No Margin

The word “freeway” in the Los Angeles metro area is a misnomer. With the exception of most Sunday mornings, the way is anything but free. Add road construction into the mix and it gets even worse.

The I-10 freeway between where I live in Claremont and where I work in La Puente has been under major construction for the past couple years and is not projected to be completed until spring of 2019. In order to add a carpool lane to that section, the freeway is being widened in both directions. What that means, though, is that for the entire time the construction is taking place, the existing lanes have been reduced in width and the right shoulder is closed completely with concrete barriers.

As I was sitting in heavy traffic in that section the other day, I was thinking about the implications of the construction being done. The end result–a continuous carpool lane from downtown LA all the way into San Bernardino County–may improve driving conditions (at least for a while). But in the 5+ years of construction, driving conditions are definitely much worse for those of us who have to drive that route every day. On any given freeway in LA County–even with no construction going on–traffic is slow and accidents snarl it every day. But the combination of narrowed lanes and no shoulder make for a higher probability of accidents and for a greater backup on the road when they do happen.

The same dynamic is definitely true in my life as well. When my time starts getting squeezed and I have no margin, there is a much higher probability of sin and struggle. And when there is no empty space to account for the unexpected, the “pileup” that results is far worse.

This past week was a prime example. On Wednesday my laptop crashed and brought everything to a standstill for a couple days while I tried to recover data and get it repaired. But there was no space for that, amidst my first week of an online summer intensive at Talbot and multiple meetings to prepare for on Sunday and all the usual busyness of family life. Life was already “constricted” with little allowance for any variation, and there was no extra space to account for an unexpected turn of events, therefore everything crashed, much like a pileup on the I-10 freeway.

But more significant than late nights and unfinished work and high stress (i.e. the circumstantial results) was the relational fallout that inevitably comes with that kind of “pileup.” I was impatient and angry with my family, distant and disconnected from God, exhausted and grumpy with everyone. Sin comes easily and the consequences spread further when there is no margin in my life. I know the truth of that, yet often it feels much like the freeway construction–that the work involved in carving out greater margin and space results temporarily in little or no margin. Hopefully the effort to create space in my life won’t take as long as the work on the I-10!

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