Margin Book Review: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives

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Dr. Richard Swenson spent ten years putting this masterpiece of time and life-management skills together. In his book, he demonstrates that, despite living in a world where society demands more, in reality, less is often more. Swenson does this by revealing that today’s society lives in an unparalleled age where the pace and complexity of daily life produces extremely high levels of stress and eventually overload. Swenson strives to convey what margin is and he claims, “Since most of us do not know what margin is, there is no way we could know what margin-less living is.”[1] Swenson defines margin as the space in various areas of our lives: the physical, emotional, temporal, and financial, all of which can protect us from being overloaded, when managed properly. Swenson then explains, “High levels of stress follow as naturally after progress as does exhaust after high traffic [and] margin has been steamrolled by history.”[2] This progression has thus led to margin-less living, which Swenson demonstrates is the disease of the new millennium; but margin is its cure. As margin decreases, stress increases and burnout is inevitable. It is no longer a matter of if; it is only a matter of when. Swenson’s overall goal is seeking to restore balance and end the epidemic of overload and burnout.

Swenson spends the first part of the book discussing the problem of pain: the pain of progress, the pain of problems, the pain of stress, and the pain of overload. He diagnoses progress, cultural changes, and societal motives as the sickness that ends in stress and overload. Swenson contends, “The conditions of modern-day living devour margin [and] while one cannot blame all the pains of the world on lack of margin, it is fair to say that the lack of margin is a much greater component of our pain than most realize.”[3]

Part two contains the prescription and cures for the problem of pain and society’s overloaded lives by applying margin: margin in emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. Swenson stresses margin in emotional energy is paramount and shows how margin is diminished because mankind is overworked, overcommitted, overspent, and overindulged. There exists little to no discipline and as society is continually overworked and often underpaid, the condition only worsens. We buy things we cannot afford to impress people we do not even like, we spend too little time in silence and solitude, we neglect nutrition, exercise, and rest, and we often neglect the most important relationships in our life. To be healthy, individuals must surround themselves with healthy people; instead, most have isolated themselves making them susceptible to overload and burnout. Swenson shows the need of lifestyle changes, discipline, and intentionality, all of which will help increase margin.

Part three deals with the prognosis of health when margin is built into our lives. One’s health is vital to maintaining or improving margin, so contentment, simplicity, balance, rest, health, and relationships must never be neglected. Swenson clarifies these areas are all motivations of the heart, and when the heart does not get what it wants, it leads to pain and margin-less living. Simply put, an individual’s internal anchor leads to their external joy.

Critique

Swenson states, “There can be little doubt that the contemporary absence of margin is linked to the march of progress… Margin has been stolen away, and progress was the thief. If we want margin back, we will first have to do something about progress.”[4] Culture demands things be bigger, better, faster, and cheaper and while the rich get richer, the middle class is continually shrinking and the separation of those considered to be wealthy, compared to those living in poverty, is only increasing. So, if progress is to move forward or onward toward a destination, and if the destination is known to cause margin-less living, can it really be called progress? To answer this, we must understand how margin relates to the space between our load and our limits. There is no denying that cultures with the most progress are also those with the least margin. However, to do anything about progress, or to try and define how it sabotages margin, one must be able to put progress on hold. For this to happen, Swenson proposes two things: “First, we must regain control of progress; and second, we must redirect it.”[5] While progress is not evil, it does always give more; the question is more of what? Upon this principle, Swenson demonstrates, “Progress works by differentiating our environment, [moving us] toward increasing stress, changing complexity, speed, intensity, and overload… [Ultimately,] the profusion of progress is on a collision course with human limits and once the threshold is exceeded, overload displaces margin.”[6] Swenson offers many valid points and he stresses the importance of balance and priorities by keeping God first, so the real question is, “Are we passed the point of no return?” This writer feels society is on the precipice, and since this book was written over fifteen years ago, one can only surmise things have not changed or gotten worse.

Ignoring all the obvious benefits that progress has provided would seem foolish because the lack of margin is related more to our response to life than the progress in it. What can be agreed upon is the current state of humanity. There has never been a stage in our existence where time has ever been in such demand. This, as Swenson puts it, has caused, “Our relationships to be starved to death by the velocity [of life.]”[7] As a result, progress has caused time to be the most precious commodity, even more than human life. Americans are among the worst offenders, as they view progress mainly according to material and cognitive status. Due to this attitude, Swenson demonstrates, “We have neglected to respect other more complex and less objective parameters along the way… especially relationships, [because] people are important beyond description.”[8] This point is key in Swenson’s approach because it puts the focus back on the importance of relationships and people. Christ gave His life for all who would call upon the name of the Lord, but the world has been blinded by progress.

Swenson does a wonderful job of not only diagnosing the illness but also providing the cure. His description in the area of stress and how to deal with it is invaluable because the one constant in the universe is change, which leads to stress. The strain of all the various types of stress leads to anxiety, or as Swenson describes it: “The looming belief that circumstances will imminently become painful and hopeless.”[9] Living under these conditions could hardly be called living, and since stress is inevitable, learning to live with it and knowing its signs is paramount to survival. Eventually, whether the symptoms are ignored or disregarded, brokenness and burnout are the end-result. Establishing the limits individuals have is another insightful area Swenson details in his study of overload and setting priorities. It was interesting to learn the top three reasons why we do it to ourselves are: lack of understanding, sense of duty, and following the leader.[10] Here, Swenson makes one of his most valid assertions, “It is not the will of the Father for us to be so battered by the torment of our age. There must be a different way – a way that reserves our strength for higher battles.”[11] Satan is cunning in his attacks and he has crafted his art over the millennia. Through margin-less living, he seeks to isolate and pick off individuals who have been worn down by their circumstances and the moment when he can inflict the most harm is when he will attempt to land the final blow. Swenson rightly displays margin being the agent to restore that which has been taken away, similarly to what Christ does for His children.

