Overloaded Lives p2 [v74]

APRIL 2005

MARGIN: CAN I REALLY HAVE IT?—Last month I sent you a ‘summary’ of the first third of the “Margin” book (The Problem). Well, here is the remainder (The Prescription and The Prognosis).

This was a ‘powerful’ book for me and I hope you have had the time to read the first ‘section’, and will be able to finish it—it could ‘transform’ your life!

When you do complete your reading, I would very much like to ‘hear’ any comments you have, and if you are going to try to ‘institute’ any of the suggested “prescriptions.”

Mark

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PART TWO—THE PRESCRIPTION: MARGIN

CHAPTER 6: Margin

Margin is the amount ‘beyond’ which is needed—and despite its importance, few people are aware of the concept.

It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations—it is the gap between rest and exhaustion—the space between breathing freely and suffocating. It is the leeway we once had between ourselves and our limits.

Although some people seem capable of thriving without margin, most of us find it a prerequisite for well being. Margin grants freedom; permits rest; nourishes both relationship and service; and it is health enhancing.

Most people are not quite sure when they ‘pass’ from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. None of us want to be ‘underachievers’ (Heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous—and we ‘overbook’.

Mathematically, the definition for margin is straightforward: “Power – Load = Margin.” When the “load” is greater than our “power,” we enter into a negative margin—that is, we are overloaded. However, when our “power” is greater than our “load,” we have margin.

Given that the formula is simple and the consequences of living without margin ore ‘painful’, why is the concept not universally understood? It’s because some ‘pains’ are  “semi-visible”—not as readily apparent as others.

Living without margin does not cause a sensory pain, but instead a deep-seated subjective ‘ache’—and it’s hard to talk about since it’s “semi-visible.” We feel ‘guilty’ and weak if we complain—vulnerable to the slings and arrows of the contemptuously stoical.

Margin was an unrecognized ‘possession’ of the peoples of the past. As a matter of fact, no one talked about “stress” until the 1950s. In the past, by default rather than choice, people lived slower, more deliberate lives, They had time to help a neighbor. Social activities more often drew people together than pulling them apart.

Even though we may overrate ‘yesterdays’ positives and overlook the hardships, one does suspect that there is some ‘substance’ to our widespread nostalgia. Without knowing exactly what it is that we ‘miss’, we ‘yearn’ to have it back. We miss margin—and progress ‘devours’ margin.

Avid supporters of progress would probably be quite upset at ant suggestion that Third-World cultures have some “superior claims” to ours—they would probably say that is an “incredibly regressive idea!”

But to defend progress and its absence of margin is to presume that ‘all’ that is good in life and all that God wants us to accomplish is possible ‘only’ in a booked-up, highly efficient, often exhausted way of life.

What would you think if this page you are reading had no margins—top, bottom, and side to side? The result would be aesthetically displeasing, hard to comprehend, and probably even chaotic—like some of our lives!

Yet, even if we agree that margin is a good idea, for most of us it seems an unaffordable luxury. Instead of being motivated to meeting the needs of others, they simply want to ‘escape’ their suffocating schedules. We work hard to gain a ‘foothold’ of freedom, but are quickly drawn’ back into the ‘quicksand’.

Progress has had many ‘overpriced’ ideas, but trading us burnout for margin was one of its most uncharitable.

To be ‘healthy’, we require margin in at least four areas: emotional energy; physical energy; time; and finances. Modern living, however, has drained these margins rather than sustaining them.

Take this ‘test’. Increase the ‘demands’ on these four areas 10-20 percent—then see what happens. If you can ‘handle’ it, you had sufficient margin—if you ‘crash’, you didn’t.

CHAPTER 7: Margin in Emotional Energy

Of the four margins—emotional energy, physical energy; time, and finances—margin in emotional energy is paramount. When we are emotionally resilient, we can confront our problems with a sense of hope and power. When our psychic reserves are depleted, however, we are seriously weakened. Emotional overload saps our strength, paralyzes our resolve, and maximizes our vulnerability—leaving the ‘door’ open for even further margin erosion.

Despite the importance of emotional margin, our contemporary level of emotional stamina in not high. People constantly say that they are “drained.” Broken relationships, financial insecurities, and overburdened schedules ‘rip’ through us like a chain saw. The ‘wounds’ that the medical industry cares for today are more often those of the spirit than that of the soma.

So, what happens when our emotional energy resources are chronically depleted? Well, in this ‘state’, there is no way to ‘adjust’ to an unexpected emergency—there is nothing left to give to others. We are stuck in ‘survival’ mode.

One would have hoped that the process of progress would have been ‘kind’ to our emotional life, making it ever easier to replenish our reserves—but it has not been the case.

As our ‘survival’ needs were secured by civilization improvements, might we not have expected that emotional disorders would increasingly disappear? Anxiety, depression, suicide and suicide gesturing, personality disorders, obsessive behaviors, eating disorders, panic attacks, alcohol and other drug abuse, phobias, psychoses—none of these are on the verge of ‘extinction’. Instead, these maladies seem to ‘thrive’ in our society like weed in a garden—and they all drain us dry emotionally. All this prompted one observer to comment, “Millions of suburbanites seem to find that the ‘good life’ is only endurable under sedation.”

Some modern era social critics characterize this time as the “age of anxiety,” or the “age of melancholy.” The use of tranquilizers has become so prevalent that for decades they have been near the top of the list of the most widely prescribed drugs.

The widespread use of illicit drugs in our country is evidence that many perceive their personal lot not as a blessing to celebrate but, instead, as a burden to escape from.

So, ‘where’ is this “dark undertow” of mental illness coming from? Why, in one recent study were 9 of 11 patients on antidepressants? Where is the emotional resilience hiding these days?

Though other people in other times had it ‘rough’—many much rougher than us now—never before have people faced the particular ‘constellation’ of factors which today are plotting together for our misery.

For many Americans, life is almost relentlessly stressful. The pressure to achieve, compete—even survive—takes a significant toll on our emotional equilibrium. A serious erosion of traditional support systems (including extended family, neighborhoods, communities, schools, and churches) has occurred, and many people feel—and often are—alone with their problems and pressures, far from loved ones and without psychological support. It has been said that for every person suffering from a mental or emotional ‘disorder’, the lives of at least three others are ‘significantly’ affected!

