book review, discipleship, encouragement, family, leadership
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Book Review: Margin

Richard A. Swenson, wrote Margin:  Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, to help men and women recognize their overloaded lives and give them a prescription for this dangerous condition.  The information is supported by a wealth of academic and medical sources.   Dr. Richard A. Swenson is an international speaker and writer, and teaches conferences on the relationship between stress and health.  He believes that stress has not always been an American occurrence.  Stress is something relatively new to our culture.  He argues that progression and overload is a modern anomaly.

Margin, takes a practical approach to helping the reader develop a plan to restore margin. It gives a prescription to avoiding overloaded lives that lead to fatigue and potential failure.

It is possible to restore margin by mending relational connections.  Cultivating social support that communicates care and understanding is emotionally healing.  Creating appropriate boundaries, having a positive view of the future, being thankful and forgiving, being rich in faith, holding fast to hope, and loving others are other critical components to giving emotional health a therapeutic surge.

Americans are now getting “two and one-half hours less sleep per night than 100 years ago.” Sleep deprivation results in obesity, attention deficit symptoms, and depression.

The flow of progress is associated with consuming more of our time rather than releasing additional “free” time.  A few of the things that are listed in Margins as time consumers are:  interruptions and junk mail, work and time stress, lack of personal and family time, and our over management of time through scheduling.  It is critical for people to increase their margin of time for optimal health.  Some ways of increasing the time margin are:  Prepare for the unexpected and leave room for it, Learn to say, “No,” turn off television and other electronics, practice simplicity and contentment, be thankful, create a buffer of time, and be available.

As a physician, Dr. Swenson understands the physical toll “marginless” living can have on the human body.  He explores the “matter of thresholds” in explaining the limits of “overloading.” This overloaded state crushes the body and the spirit as a person exceeds their limits.   Christians often say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” as a defense to their overextended lives (Phil. 4:13).   The author challenges the reader to remember they are not created to do everything, “Even Jesus Himself did not heal every case of leprosy in Israel.”

Limits and saturation points are emphasized because people do not often recognize the strain of over-extension until something breaks.   The doctor cautions that when someone is in season of saturation they should be very careful, looking for areas that might collapse.  He describes four margins that must be maintained in order to sustain health:  emotional energy, physical energy, time and finances.  The author’s claims and arguments are well constructed throughout the book.

I am reading, Margin:  Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, at a season of saturation in our family where we have little to no margin.   There are many ways to apply these chapters to my life. Listed below are three areas I am currently and/ or am planning to address:

  1. Emotional Energy- Mike and I have a great group of friends that are an incredible prayer support.  We enjoy each other’s company and they definitely give us emotional energy.   This group has been very helpful over the last few weeks in preparation for our son’s wedding.   We need to get our prayer group together soon to re-energize emotionally and spiritually.
  2. Rest is something that I have often overlooked often in ministry and in life.   Right now is a super busy summer.   On the one hand, we have fabulous celebrations like the wedding. On the other hand, my daddy is fighting throat cancer.  On Tuesday, we packed up the car and went back to Alabama for a short visit with him.  It is an “overloaded” season physically and emotionally.  In the next month I need to build in some rest with Mike.  With the start of fall programming, it will be hard – but necessary. Today was fun as we celebrated our 28th anniversary catching up with a few things at home and then going to see the new Batman movie (4 stars!).
  3. Physically, I need to incorporate a healthy diet and lifestyle.  Sleep, exercise, and eating in moderation all need to be a focus of growing physical margin in my life.    I have begun an exercise routine (21 day challenge) – but I need to make sure I am keeping it varied and interesting. In the next month, I will schedule two exercise excursions.   One will be with my group of girlfriends on a hiking trail outside of Roanoke.  The other will be with my husband.   Mike and I want to pick up biking again, so I will arrange a ride on Blackwater Creek. (Dana Johnson- I’ll be calling you for a guided bike tour :0).

Dr. Swenson’s book on Margin could clearly change the direction of leaders lives if they will recognize the problem in their own life, listen to the prescription, and begin the healing as they follow the guidelines of building margin.

What is one way you can build margin into your life in the next week?


Richard Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives / Richard A. Swenson., rev. ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004).

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