending and or relationships to see if there are ways we can slow life down.
God speaks to this very issue in the Bible and one of the first places God addresses the issue of breathing room is in the Ten Commandments. The 10 Commandments were given to the people of Israel after they had lived for generations as slaves in Egypt. As slaves, all they knew was work. They had to work all day – every day. There were no vacations, no days off and no sick days. If you didn’t work, you weren’t useful and if you weren’t useful – life was short. So fear drove the people to work, but God didn’t create us to just work so when the people were set free from slavery God told them to create space in their lives to breathe and rest. God gave them the gift of the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8-11.
This day of rest does two important things. First, it calls us to actually stop working and rest. For Israel, all work for 24 hours was to actually stop. This had never happened before and so for the first time they could literally rest and breathe and allow their minds and bodies to recover. But it was also a day for their souls to rest because the Sabbath reminded them that even God rested and they were created in the image of God. The Sabbath reminded them they were God’s people and it gave them a day to reflect and give thanks to God and allow their souls to reconnect with God. So the Sabbath was a day for their bodies, minds and souls to recover, but it also increased their faith and trust in God.
Think about what it must have felt like for Israel to be told to not work for a day when all they knew was work. While it sounds good to us, they were thinking – how will we eat? They lived hand to mouth day after day so if you didn’t work you didn’t. The people had no reserves and no food stored up so they were afraid not to work. What if things didn’t get done that had to be done? What if they weren’t able to get ahead? What if something bad happened? Israel had to learn to trust God in the midst of the fear. So the Sabbath not only gave the people rest but it helped them confront their fear and overcome it with faith and trust in God.
But it wasn’t just the Sabbath that created space for God’s people, so did the tithe, look at Deuteronomy 14:22 and 28. When the people were told to give 1/10 to God, they had to set some of it aside until they could go to the temple, so every day they saw resources they couldn’t use. The tithe taught them that not everything they had in life was for them to live on, they had to learn to live on less and if we can live on less than what we bring in then we can to set aside money to invest and to save. The tithe was one way God helps us to created financial breathing room and not live on the limits of the resources. This can give us security and peace.
There was one other law God gave that taught the people the importance of creating space and that was the law of gleaning. This is found in Leviticus 19:9-10. The people were told not to harvest their entire field. They had to leave the space around the edge untouched so what grew there could go to those who were hungry and they weren’t supposed to go back over their fields to pick up what had fallen but leave that for those in need. Basically God is saying, leave money on the ground, don’t go out and get everything you can but leave some for others and the reason they were told to do this was because it was to help them learn how to trust God, and it is trust that help us overcome fear.
As the people left part of the harvest in the field they had to trust God for what they needed and the more they trusted God, the more they were able to work at a sustainable pace because God would help them. These three laws, the Sabbath, tithe and law of gleaning were very clear ways God helped the people see the need for some space and breathing room in their lives. Each law also helped the people to focus on God and taught them how to trust God.
Jesus reinforced this idea in his sermon on the mount, Matthew 6:31. Don’t worry about going after all those things that everyone else goes after because God knows you need them and if we trust God to provide we can live at a pace that is healthy. Jesus also tells us that we need to keep the right focus which is to seek God’s kingdom first and the way we increase focus is to not live at the limits of life but with some breathing room.
This week we need to ask ourselves what is driving us to live dangerously close to the limits? Is the culture that tells us we have to do it all and have it all? Is it the fear of missing out or losing something? Is it our pride which says we can actually do it all? Is it a lack of faith that God will provide so we have to go out and get it ourselves? We need to consider why we live at the pace we do and then ask where we need some breathing room. Is it our schedule? Our finances? Our relationship? Life is short and our marriages, families and friends are too important to not ask these questions. If the pace of life is keeping us from those things that matter the most, then let’s figure out how to create some space and find some breathing room.
Breathing Room ~ Creating Space
1. Where do you need some breathing room in your life?
2. Why do you live at the edge of your limits?
• Fear of missing something or losing out?
• Fear of failure or falling behind others?
• Fear of not making the most of your life?
• Lack of faith and trust that God will provide?
3. How do other people living at the edge of their limits effect you at home and at work?
4. Read the three laws God gave the people of Israel which showed them the importance of space and breathing room. What do these laws have to say to us today?
• The Sabbath – Exodus 20:8-11, 23:12 & Mark 2:27
• The Tithe – Deuteronomy 14:22-26 and Malachi 3:10
• The Law of Gleaning – Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22
4. Are there places in your home you can clean out and de-clutter in order to create some space? Can items be donated to those who might really need them and could use them?