So, if we find our emotional energy gone, how can we get it back? What are the ‘factors’ to emphasize in our lives that will not only protect our emotional reserves from unnecessary depletion, but will replenish the supply at regular intervals?

The following are some ‘prescriptions’ that have been proven to work (take as needed):

– Cultivate Social Supports
Not only is this common sense, but now it is good science—the importance of healthy social support is irrefutable. Love, affection, nurturing, intimacy, connectedness, bonding, attachment, empathy, community—there as “feel good” words for a reason: because they ‘are’ good! We all need human contact. We all need to be hugged from time to time. Have you ever noticed how, when a child climbs onto a parent’s lap and snuggles in, the entire room ‘feels’ caressed by the warmth of it?

– Pet a Surrogate
It is remarkable how closely we can approximate human-to-human warmth and affection by substituting human-to-animal contact. Pets are capable of bonding, are extremely loyal, and often exhibit deep appreciation for our affections—exactly the kind of responses needed to increase our emotional reserves.

– Reconcile Relationships
True reconciliation is one of the most powerful of all human interactions—and it’s not a matter of human psychology, but rather a divine ‘gift’. In our brokenness we confess, yielding our wrongs. In our humility we forgive, yielding our rights. And when confession and forgiveness are completed, our ‘frozen winter’ of pain will also yield, thawing under the warmth of the “Son.”

– Serve One Another
A recent stud followed 2,700 people for 10 years and concluded that those who performed regular ‘volunteer’ work showed dramatically increased life expectancy. The heart that goes out of itself gets large and full of joy. This is the great secret of the ‘inner’ life. We do ourselves the most ‘good’ doing something for others.

– Rest
Rest restores. Escape. Relax. Sleep in. Take a nap. Unplug the phone. Enjoy a walk (and don’t take your beeper). Try setting aside time every day for some quiet and for rest—perhaps 15-30 minutes. When emotionally exhausted, the first thing you should do is find quiet solitude, and a chance to do nothing—and don’t feel guilty, since fallow times are just as important as productive times.

– Laugh
Humor is a ‘medicine’—and it ‘tastes’ better than most pills, it usually works just as well, and it costs less! Try laughing every four minutes—it’s a guarantee that something positive will happen to your emotions and that your margin will be increased.

– Cry
Crying is a form of emotional diuresis. As long as it is not an indication of a deeper depression, crying can have salutary health benefits. According to some studies, those who cry more often get sick less often. Laughter lifts; crying cleanses—both are ‘partners’ in the process of emotional restoration.

– Create appropriate boundaries
It is not easy to say no. With far too many demands and expectations upon us, we could not possibly fulfill them all, even if we desired to do so. To be able to say no without guilt is to be freed from one of the biggest ‘monsters’ in our overburdened lives. If we decline, not out of self-serving laziness, but for God-honoring ‘balance’, then this level of control will not only ‘protect’ our emotional margin, but will actually increase it.

– Envision a better future
Each of us must have a transcendent vision—a hopeful, spiritually valid expectation of what the future will hold. We must have a purpose bigger than ourselves that we can live for. We must have something we can believe in, something we can ‘give’ ourselves to—and when we do this, then every expenditure of emotion will have meaning, and every expenditure of emotion will be reimbursable.

– Offer Thanks
In everyone’s life there is much to be unhappy about and much to be grateful for. Realistically acknowledging both ends of the ‘spectrum’ is appropriate. Gratitude ‘fills’—discontent ‘drains.

– Grant Grace
Treat people not as they deserve, but better than they deserve. Grace preempts accusation, freeing both parties.

– Be Rich in Faith
The most vital ‘ingredient’ of resilience is faith.

– Hold Fast to Hope
Hope foster both physical and emotional health. The Scriptures remind us of the hope of the promise, the hope of the gospel, and the hope of salvation.

– Above All, Love
In its ‘spilling’ out, it binds to others. When it binds to others, it heals, it knits hearts, it builds community, and it brings everything “together in perfect unity.” The effort to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ probably had done more good, and more to make life pleasant, than any other guideline. Love is the only ‘medicine’ that when used according to the ‘directions’, heals completely—yet takes one’s life away. It is ‘dangerous’; it is uncontrollable; it is “self-expenditure”; and it can never be taken on any terms but its own. Yet, as a healer of the emotions, it has ‘no’ equal!

CHAPTER 8: Margin in Physical Energy

When we dip into the tank for some physical energy, we all want the ‘ladle’ to return with something in it. Unfortunately, for too many of us, the ‘tank’ dried up years ago.

A large percentage of Americans are sadly ‘out of shape’ and have diminished physical energy reserves because of poor conditioning. Three factors—poor conditioning, sleep deprivation, and obesity—constitute a physical energy ‘desert’ where no margin can ‘grow’.

Thanks to progress, we have many ‘tools’ available to assist us in living longer, healthier lives. Gone are the old infectious ‘foes’, but replacing them are, in some ways, more frightening enemies. They are variously known as “the new morbidity,” “the diseases of civilization,” and “the diseases of lifestyle.” A recent Health Policy project explained that “64.7% of the years of life lost before age 65 result from preventable deaths.”

Let’s look at a few examples of this ‘epidemic’:

– Stress-induced Illnesses
Ailments like headaches, hyperacidity/ulcers, irritable bowel, malaise, fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression are very recent afflictions and are increasing.

– “Worried Well”
People now report higher rates of disability, symptoms, and general dissatisfaction with their health, despite substantial improvements in health status.

– Pollution-related Diseases
A majority of cancers result from environmental causes. Sick-building syndrome from artificially ventilated offices causes headaches and lethargy.

– Lack of Sexual Restraint
Tens of millions of cases of sexually transmitted diseases annually are followed by cervical abnormalities and cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancies, teenage pregnancies, abortions, and AIDS.

– Illicit Drug Use
The U.S. ‘owned’ the highest per capita illicit drug us of any industrialized country. People take drugs to alter or to escape from a less than tolerable reality, and to meet intense emotional needs.

– Cigarette-related Disease
Tobacco kills 350,000 Americans every year, making it the leading cause of premature death in the U.S. One in six Americans dies from the effects of tobacco—killing more people every year than do “cocaine, heroin, AIDS, traffic accidents, murder, and terrorist attacks ‘combined’. It kills more Americans in 18 months than were killed in all of the wars in the 20th century.

– Alcohol Abuse
The second leading cause of premature death in the U.S., with nine million alcoholics and another six million problem drinkers, alcohol abuse is implicated in half of all homicides, suicides, and automobile fatalities.

In some ways, progress has been too ‘easy’ on us. It caters food in overabundance, but without regard for the requirement of restraint. It provides electricity and artificial lighting, but without regard for the requirement of sleep. And it supplies transportation and convenience, but without regard for the requirement of physical activity. As a result, we eat too much, sleep too little, and move hardly at all.

Our bodies are, in one sense, sophisticated ‘energy’ machines. If we properly care for the ‘engine’, and load it with the appropriate fuel, it will operate reliably—even when called upon to double or triple it performance, it is capable of responding by tapping into ‘reserves’. So, the stronger the body’s reserves, the better able the body will be to resist the ravages of stress—and this depends on three factors: sleep, exercise, and nutrition.

We now live in a culture that is ‘open’ through the night—and sleeps disorders affect more than 50 million Americans—and it is becoming one of the most pervasive health problems facing the U.S.

The “rounding of America” is such a ubiquitous problem, that almost one-half of all adults are on a diet at any given time. One in five Americans is considered “obese” (20% over your ‘ideal’ weight)—but twice that number “think” they are. And what can’t be dieted off is now surgically removed, to the ‘tune’ of 100 tons per year!

Over the last two decades, the incidence of childhood obesity is up 54% in those ages 6-11 and39% for those 12-17. More people die of TOO MUCH food in America than of too little!

To add to all this, most of us ‘move’ too little—more than 80% of Americans do not get enough exercise! Of children ages 6-12, 40% of the boys and 70% of the girls can do only ONE pull-up!

So, how can we ‘restore’ margin in our physical energy? The following ‘prescriptions’ might help:

– Take Personal Responsibility
Until we accept responsibility, the ‘road’ to the future will be paved with aches and pains. Change IS possible, but it’s up to you.

– Gain Physical Margin through Emotional Margin
Relationships, service, volunteerism, laughter, purpose, gratitude, faith, hope, and love are also important to physical health.

– Change Your Habits
Breaking old “habit disorders” and establishing new patterns are necessary. So, surround yourself with people who will encourage and support the changes.

– Value of Sleep
Many people in contemporary society have ‘negative’ attitudes toward sleep—often saying it is a “waste of time.” However, the need for sleep is undeniable, and can be an ally, not an ‘enemy’.

– Develop Healthy Sleep Patterns
Retire at a similar time each evening, and arise at a similar time each morning. Don’t engage in disturbing conversations immediately before bedtime. Instead, begin relaxing about an hour or so before retiring. Give yourself time to ‘unwind’ from the day. And don’t have a big meal within two hours of bedtime. If your sleep is disturbed by ‘racing thoughts’, keep a notepad or even small tape recorder next to the bed—‘write’ it down and forget it!

– Don’t Catastrophize Insomnia
Don’t panic when it ‘strikes’—it happens to everyone from time to time. If it becomes a problem, don’t stay in bed awake. Get up, sit in a comfortable chair, or lie on the couch, read, write a letter, drink some warm milk, take a walk, play relaxing music…but don’t worry—and don’t ‘depend’ on medications.

– Don’t Oversleep
Extra sleeping paradoxically often causes tiredness. Also, headaches are more common with excess sleep.

– Take a Nap
Naps can be revitalizing—many of the world’s greatest leaders/thinkers were ‘nappers’. Don’t nap for more than an hour, and the most helpful time is the afternoon, taking advantage of the mild ‘drop’ in body temperature that induces somnolence.

– Exercise for Sounder Sleep
Healthy physical tiredness probably has no equal as a sleep-inducing sedative. However, don’t exercise vigorously just before going to bed—a leisurely walk would be better.

– Decrease Intake of Fat
A typical American diet derives37% of its calories from fats—-and that should be 30% or less. It also takes in too much sugar at 25%, which should be cut in have to about 12%. Then the 22% we get from starches could be increased to 46% or so. Our margin in physical energy disappears as our waistline expands.

– Decrease Intake of Sugars
Though “table sugar” has been declining recently, the real problem is “hidden” sugars added during food processing—so, look at the labels.

– Replace Processed Snacks with Fruit
Fruits can be a great substitute for fats and refined sugars. Oftentimes we bypass fruits thinking they are too expensive. So, take a look at the following list:

ITEM        AVE COST PER POUND
Cookies          $3.11
Candy             $3.03
Crackers         $2.80
Small Cakes   $2.53
Donuts            $2.49
Grapes            $0.99
Oranges          $0.89
Apples            $0.74
Pears               $0.50
Bananas          $0.39

– Balanced Diet
Eat three ‘balanced’ meals—skipping a meal or two is NOT doing you a favor. Studies indicate that a daily habit of all three meals, taken in moderation and without between-meal snacking, is the clear ‘winner’ when it comes to healthy outcomes, whether in weight, vigor, or longevity.

– Avoid Overeating
Put smaller portions on your plate. Use a small plate. Eat slowly—chew your food longer. (Set your fork down between EVERY bite!). Consciously TASTE your food! Don’t take seconds. Don’t snack. And don’t eat in front of the TV.

– Garden or Buy Direct
Generally speaking, the less factory processing, the better the food. If there are too many ‘steps’ from dirt to table, chances are the food has been ‘unhealthified’ in proportion to the number of steps.

– Drink a Lot of Water
The universal recommendation is 6-8 glasses (8 oz.) per day—and a large glass just before a meal can help suppress your appetite.

– Use Exercise as an Appetite and Weight Reducer
It is a myth that exercise increases appetite—so, ‘sweat’ before you eat—-you will eat less. Relying on exercise alone for weight reduction will yield frustratingly meager results—a combination of calorie ‘restriction’ and ‘incineration’ is the best.

