Margins aren’t just for papers. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced that margins, or rather the lack of them, is one of the most self-destructive things today. Richard Swenson, an associate professor of medicine, wrote a book called Margin that warns about the impact that failing to leave margins in our personal lives has on relationships, productivity, health, and general sanity.
Defining margin as the space that exists between people and their personal limits, Swenson suggested that space largely has been squeezed out of our lives and become yet another casualty of the harried and hurried times in which we live. Margin must be restored, he says, if we are to experience health through contentment, simplicity, balance, and rest.
Swenson describes the decimation left in the wake of living with chronic overload. From our overstressed teachers and overworked farmers to overburdened pastors and overwhelmed parents, society at large has succumbed to the pressures of progress. According to Swenson, the type of overload we are experiencing is a relatively new phenomenon, exponential in growth and unprecedented in scope. Fueled by the power of technology, living today has accelerated to warp speed, with many people yearning for a rest stop, if not an exit ramp, off the frenetic freeway of life.
“Progress’s biggest failure has been its inability to nurture and protect right relationships,” writes Swenson. He suggests that the remedy is a return to a safer and saner lifestyle, one where people are thought of as priorities instead of problems, time is considered an ally rather than an enemy, and material wealth is less about making money than it is about living meaningfully.
While the price of progress can exact a painful toll, Swenson advocates that a renewed emphasis on voluntary simplicity, through the establishment of healthy limits, such as learning how to say no to over-commitment, not only enhances one’s standard of living, it is fast becoming a necessity for survival.
We who are people of faith should pay closer attention to the biblical concept of Sabbath because without it we create all kinds of unnecessary drama for ourselves and others. The biblical irony is that we must create sacred space in our lives to think, meditate, ponder, and pray or what we create will be a faded copy of the life we are trying to generate by packing it too full. Ironically, there comes a point when we do more but accomplish less with our lives.
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal