Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stress and Margin

Richard Swenson has made a living preaching the values of Margin a person's life.  I believe he has written four books on the subject!  Margin is the space on the outside of the pages.  It is the area not written upon.  Swenson, who is a medical doctor, argues that giving 100% of our energy and resources is pure foolishness.  It is like writing on every square inch of a page!  Unfortunately, life without margin is the new normal.  As Swenson states,

As a result, like in modern-day America is essentially devoid of time and space.  Not the Star Trek kind- the sanity kind.  Overload is the new normal.  We have too many choices and decisions, too many activities and commitments, too much change creating too much stress.  We have too much speed and hurry.  We have too much technology, complexity, traffic, information, possessions, debt, expectations, advertisements, and media.  And we have too little margin.

But if overload is the disease, then margin is the antidote.  To balance today's lifestyles, restoring our margin is a needed first step.  The vast majority of us are healthier if we draw a line somewhere short of overload, i.e., if we preserve some margin.
In Search of Balance, 90-91.

So how do we know if we struggle with not keeping margin in our life?  I find it is always easier to see how others struggle with this concept than it is to see it in ourselves!  Swenson gives us a great test to help us gain an accurate diagnosis.

When our margin is depleted and our reserves are gone, we shift emphasis.  Instead of being compassionate and caring in our attitude, we become apathetic or rude.  Instead of being outwardly focused in our service, we become self-protective.  Instead of pursuing innovation and productivity in our job, we become irritable and fatigued. (91)

I know at times in my life, I have really struggled maintaining proper margin.  In my life, one of the big causes of my lack of margin was my health.  For years, I struggled with a gluten allergy that I just did not know about.  In the past five years, it got so much worse!  The result was that my physical strength was limited because I was poisoning my body with the food I ate.  I tried to eat well, but what is good for others (whole wheat grains!) was death to me.

I share this because many people confuse how their spirituality works.  As humans in a fallen world, we are so interconnected between our physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional dimensions.  I meet so many who struggle with their faith, but I think the reason for this struggle is a physical, mental, or emotional problem.  In my case, the physical issue robbed me of margin and left me without the energy to engage as I would wish.  No amount of spiritual, mental or emotional fixing was going to change my physical problem!

So, as we pursue margin in our lives and as we seek a deeper walk with God, check your physical, mental and emotional resources!  If you struggle with depression for chemical reasons, seek to fix the physical problem.  If you have emotional scars from past abuse, find a pastor or counselor to help you work through these emotional and mental bottlenecks!  Having issues in any area of life is not a sign of inability or laziness or lack of spiritual depth.  It is a mark of living in a fallen world.

I will conclude with Swenson's word about regaining margin.

Margin, rightly conceived, is not about laziness, mediocrity, and noninvolvement.  It is about focus, discipline, and self-control.  But mostly is it a prioritizing space where we concentrate on the things that matter most (balance!).

Restoring margin to overloaded lives is possible if we are willing to think creatively, live differently, act intentionally, and stop following the crowds to the malls.  Hundreds of practical margin suggestions have been written elsewhere to assist in such a lifestyle direction.  But the first step, as always, resides within each human heart. (93-94)

Pray for the grace to see if you need to regain margin.  Pray for the grace to see what is robbing you of your margin.  May the Lord bless you as you regain capacity to love others well!


  1. Great post, Greg. I'm happy to see you're back to blogging more frequently these days. You always give the reader something of substance to think about.