– McStay at Home
There is no comparison between the calories, fat, and sodium we consume when we prepare food at home versus dining out. For most, this can be the difference between normal weight and obesity.

– Exercise the Heart
There are five aspects to a fitness evaluation: cardiorespiratory endurance; muscle strength; muscle endurance; flexibility; and body composition—but, by far, the most important and beneficial is ‘cardio’. Aerobic conditioning ‘trains’ your heart, lungs, blood, and vessels in such a way as to allow them to deliver more oxygen faster and more efficiently. And all you need to do is 30-45 minutes of sustained exercise three times a week. (NOTE: of the 29 ‘prescriptions’ given herein, this will do more to establish margin in physical energy than any of the others.).

– Exercise the Muscles
As we age, muscle strength declines more quickly than does muscle endurance—so, if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them.

– Exercise the Mind and Spirit
Exercise has a ‘tranquilizing’ affect on the body. It helps to decompress stress and is good ‘medicine’ for anxiety and depression.

– Bike or Walk
In our culture, we “drive up” or “drive through” most of our destinations now. Any exercise is better than none—so, climb the stairs rather than using the elevator. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk to the store. Get off the ‘subway’ one stop early and ‘hoof’ it.

– Exercise in the Morning
It has been shown that morning exercisers seem to maintain a program better than those who choose evening hours—and it ‘starts’ the metabolism working earlier to burn calories.

– Choose What Works for You
Whatever you choose, just DO IT—and make it enjoyable.

– Stick with It
Fatigue, waning enthusiasm, and discouragement are the three main factors that ‘tempt’ us to quit. Approach exercise as an ‘investment’—if you don’t begin to receive ‘dividends’ within two months, then you have my ‘permission’ to quit!

– Continue Until the Hearse Arrives
If one exercises for six months then stops, within two weeks the benefits will begin to disappear. The ‘battle’ over exercise takes place in the mind, not in the body.

– Be Realistic
Focus on ‘important’ issues; Choose appropriate exercises; Slowly loss the weight; Be patient and persistent; See your physician regularly; Expect ups and downs; Set goals; Believe you can!

– Give Your Body a Break
Like anything else in life, BALANCE is the key.

You will find that, if you perform this ‘assignment’ well, you will ‘find’ energy you never knew you had; you will work better; feel better; heal better; and live better.

CHAPTER 9: Margin in Time

We all lead ‘busy’ lives—and the one thing most of don’t have is “margin.” We try to ‘compress’ time and ‘milk’ it for every nanosecond of productivity we can get out of it.

If we examine today’s vocabulary about time, we find phrases like, “lack of time”; “not enough time”; “”being out of time.” So, trying to ‘get’ more time, we ‘borrow’ it only to incur a time ‘debt’, and end up with even less time.

If you had the opportunity of setting the time ‘agenda’ for society, which concepts of time would you endorse, and which would you renounce?

Ideally, out time should ‘be’ God’s—directed by Him and for His purposes. It is not right that progress has ‘tyrannized’ us so! (It is fitting that a society with urgency as it ’emblem’ should have Valium as its addiction).

Thirty years ago, futurists peering into their ‘crystal balls’ predicted that one of the biggest problems for coming generations would be what to do with their abundant “spare time.” In 1967, testimony before the Senate subcommittee claimed that by 1985 people could be working just 22 hours a week, or 27 weeks a year—and could “retire” at age 38!

Exactly when they stopped talking this way—I’m not sure—but they did stop. According to a recent Harris Survey, the amount of leisure time enjoyed by the average American has decreased 37% since 1973—and over the same period, the average workweek, including commuting, has jumped from under 41 hours to nearly 47 hours. When you add the total hours worked by the dual-income family outside the home, the difference is even more accentuated.

Progress was ‘billed’ as “leisure-permitting” and “time-gifting.”—it has been the opposite! Jeremy Rifkin, in his book, “Time Wars,” said, “Tangential or discretionary time, once a mainstay, an amenity of life, is now a luxury.”

How can one explain the ‘gap’ between the prediction and the reality? In spite of all the “time-saving” devices, we ‘have’ less time. “People are submitting themselves to time-devouring technology,” claims, Todd Gitlin. This Berkeley sociologist is particularly concerned about the cellular phone craze creating ‘more’ work rather than saving more time. “We’re a nerve-racked society where people have difficulty sitting back and thinking of the purpose of what they do.”

“Paradoxical as it may seen, modern industrial society, in spite of an incredible proliferation of labor-saving devices, has not given people more time to devote to their all-important spiritual tasks; it has made it exceedingly difficult for anyone, except the most determined, to find any time whatever for these tasks,” observes E.F. Schumacher. “In fact, I think I should not go far wrong if I asserted that the amount of genuine leisure available in a society is generally in inverse proportion to the amount of labor-saving machinery it employs.”

Nearly all of us are caught scratching our heads about this ‘mystery’ of having so little time in an era of so many conveniences and such vaunted efficiency. How can this be?

Well, let’s examine some of the uniquely contemporary ways we spend our time. In a lifetime, the average American will:

– Spend six months sitting at traffic lights waiting for them to change
– Spend one year searching through your desk clutter looking for misplace objects.
– Spend eight months opening junk email
– Spend two years trying to call people who aren’t in or whose line is busy
– Spend five years waiting in lines
– Spend three years in meetings
– Commute 45 minutes every day
– Be interrupted 73 times every day
– Watch 1,700 hours of TV every year
– Open 600 pieces of mail every year

What did we do with all out time before we had traffic lights, telephones, TVs’, interruptions and cluttered desks? Before teenagers began to listen to over 10,000 hours of ‘rock’ music between the grades seven and twelve?

True, we get to places faster—but now we have more places to go. We have devices to help us clean—but we have more things ‘stuffed’ into more square-footage. We have the light bulb which has given us more capacity to be busy, produce, and ‘fill up’ schedules with more things in the evenings. All a “net loss”—primarily, we have ‘lost’ community.

When we think of time pressure, perhaps no thought comes as quickly to mind as the workplace. The stressors we experience there are “rooted in pure bombardment.” In short, too much to deal with in a ‘world’ which is too busy and in which we all feel tremendous pressure to make the ‘right’ decision RIGHT NOW.