Evaluation

Restoring balance to already busy lives and rediscovering the space you need between your work, your daily schedule, and your limits is only accomplished by eliminating unneeded frustrations and reflecting on how you spend your time.  Swenson offers encouragement, healing, and rest, by illustrating how to deal with time management, stress, and the busyness of life. In a world that honors outward achievement, tells people they’ll never have enough, and encourages an impossibly busy life, peace and contentment can feel like a distant dream. However, Swenson shows we can experience the contentment we long for and the peace, the fulfillment, and the joy that is only dreamt of. Swenson illustrates they are found in only one place: in Christ. To improve margin, individuals must make deliberate decisions to not pursue their earthly desires. Christ instructs His followers to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[12]  Swenson’s work is a brilliant reminder of this instruction and a magnificent guide to fulfilling it. From a practicality standpoint, his prescriptions for restoring margin in the areas of emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances are unmatched. The models and methods he employs would be well suited for anyone in pastoral ministry or someone functioning in any counseling capacity. This book is a must read to restore health and margin!

Bibliography

 Swenson, Richard A. Margin: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004.

 


[1] Richard Swenson, Margin: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 16.

[2] Swenson, Margin, 42-43.

[3] Swenson, Margin, 13 & 27.

[4] Swenson, Margin, 25.

[5] Ibid., 29.

[6] Ibid., 27.

[7] Swenson, Margin, 27.

[8] Ibid., 28-29.

[9] Ibid., 48-49.

[10] Ibid., 64.

[11] Swenson, Margin, 64.

[12] Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

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The Key to Finding Peace

peace of God

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

Lately, it has felt like more and more things are out of my control. Things I used to handle with ease have become monumental tasks and asking for help has become an everyday occurrence. Constantly needing help is foreign to me and having to rely on other people is completely beyond what I’m used to.
out of control

When you’re not in control, it’s real easy to lose your peace, but if you put your faith and trust in God during these times, He will use whatever you’re walking through to your advantage. God has the ability to meet every one of our needs without even straining because He is all sufficient and all powerful. He simply desires for us to call upon His name and look to Him with bold confidence and a grateful heart.

When things seem to be going the exact opposite of how I want them to, I have to remind myself that God’s ways are so much higher than my own and as long as I am living according to His will, He will make a way where I can see no way. When we give our problems to God, we will learn firsthand He will neither leave nor forsake us. When we don’t look to God, we are left to our own thoughts and our mind can race out of control, leaving us feeling uneasy, scared, confused, and restless, but as we cast our cares upon the Lord, He will fill us with His peace.Give your worries to God

We must continually seek the will and voice of God in our own lives and that only happens as we open up to the Father and share the desires of our heart openly with Him. When we seek Him, we will find Him and He will become our refuge and the closer we grow to the Father, the more He will empower us to embrace the trials and adversity of life. I don’t know about you, but I want to pass the test the first time so I don’t have to endure anymore heartache or pain than I have to. God is with us wherever we go, but because of the fall in the Garden, challenges in life are inevitable, yet when we face them and call upon the name of Jesus in their midst, our Lord will use whatever stands in our way as a stepping stone to abundant blessings.

This last chapter of my life has drained me physically, spiritually, and emotionally, but each day, I approached the throne of grace on bended knee with an open heart and God has filled me with His presence and He has met me where I was, broken at times, but afterwards I would be overflowing with His love, mercy, power, and grace. Each new day, God fills me up as I seek Him.hug from Jesus

The key to living a life of peace is we must continually seek God in the good times and the bad. He alone knows exactly what we need exactly when we need it and when we can trust God to supply all of our needs, we will know real peace!
God gives his hardest battles to His strongest soldiers

One for the Record Books

I was literally cut in half and put back together; if you are reading this, I’m still alive…

“Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” Jeremiah 17:14 (NIV)
heal-me

Pain always serves a purpose in our life and everyone has experienced it at some point, whether it’s: physical, emotional or spiritual. Knowing the cause or reason of our pain doesn’t make it any less real, because it’s our body’s way of telling us something is wrong.

In my quest to find healing, I first went to God: the Divine Healer-Jehovah Rophe and pleaded with Him to take my pain. IfIcouldTouchOfHisGarment

I’m pleading with Him as I type these words, but at the same time I am praising Him for bringing the Surgeon into my path to facilitate my healing. This last year, despite my pain from the vehicle accident, I have grown closer to the Lord because it taught me to rely on His strength daily to deal with my pain.

God’s timing is perfect and when we walk according to His will, we will find and know true peace.God is working time bar

With my initial surgeon, I didn’t have this peace and in my spirit, it just felt like I needed to keep looking for the man God had lined up to take my pain away. Ultimately, only God heals us and only God restores us, but He can use whatever means He chooses to; often, that includes men and women.

My new surgeon, Dr. Poelstra said something which resonated such peace within my spirit. He said, “When God chooses not to heal people miraculously, He uses my hands to heal them in the natural.” He went on to say that God had anointed and blessed his hands and he gives the glory to God for all the work he does.jesus-doctor-healing

One of the greatest secrets of success is to not want to be famous and this doctor exemplified that statement! It can be so easy to take credit for the gifts God gives us…

I praise God I had the patience and trust to wait upon the Lord and now I have been fully restored. I continually lift my eyes up because my help comes from the Lord daily; He is my refuge and strength. It was in His presence and protection, I found my fear wiped away and it was there where restoration and wholeness began to take place. Thank you for your prayers and I give God all the glory for the work He is doing in and through me!