Let's Read!: Margin

I'm tired.

My guess is that most of you reading this blog are too. It's a state of mind and being that I have just assumed are par for the course once you become a parent. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. Whatever the case, I think I've just come to accept it as one of those realities in 21st century life. Many times, I really don't know what I can do to change things so I just plug along.

And yet at the same time, I have to wonder: is that true? Do I really have no choice? If God, omnipotent and all-wise Creator that He is, found it important to rest, what does this tell me about humankind? About myself?

That's when I decided to read Dr. Richard Swenson's book, Margin. As a physician Dr. Swenson had seen his share of stressed-out, overloaded and worn out patients. Not only that, he knew that he was feeling it himself.

Thankfully (for all of us), he realized that there is an alternative. And that alternative is what he calls margin. What is margin, you ask? Let me allow Dr. Swenson to describe it for you:

[box] "Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor's office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the hairdresser's because you were ten minutes late dropping the childre off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station--and you forgot your purse.
"Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence." [/box]
He goes on to describe marginless as the burdens, fatigue, red ink, hurry, and anxiety that riddle our culture today. On the other hand, margin is the calm, security, relational support, energy and remedy that can cure us of this hurry-sickness. I don't know about you, but I sure can use some of that in my life!

If this sounds like you too, we could use a bit of margin in our lives. It doesn't cost much, and yet it may cost us everything. There is not always a monetary price tag, but there may be financial losses when we seek to slim down, purge, downsize, and eliminate extras from our lives. There is the cost of emotionally grappling with the hard questions that come with letting go, dealing with the fears that often accompany change, or the grief that comes from the loss of something that we have always depended on for worth and value.

And yet, as I was reading the book, I began to realize that there is also a gain as well. I have yet to realize it in my own life, as I am still going through the process of evaluating and making those changes. And yet the vision of a life that is uncluttered, purposeful, and calm keeps pushing me forward. We get rid of stuff so that we can truly enjoy what we do have or make room for what we truly desire and want.

When I was single, it was relatively easy to take care of myself. All I needed to do was make sure I had food to eat and clean clothes to wear, that I turned in my assignments on time and was prepared for any examinations coming up. When I got married, I needed to start incorporating my husband's work schedule into mine, making time to spend together, and taking time to make meals for both of us, wash our clothes, and tidy up our living spaces. When we started adding children to our family, well...I don't need to tell you what that did to our lives!

Since the adoption of Anah, I have felt like there has been absolutely zero margin in my life. And I can see its effects---in myself, in my relationship with God, in my marriage, in my parenting. Granted, this is our first year with her, and maybe that is just the way it goes. I have been going through a grieving process lately, as the life that I had once known seems to disappear, to be replaced with one that I am not sure I really want.

Despite all the research and the graphs in the pages, I really appreciated all the very practical, though challenging "prescriptions" that Dr. Swenson writes. But a prescription is no use unless it is taken, which is where I am at today.  I personally am seeing the need for a Sabbath and time for people. The question is: what do I need to let go of in order to make that a reality? Do I need to lower my standards? Change my expectations? Let go of my common sense reasoning so that I can step out in faith?

This is definitely a challenging but potentially life-changing read. In some ways, it's one of those books we need to read if we are going to gain some semblance of health in our lives. If you're up for the challenge and are open to some counter-cultural suggestions, pick this one up for your summer reading.

Then make time to read it!