But, when appropriately undertaken, work in Biblically required and an absolute necessity for healthy living. Many, however, are so driven by their work that they can never take a day off or enjoy a quiet walk in the woods—and some have more of a problem—work ‘addiction’. They do not notice the lack of ‘balance’ in their lives, for they are too preoccupied with leading our national ‘charge’ toward production, expansion, and success—and most of these people ‘infect’ their employees but systematically removing the same freedoms they themselves have forsaken. Family and friends become strangers ‘passing’ into the night; they miss their daughter’s first steps and their son’s first home run. Then, later in life, they miss their graduations and weddings.

Because financial margin is often nonexistent, people seek supplemental employment. Many work two jobs or extra shifts. “Moonlighting” is increasing. Work has invaded evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, and weekly church service. Stores and restaurants that once respected margin, respect it no longer—often open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Such ‘expansion’ pushes the issue to its limits, and is hardly the way to gain more time margin.

Now the ‘good’ news. For the first time in 15 years (circa 1992), Americans are choosing leisure over work as the most important thing in their lives! (Looks like a corrective ‘reaction’ to time starvation).

That being said, our culture, and especially the workplace, is still all about improving productivity and ‘turn-around’ time. ‘Speed’ has become a ‘drug’.

Supercomputers (note the new Apple “liquid-cooled, dual processor” G5 that can sit on you desktop) operate at trillionths of a second. With the Internet, computers can make transactions so fast that the same dollars can finance 10 different deals on the same day. In the past, letters took days or weeks to get to you, but now people are so ‘crazed’ that they call you to tell you your fax line is busy, or stay on the phone line to be sure you got the e-mail they just sent. All this increase speed is creating ‘platinum’ products and ‘killing’ workers. Mahatma Ghandi once recognized that, “there is more to life than increasing its speed.”

The marginless lifestyle and its resultant chronic time pressure are particularly devastating to our relationships; to self, to family, to others, and to God. Those who say they don’t need time for self are probably the ones who need it most! We all need time to let the ‘dust’ settle, to evaluate how life is going, to plan for the future, and to focus on that which is spiritually ‘authentic’.

Families have been particularly hard hit by the time famine. Nearly every study on family stress reveals time pressures to be at or near the top. Consider the amount of time we spend in some of these relationships: Spouse-to-spouse time averages as little as four minutes per day of ‘meaningful’ conversation; Parent-to-child ‘quality’ time reside in the same neighborhood, between 37 seconds and five minutes a day.

Family psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, noted that, “crowded lives produce fatigue—and fatigue produces irritability—and irritability produces indifference—and indifference can be interpreted by the child as a lack of genuine affection and personal esteem.”

Calendars are so crowded these days that we don’t even have the ‘space’ to visit with a good friend. As a result, long-term friendships are vanishing and neighborhood identities are fading.

What ever happened to the “Be still and know that I am God” times? Societies that have the accelerator to the floor are doomed to become God-less. Speed does not yield devotion (we ‘jump’ at our alarm in the morning, but would probably sleep through the ‘call’ of the Almighty).

But all is not lost—we are not helpless! Time margin CAN be taken back. Let’s look at a few steps we can take to restore some ‘sanity’ to our schedules.

– Expect the Unexpected
Nearly everything takes longer than expected—increase your margin of error.

– Learn to Say NO
If there are a hundred ‘good’ things to do and you can do only ten, you will have to say no 90 times.

– Turn Off the TV
For the average adult, this would ‘gain’ more than 30 hours a week! No other single effort will secure as much time margin as this simple, nearly ‘impossible’ action.

– Prune the Activity Branches
Activities and commitments often have a way of self-perpetuating even when we are no longer interested in them. It is much harder to stop something than it is to start it. Periodically, it is important to get the ‘clippers’ and prune ‘good’ stuff away.

– Practice Simplicity and Contentment
We all consume significant quantities of time in the buying and then ‘maintaining’ of things. With fewer possessions, we do not have as many things to take care of—and with a smaller ‘estate’, there will be less debt ‘bondage’ in our work schedule. Recognize unnecessary possessions for what they are—stealers of ‘divine’ time. At the beginning of every day we are given ‘assignments’ that have eternal significance—to serve, to love, to obey, to pray. Instead, we squander much of this time on things that very soon will leave us forever.

– Separate Time from Technology
Cutting adrift ‘technology’ is a good way to reassert our independence over the tyranny of the clock. Fasting from food leads to a starvation that ‘purifies’ the body; fasting from technology leads to margin that ‘fortifies’ the spirit.

– Short-term Flurry vs. Long-term Vision
Americans are notoriously shortsighted. Each of us needs a direction and vision that can inform our focus in life.

– Thank God
If you have two meetings scheduled for the same time, you obviously can attend only one. Don’t overlook the possibility that this might be God’s way of being ‘kind’ to you.

– Sabotage Your Fuse Box
Ever noticed how a major storm ‘freezes’ the clock? Time stands still as everything ‘skids’ to a halt. Try doing this when there isn’t a storm—just sit and watch the sky; talk about nothing in particular by candle light; of ‘visit’ with each other by playing a board game.

– Get Less Done But Do the Right things
All activities need to be ‘assessed’ as to their “spiritual authenticity.” Especially be on ‘guard’ against the urgency we see in so much of life’s flow. If this urgency regularly ‘erodes’ either your time for relationships or your time for rest, reevaluation is appropriate.

– Enjoy Anticipation, Relish the Memories
Calendar congestion and time urgency have robbed us of the pleasure of anticipation. Without warning, the activity is upon us. We rush to meet it; then we rush to the next one; and then the next. In the same way, we lack the luxury of reminiscing—–we ‘fly’ to the next activity.

– Don’t Rush Wisdom
Seldom is true wisdom a product of speedy deliberation. The more important the decision, the slower it should be made.

– For Type A’s Only: Stand in Line
Trash the extraneous. Cut out some of the committees—perhaps all of them! Give yourself a ‘lunch’ break—-out of the office. Browse a bookstore; sit in a deserted church; go to a museum. During office hours, schedule some ‘imaginary’ meetings—naturally they will be ‘no-shows’. You can then use that time to catch up—or ‘renew’ your spirit.

