Over the holidays I dove into a book passed on to me by a friend: Margin. The book by Dr. Swenson tracks the modern push to do more and be more and yet despite all the gadgets which should allow us to work less, many people are working more. The result? We don’t have margin anymore. We don’t have any margin, extra time, in our life to be with friends or family, to feel caught up on work, to rest or exercise, or to do the things that rejuvenate and replenish us. The result from marginless living is lack of sleep, higher stress, and lower satisfaction. Swenson calls it the pain of progress.
He writes, “Why do so many of us feel like air traffic controllers out of control? How can the salesman feel so stressed when the car is loaded with extras? How is it possible that the homemaker is still tired despite the help of the washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner? If we are so prosperous, why are the therapists’ offices so full? If we have ten times more material abundance than our ancestors, why are we not ten times more content and fulfilled? Something has gone wrong…Because we find ourselves in the midst of an unnamed epidemic. The disease of marginless living is insidious, widespread, and virulent.”
Though a critical reader would take issue with some of Swenson’s widespread assumptions, mostly I think he is right on. Through my role as a pastor I hear it all the time: we don’t have the money we want so we’re working more. We don’t have the time we want so we can’t serve. We don’t have the sleep we want…etc. Most of the time, people seem to be living out of scarcity and not abundance. But is this how God intended it? Is this the highest calling life God wanted for us? Or have we bought into the hamster wheel of modern culture telling us we’ll be happy if we have a little more, do a little more, more, more, more.
Swenson writes, “I’m not the one who’s making the fuss; I’m only writing about it. I’m only being honest about what I see all around me. Something’s wrong. People are tired and frazzled. People are anxious and depressed. People don’t have the time to heal anymore.” And because Swenson has studied the medical outliers that arise from such marginless living, we should pay attention. Lack of time and space for God and relationships in our life is more than just an emotional or spiritual problem, it becomes a physical problem too. Our bodies retain stress, retain excess pounds, retain toxins…all the while craving to have more time and space.
The book is worth a read. I’ve come away from the last few weeks recommitted to getting good sleep. To turning off the computer at night and engaging my wife. To seeking to be a better friend. We must carve out the life we want to have. We must make time for relationship, for solitude with God, for sleep, for physical needs. These margins are real and can help imbue our life with meaning as we refill our tanks. As John Gottman teaches, our relationships are like Emotional Bank Accounts and we need to spend time each day making additions instead of constant withdrawals. This is true whether we’re discussing our friends, our spouses or children, or our Maker.
For me this dark early morning, I start with a full pot of Starbucks coffee in my new stainless steel French press, a Christmas gift from my wife. I read a few chapters of 2 Corinthians. I pray for my kids and my friends and the church and those around us. And I enjoy the sound of the wind blowing through the trees in the dark outside my home. And I feel alive.
In this beginning of a new year, don’t forget margin. Don’t forget in all the doing to spend some time just being. You need it.