What’s the busiest month of the year? Obviously, December, with all the shopping, partying, concertgoing, and traveling.

What’s the second busiest month of the year? I nominate May. School projects and finals, then graduations, spring sports for kids (baseball/softball/T-ball), recitals and concerts, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day weekend … it’s usually crazy.

Of course, the other ten months aren’t much different. We hurriedly say to one another, “How are you doing?” Standard answer: “Really busy!”

“How have you been lately?” “Keeping busy.”

“How’s your summer shaping up?” “Oh, it’s really going to be busy.”

Seems to me that this four-letter word has become a shibboleth in our society; you have to say it. If you don’t confess to being busy, people think something must be wrong with you. My goodness, are you sick? Lazy? What’s your problem?

I’m not campaigning for laziness. But I am impressed with the concept of margin, by which I mean some extra “white space” around the edges of our lives that allows us to breathe, to think, to love, and to worship.

Did you ever see this cartoon?

Dr. Richard A. Swenson, a successful physician who slowed down long enough to write on this subject, paints the picture well:

Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the hairdresser’s because you were ten minutes late dropping the children off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station—and you forgot your purse.

Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence. (Margin,p. 13)

But the good doctor didn’t invent this observation. It goes back at least to the Fourth Commandment, which says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…. On it you shall not do any work…. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

Okay, relax; I’m not heading into a legalistic rant about what people shouldn’t do on Sunday (or Saturday, if that’s your persuasion). I’m just pointing out what a Tennessee retreat center director named Bill Clemmons once wrote in an essay entitled “Within the Stillness”:

There is an inward hunger that continually makes me aware that life was not meant to be lived 24 hours a day going at top speed. Speed kills, even when it’s the sleepless activity of a life that tries to grab all there is, surrounds itself with noise and people, and tries to fill up every minute with “something to do.”

… God calls us to let go and to live more deeply as pilgrims on a journey. The beginning is to get accustomed to silence and solitude and to develop an inward stillness out of which the rest of life can be lived. Then even the slightest whisper of God can be heard amidst the din of life around us.

During the frantic month of May? Yep.

Years ago, a blue-ribbon research project by the Menninger Clinic studied drug abusers in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. What could explain kids from white, upper-income homes coming here to fry their brains with LSD and other hallucinogens? One common denominator, the researchers found after many interviews, was that between the ages of eight and eleven these young people had experienced “no moratoria from stress.” So now they were taking their break ten years later.

Busyness leads to death … the death of communication … of creativity … of romance. As the beloved Corrie ten Boom once put it, “If the devil cannot make us bad, he will make us busy.”

Jesus, on the other hand, gave this welcome invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened [… might we add, “and overscheduled and stressed”], and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

If the load of responsibility I’m currently pulling is grinding me down … then maybe it isn’t Jesus’ yoke. If the activities I’ve crammed into my phone calendar are overlapping to the point of craziness … maybe some of them don’t need to be there after all.

There’s a new cottage industry these days, I’m told, for “professional de-clutterers.” They’ll come to your house and help you get rid of what you don’t really need after all.

Maybe some “calendar de-cluttering” would be in order for many of us. Too many “good” things have elbowed their way into our days and nights, to the detriment of our peace. After all, rarely in life do we face a clear choice between good and evil (Should I read my Bible tonight or go get drunk?). Most of the time we’re juggling an assortment of worthwhile (or at least acceptable) things, and which shall we choose? The day doesn’t have 26 or 28 hours.

And even the 24 we have need not be packed wall-to-wall. To quote Bill Clemmons again, “Indigestion results from undigested life, life that has not taken time to reflect on its meaning and direction. Jesus knew that to fulfill the mission his Heavenly Father had called him to he would have to have time to listen and talk with him. This required that he take time to slow life down…. That is what he commended to his disciples and to those of us who seek to follow him today.”

Time out, folks. We need it more than we know.