– Create Buffer Zones
Consider creating ‘buffer’ zones between obligations—a kind of ‘coffee break’ for the spirit. Even 10-15 minutes can allow you to call your spouse, ‘rest’ your eyes, reorient your priorities, or ‘defuse’ your tension.

– Plan for Free Time
If Christ chose ‘spontaneous’ living, shouldn’t that be a ‘signal’ to us? Try rearranging your schedule one evening per month (then maybe weekly) for ‘direct’ involvement in the lives of ‘needy’ people.

– Be Available
It just might be that the most important thing God has for you, on any given day, is not even on your ‘radar screen’. Being ‘useful’ to God and other people is a large part of what life is meant to be. Are you interruptible? You response may be the real test of your love for God.

Consider this: When flying from New York to San Francisco, we don’t allow only three minutes to change planes in Denver—a much greater margin of error is needed. But if we make such allowances in our travels, why don’t we do it in our living? Lie is a journey, not a race! God exalts faithfulness over productivity, rest over speed, and availability over ‘schedulability’.

God never intended for time to oppress us, dictating our every move—that was progess’s idea. Instead, time was simply His way of making sure “everything didn’t happen all at once.” We are free to use it, and if we are wise, we will use it with eternity in view.

With time margin, we can better enjoy our next activity, be more contemplative, be of greater service to others, and be more ‘in touch’ with God and others—maybe actually ‘delighting’ in the divine interruptions He sends us!

CHAPTER 10: Margin in Finances

At last count, there were about 210 countries in the world. Every year, Americans spend more on trash bags than the individual gross national product of 90 of these countries. Even more astoundingly, we spend more on eating out than the individual gross national product of 200 of these nations!

Wealth—is it the ‘blessing’ of a generous God or the fast track to moral and spiritual ruin? Our unprecedented affluence has brought benefits that even the most cynical ought to acknowledge. It is clearly the “best of times” for Americans.

Unfortunately, however, these benefits do not constitute the whole story; luminous advancements often cast dark shadows. In the case of our economic prosperity, the shadows of debt, vulnerability, and uncertainty extend far into the future. Is our economy ‘freeing’ us physically and spiritually, and granting us a financial margin with which to serve the ‘purposes’ of God?—or are we being reduced to feverish ‘bundles’ of nervousness, discontent, and greed?

Alfred Malabre, Jr., the “Wall Street Journal” economist said that, “For a long time, we’ve been living beyond our means—for so long, in fact, that now, sadly, it’s beyond our means to put things right, at least in an orderly, reasonably painless manner.

Our list of economic ‘woes’ is a long one—a few of them are:

– Personal, corporate, national, and international debt levels are lofting through the ‘stratosphere’.

– Bankruptcies are at record levels, nearly one million each year.

– Real estate costs have inflated so alarmingly over the last two decades that increasing numbers of Americans cannot afford to enter the housing market.

– College tuition costs have consistently outpaced inflation to the point where parents can no longer afford the fees.

– The savings-and-loan industry lies in shambles.

– Banks joined the thrifts in a decade-long morass.

– Scandal and greed rock the economic world at every turn.

– Many cities, counties, and states are scrambling to avoid insolvency.

– Congressional spending on welfare and social programs has risen 2,000% since 1960.

– Health-care spending continues to spiral out of control.

We face a future of economic choices that are far less pleasant than any set of choices we have confronted in living memory—and despite the tremendous increase in liabilities listed above, we have no more money to pay for it all.

We may blame or criticize the ‘government’ getting us into all this ‘trouble’, but most families have the same problem ‘balancing’ their own budgets.

Part of the reason families are ‘broke’ is due to their unparalleled love affair with consumption. People often get into debt and destroy their financial margin simply because they buy too many things they don’t need.

Before we are too harsh on John and Jane Doe, one of the biggest issues for the trouble is that real ‘expenses’ have risen and real ‘income’ has not. Median family income (adjusted for inflation) has been ‘stalled’ for two decades. Not surprisingly the typical family now spends 30% [of its income] on debt service, compared with 20% a decade ago. It is little wonder that lack of money is the leading ‘stressor’ among families.

There is significant controversy that exists among economic ‘experts’ concerning the advisability of debt—some saying it can prove beneficial to the performance of the economy. Others, however, say that it unavoidably ‘imprisons’ the future, and the “buy now, pay later” mentality too often corrupts into “binge now, pain later.”

Larry Burkett, a financial advisor, explains that, “God doesn’t prohibit borrowing, but He certainly does discourage it.” In fact, Proverbs sites that, “The borrower is the servant to the lender.”

Much of this deficit spending on a personal and family level occurs because buying has become a national ‘mania’. People go to the mall with nothing in mind other than recreational shopping, but come home with a little ‘something’—they buy strictly out of impulse, and it makes them feel better—sort of an antidepressant.

The average consumer enters the store carrying seven credit cards, with a household balance nearing $2,000 (in 1980, this figure was $550; in 1990 it rose to $1,833)

[NOTE: The above figures, given in the “Margin” book, were from 1992. In the last decade, the average U.S. household consumer debt (non-mortgage) has increased from approximately $8,500 to $14,500. (Federal Reserve Statistical Releases and U.S. Census Bureau). Credit card debt now averages $8,562 per household. According to the Federal Reserve, outstanding non-secured consumer debt rose from $355 billion in 1980 to $1.2 trillion in 1996 to $1.65 trillion in 2001. The average American family is paying about $1,100 a year in interest on credit cards.]

Our ‘love affair’ with plastic is one of the main reasons we have “no room to wiggle”—that is, having no financial margin. We have lost interest in the discussions about caution and restraint—our skills at rationalization are so well ‘developed’ we scarcely wince when God’s Word counters us on this.

Our society is so captivated with earning money, having money, and spending money, that we think of little else–money is life’s ‘report’ card. And what better way to gain financial margin that to earn more money!

It is not that money is “evil”—but that the LOVE of money leads to all kinds of evil. With sufficient wisdom and discipline, money can be a blessing to many (but wisdom and discipline are not exactly an American’s ‘long suit’).

