You may be wondering what I’m on about. A book was recommended to a number of us at a well being conference last April. The book is by Dr. Richard Swensen and it’s called Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Swensen is a physician who is commenting from his practice and faith experience.
The title says what the book is about. Essentially, the thesis is that for healthy living there should be a sizable margin between what we are doing and what our capacity is. Swensen’s experience is that in some cases there is no margin at all between what some are attempting to do in their lives and what their capacity is.
I might fall into this category of not having much margin left. I’ve had some back issues this fall and some other minor things to deal with. As many know, I struggle with depression. And it has been a delight to read Swensen’s book; I’m almost finished it.
One of the practical things I’ve learned, which is applicable to all of us especially during this Advent-leading-into-Christmas season, is that it is a good thing to build margins into our day. Whether we are working or volunteering or doing errands or puttering around the house, it is good to have a margin between one activity and the next. For example, I regularly go from one meeting to another with no time for letting go of my thoughts with respect to the last meeting and getting my thoughts in order for the next meeting.
Swensen is all about the small and bigger picture. If we can learn to rebuild margins into our lives in small, practical ways, it has healthy consequences for the bigger picture and a healthier life. One of the things that I’ve addressed in my life over the years is that I learned the good old “Protestant Work Ethic.” I learned that being overworked is better than underworked and giving oneself to others to the level of exhaustion is a good thing. Well, let me say categorically, THIS IS NOT TRUE. Having healthy margins means that we treat ourselves with respect.
This is a good time of the year to start treating ourselves with respect if we are not already doing so! This is the time of the year when we focus on God-with-us, an incarnational God. God is in us, with us, and around us in ways that are about life, joy, hope and love. Having healthy margins is a faithful response to God’s gift of life.
Thinking about margins in the big picture also leads us to many conclusions about the climate, about politics, about justice and about healing. But at this moment, I want to simply affirm that Advent has helped me recover a sense of margin so that I’m not always overtaxed working at full capacity.