Margin Monday (week 2): The Pain of Progress

Posted by:

Last week we defined “Margin” according to the definition provided by Dr. Richard Swenson in his book Margin.  Lets look now at how margin-less living is a symptom of our culture’s fascination with progress, busyness and “success” – and touch on how to live differently.

Swenson holds that “the marginless lifestyle is a relatively new invention and one of progress’s most unreasonable ideas. Yet in a very short time it has become a nearly universal malady. . . Even those with a deep spiritual faith are not spared” (Margin, 15).  Those affected include: families who feel overloaded, wage earners who are overworked, and pastors who are overburdened.  He has seen it in his patients, in his interns, and in himself. “For a long time it sat on my chest,” he concludes (15).

It took a radical decision on his part to “pay the ransom and purchase back margin” (16), which led not only to a significant loss of income but a new, liberated lifestyle.

The root of our marginless culture lies in our expectations connected with some things that most of us consider very good – unprecedented affluence, education, technology, and entertainment. “The pain of progress” is that, with all the gadgets that were supposed to save us time, we are busier than ever.  With all the access to resources aimed at emotional and spiritual health, our culture on the whole is more stressed than ever.

What about you?  Two questions we should ask ourselves are, 1) How has our culture’s idolatry of progress affected our time, self-identity, joy, and creativity?, and 2) once we discover the impact of our culture on our lives, what can we do about it?

Stay tuned for future Margin Mondays as we discuss ways to answer these questions – and to develop strategies for re-establishing margin.

In the meantime, let me propose one (somewhat) simple, yet challenging, strategy.  Its called “Sabbath.”  God gave all of us a basic solution to marginless living in this one-day-per-week insurance policy against the build-up of stress. The Sabbath is a day of NO WORK!  Though the Jews struggled over how to precisely define “work” (limiting walking to 4 stadia, or about 1/2 mile, for example) our culture demands a more thoughtful approach.  As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). So, for the sake of confronting marginless living, we might define work as “that which produces stress associated with our livelihood or career.”  Each of us needs to define the parameters of our Sabbath, but my challenge is to begin to use it more rightly and ruthlessly – as a means for shedding ALL the stresses that have built up from the week(s) prior.  This takes a actual commitment!  You may need to close the laptop, turn off the phone, block out times for meditation and prayer, and/or get the family on-board.

Living with Margin means you really have time for God – to feel his presence, to meditate on his character, to “waste time with him”!  You also have time for family, for thinking, for exercise, for personal growth, for leisure, for creativity, and for fun!

Please let me know how it goes this week as you begin to pursue, and hopefully recapture, MARGIN!