So, any discussion of financial margin would be incomplete without mentioning the pure ‘joy’ of it. There are three reasons for this joy:

– By lowering your expenses below your income, you live with far less stress and pressure.

– Having financial margin allows beneficence toward others.

– It is a ‘transcendent’ kind of pleasure that comes neither from within or without but from ‘above’. In giving, you are ushered into a ‘world’ where cynicism and hatred have been banished—and you are considering other before yourself—doing what God has asked you to do. In giving, you are ‘pleasing’ Him.

Many people see no way out—they have been ‘treading’ water so long that they can’t remember what it was like to have money left at the end of the month. For all such ‘weary’ debtors, take heart, there are some ways you might go about restoring margin to your finances.

– Travel in the Right Direction
Economists and politicians of the past 50 years have honestly believed that economic advancement was the solution to the problem of humankind—but ‘economics’ has not been the answer. If we are to restore margin to our finances, we must put first things first. Only then will we be able to break the power money holds on us and ‘use’ it instead of being ‘used’ by it. Settling the issue of the “lordship” of your money is a mandatory first step.

– Break Its Back
Before we can accomplish anything righteous with money, we first need to understand its ‘power’, confront it, and demolish it—and the way to do this is to ‘give’ it away. When we give money away, we not only neutralize its power over us, but we also bring it under the ‘domain’ of the Almighty—the ‘place’ it should be.

– Counter Culture
Before we will be able to succeed in reestablishing financial margin, we must free ourselves from the dominating influences that surround us. Our culture ‘demands’ we buy its wares and live by its ‘rules’. Acquiescing to such demands inevitably leads to margin erosion.

– Live within Your Harvest
As the saying says, “make do with what you have”—not a very ‘popular’ thing these days. It conveys that we have boundaries and that we are willing to confine ourselves within the scope of these boundaries rather than ‘pine’ for the punitive greener grass on the other side of the fence. Contentment and simplicity are invaluable ‘friends’ in this effort.

– Discipline Desires and Redefine Needs
Our true ‘needs’ are few and basic: We need God, love, relationships with fellow human beings, meaningful work, food clothing, and shelter. Most of the rest of what we call ‘needs’ are instead ‘desires’, relative to the age and location in which we live.

– Decrease Spending
There are three ways to increase our financial margin: Decrease spending, increase income, or increase savings. Among those choices, the best is to simply reduce our spending.

– Increase Income
In most cases, this compounds marginless living. The tendency of choosing more work hours in order to increase financial margin has a significantly negative effect on our time margin.

– Increase Savings
Unscheduled and unpredictable breakdowns will happen, and we should consider having some margin for them to happen in—have some savings, but not ‘hoarding’. God is honored by us being ‘funnels’, and dishonored by us being ‘sponges’.

– Make a Budget
This is the most universally recommended of all financial-margin suggestions (Larry Burkett and Ron Blue have great detailed books about this subject).

– Discard Credit Cards
They don’t need to be ‘thrown away’, but be SURE you can pay it off each month. Simply stated, avoid debt.

– Don’t Mortgage the Future
Do not assume a mortgage of more than 40% of your NET SPENDABLE income. Far too many people, especially young couples, take on a mortgage that effectively deprives them of any financial margin for decades to come—and deprive themselves of the ‘joy’ of giving to the unexpected needs God sends their way.

– Resist Impulses
But only those things you know you need and can use.

– Share, Lend, Borrow
We need to develop a new ‘depreciation’ of things, and a new ‘appreciation’ of people—things are used, and people are to be served. If we are willing to loan out our things, then others will not need to purchase similar items, and they will have more left over to use as financial margin—this will also work for you when you borrow things.

– Emphasize Usefulness over Fashion
The mindless out-of-control fashion ‘games’ we play also rob us of freedom, destroy our peace, and deprive us of financial margin. Don’t be a ‘robot’ to another’s ‘proclamations’.

– Fast
It is healthy to periodically separate from the things of the world and do without. In traditional thinking, such fasting pertains to food—use up what you have in the refrigerator and ‘pantry’. In the context of financial margin, it is good to ‘fast’ from shopping for periods of time. Remember the framed ‘saying’ on Grandma’s kitchen wall: “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.”

– Kingdom First
Money ‘belongs’ to God—we are just His stewards. Jesus was distinctly unambiguous when teaching about priorities: “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

All margins—in emotional energy, in physical energy, in time, and especially in finances—ought to first ‘honor’ God, and be made available for the purposes of the ‘Kingdom’.

PART THREE —THE PROGNOSIS: HEALTH

CHAPTER 11: Health through Contentment

Some public health authorities estimate that only 10 percent of the indicators of health are influenced by physicians, hospitals, and medicines. What, then, influences the other 90 percent?

MARGIN—its presence or absence greatly influences health. Restoring margin is a huge first step in the health direction.  But margin cannot survive standing out there on its own.  Attempting to build a life with margin without support is like attempting to build a tree house without a tree.

Contentment, simplicity, balance, and rest are the four ‘builders’ of health. They are meek and unpretentious, greatly overshadowed by the flamboyant power of progress.

Today, for the average American, discontent has become a way of life. Contentment is a cause without a constituency, a virtue without a voice. Discontent as a driving force for a society might make that society rich, but will ‘bankrupt’ it in the end. As the coffer fills, the soul empties. It’s like planting a garden with weeds. Come July there will be plenty of green, but in September we will have nothing to eat.

Our quest is usually not for contentment but for ‘more’. This quest brings us into an immense maze, where before us lie dozens of avenues. All the while, off to one side, courses a narrow uphill ‘road’, unadorned and unpopular—and the sole ‘treasure’ at its end is an elusive commodity called ‘contentment’.

“Contentment,” explains J. I. Packer, “is essentially a matter of accepting from God’s hand what He sends because we know that He is good and therefore it is good.”

Contentment is the freedom that comes when prosperity or poverty do not matter; to accept what we have and “to want but little,” as Thoreau advised. The more we choose contentment, the more God sets us ‘free’. The more He sets us free, the more we choose contentment.

