The One Free Hand Principle.
A few years ago I found myself with an almost three year old and a newborn. I had my hands full. Literally. And I suppose it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me when each time, for the past few months, I waddled up to the Target check out line with Lucy in the cart and nearly busting with soon-to-arrive Abby out in front of me—- the associate would raise their eyebrows and say, “Ohh girl. You’re about to have your hands full.”
No, Silly person, I am not— I thought as I smiled and swiped my debit card. I have ONE child in the cart. And yes, I have ONE more child in my gargantuan belly. And yes, that equals two children. But you see, I have TWO hands. One for each of them. Piece of cake.
(Spoiler Alert- I was wrong.) Of course, I soon learned this uncharted territory was not at all about the principle of addition but instead the multiplication that comes from having children, plural. Much of this came from my sweet Lucy never having shared me with anyone before and always having BOTH my hands free to do what she needed. It was quite a juggle with a fussy newborn who always wanted to be held in those early days. And when I couldn’t quite do what she needed, I must have said something like, “OK hon, wait until Mommy has a free hand and then I’ll get you that snack.”
In typical adorable toddler fashion, Lucy started noticing when I did have one free hand and claiming it for herself. We would be walking out the door to the car and I’d have my arms totally slam- full of Abby and Abby-paraphernalia and as I reached to turn the knob or unlock the car door, Lucy would say— “Mommy? Can you carry my baby doll with your one free hand?” Her hands would then be empty of course and mine would be even more full, but being three she didn’t understand or care about anything but that she could fill my otherwise unengaged hand with something she wanted for me to carry for her.
But here’s the thing. We may not blame our toddlers for failing to notice how full our hands are, but adults can be guilty of the very same thing! Sometimes others will notice that you have “one free hand” or this margin that we seek and they will want to help you fill it. Your whitespace may be perfect opportunity for them to pile more on you and thus remove it from their own plate. To some, especially those who don’t see the need for margin, your brave ‘No’ seems foolish to them. It can seem selfish, and no matter how you say No— how graciously, helpfully, kindly—your ‘No’ still disappoints. But that is ok.
Can we all just agree to give each other permission to disappoint one another once in a while? When we truly understand that we are all just striving to seek Christ and bring Glory to God, there is little room to judge one another’s busyness or lack thereof.
“Do not let the awkward disappointment keep you from the ‘best yes’ appointments with God. —Lysa Terkeurst
Do not be afraid to say no, unless God has given you a yes. This fear of what others will think— our fear of man looks a lot like overcommitment sometimes, but it’s often just plain idolatry. We cannot sacrifice those things we KNOW God has given us to do on the altar of what everyone else thinks we SHOULD be doing.
What should I do with my Margin?
So what do you do with that little window of time once you find it?
- Put on your own oxygen mask first! What is it that you need more of to be filled? Find what that is and be sure you make it a priority. I knew a wise Southern woman once who would get up early, stay in her room and spend time in the Word before any other human interaction. She said, “If I don’t talk to God first, I sure can’t talk to you!”
- Seek to determine what your “thing” is. That thing that feeds your soul creatively, painting, running, writing, baking, crafting, reading, or just sitting in quiet. Whatever that thing is, PAY ATTENTION to it. Don’t squelch it out, protesting a lack of time. Know that God created that thing in you. If it thrills you and opens you up to serve Him and others more, He has created you not to ignore that piece of your self. Do not feel selfish for taking time to embrace those things that God has created you to love. Those unique parts of you are what makes you different from everyone else.
The point of all of this life is that we live to love and glorify God. That we love Him and love others, and not spend our lives exhausted from trying to perform. All that we are able to do for Him and for others, needs to come from His strength filling us first.
When we are filled, we have something to give.
When we are dry and exhausted and empty, we have nothing to give. Whether it’s children, or coworkers who need to know Christ’s love, or that person you just passed who could use a little help— we need to be filled so that we can love from the overflow instead of scraping up just enough to get by.
Know this, friends. We are filled to be emptied again.
God gives us the gracious gift of weekends away, afternoons for ourselves, coffee dates, morning hours with Him, walks alone to refresh— He gives us all of that, knowing that it does not last forever— and that we need to be replenished by Him as we are poured out for others.
I have so enjoyed our time together these last few weeks. I will leave you with a quote from Tsh Oxenreider that I often read as a reminder of why all of this matters so very much.
“A slower-paced life isn’t just a good idea, or hip, or wishful thinking. It’s essential if we want to have time to be the Body of Christ. If we want to put others first, like Jesus? Then we must. slow. down. It’s the only way we as a Body can survive, thrive, be who we are meant to be in this rapid, rapid world.” –Tsh Oxenreider