To clarify, contentment is not denying one’s feelings about unhappiness, but instead a freedom from being ‘controlled’ by those feelings. It isn’t pretending things are right when they are not, but instead the ‘peace’ that comes from knowing that God is bigger than any problem and that He works them all out for our good.

Contentment isn’t the complacency that defeats ant attempt to make things better, but instead the willingness to work tirelessly for improvement, clinging to God rather than ‘results’. It isn’t a feeling of well-being contingent on keeping circumstances under control, but instead a joy that exists in spite of circumstances and looks to the God who never varies. It isn’t the comfortable feeling we get when all our needs and desires are met, but instead the ‘security’ in knowing, as A. W. Tozer reminds us, that “The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.”

So, why is contentment so hard for us? Well, because it’s not at all like cutting down a tree, which, when it’s done, it’s done. Contentment is more like tying to pick up mercury with tweezers—it keeps squirting away.

In addition, contentment is difficult because it is a ‘relative’ state—a number of factors like culture and lifestyle affect it.

If we were to draw a horizontal line at the top of a piece of paper and write “All There Is To Have” above it, and another horizontal line at the bottom of the page with the words “What We Have Now,” the ‘gap’ between these lines would be, in most cases, proportional to out ‘level’ of contentment (between them would be words like: education; looks, money; job; family; marriage; house; cars; toys; prestige; power; friends; etc.).

As the top line ‘rises’, the gap between what we now have and all there is becomes greater—and often our ‘discontent’ becomes greater as well. One of the dubious advantages progress has ‘given’ us is the relentless raising of the top line! Life in the U.S. has become essentially a ‘comparative’ experience.

With the invention of air conditioning, for example, progress raised the top line. Before this arrival, though, no one was discontented to drive in sweltering heat without it. Yet when progress ‘invents’ it for us, the level of expectation rises—and with it the level of discontent.

Another erroneous measure of contentment is the prosperity ‘ladder’. Most of us look “up the ladder” and notice that the wealthy have more than we do. This, of course, strikes a near fatal ‘blow’ at one’s contentment. If, instead, we reversed our gaze and looked ‘down’ the ladder, our gratitude would thrive and opportunities for serving would abound.

So of us have probably ‘grumbled’ when our house temperature drops to 60 degrees, yet there are untold millions in the world who do not have shelter. All of us have probably ‘complained’ that the day was rainy, yet a large segment of the world’s land is shriveling up in drought. Some of us have probably been known to ‘groan’ if we miss a meal during the day, yet thousands who go to sleep tonight (right here in ‘prosperous’ America) will have not had any food during the day—some for many days.

The ‘normalization’ of envy is yet another reason why the achievement of contentment is difficult. The cultural message is strong: Why shouldn’t we want what others have? We have ‘rights’, including the right to enjoy the “good life.” This, of course, is precisely the kind of logic that so efficiently ‘destroys’ not only contentment, but margin as well (we have renamed “covetousness” to “ambition,” making it not only dignified, but exalted).

The advertising industry deserves a great share of the ‘blame’ for consciously stimulating a chronic state of discontent—we are bombarded with the message that we ‘need’ the latest/greatest thing to be “happy.” As a consequence, our discontent-dependent, debt-sponsored economy might well ‘collapse’ on our heads!

We are not a ‘hungry’ society; we are, in reality, overfed! Need must be created, and discontent must be stirred up. We are easy ‘prey’.

In truth, discontent has so many disadvantages one wonders why it’s popular. It can suffocate freedom, leaving us in bondage to our desires. It can poison relationships with jealousy and competition. It often rewards blessing with ingratitude, as we ‘grumble’ against God. And when it has done its ‘work’, discontent abandons us—leaving us no comfort in our indebted, marginless, friendless self-piety.

The ‘advantages’ of contentment, on the other hand, are many: freedom, gratitude, rest, and peace—all components of health—and when anchored in right relationships, we relate better to others, our selves, and God.

Another ‘relationship’ to discuss is the one we have with money. The poor envy the rich, while the rich envy the richer. Money gives a ‘thrill’, but no satiety. Money does seem to meet our needs in the short term, buying us food, shelter, transportation, and experiences. It does not, however, meet any of our long-term needs like love, truth, relationship, and redemption.

Many of today’s rich are faced with the same depression, meaninglessness, alcoholism, suicide, and fractured relationships we see in the poor (or, for that matter, the middle class). The poor are not ‘surprised’ by their plight. The rich, however, have run the ‘rainbow’ out to its end and have found it an unexpectedly empty journey.

While earning money is necessary at some level, ‘seeking’ wealth threatens us with devastation. People who ‘want to get rich, most of the time, fall into temptations; fall into ‘traps’; fall into foolish and harmful desires; and are plunged into ruin and destruction.

So, to relate ‘correctly’ to money, we need a contentment in regards to possessions. Tragically, for many Americans, their ’empty’ lives do indeed consist in the abundance of their possessions. Contentment lies not in what is yours, but in ‘Whose’ you are.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, American children today use the word “boring” frequently—and the prevalence of this word is an unsettling indicator of where our children are in relation to contentment.

A few decades ago, kids used their imagination and creativity to make their own fun. Today, electronic entertainment rides a non-stop ‘conveyor belt’ directly into the dormant souls of the young. It is not a favorable development—and it will probably result in a ‘mature’ sense of discontentment in later years.

Life can be painful. Most people do not choose pain—it comes with living. Contentment, however, is different—it IS a matter of the will…a choice! And when we choose it, God has a wonderful ‘way’ of redeeming the pain and suffering in our lives, turning the destruction into a benefit.

There are steps we can take to help us in ‘choosing’ the right direction. The following can start us on our way:

– Get To Work: It requires some effort.

– Divorce Your Thinking: Never allow society’s relativistic standards influence your contentment.

– Tune Out The Lies: Turn off the ‘seduction’ of advertising messages

– Defer To God’s Opinion: Keep your eyes on the ‘right’ side of the fence.

– Use Scripture As Your Standards: Long-proven principles

– Develop “Counter-habits”: Instead of getting, try giving; instead of replacing, try preserving; etc.

– Subtract From Your Needs: Desire less.

– Accept What Is Given To You: Not resignation or complacency—but contentment.

– Tell Yourself The Truth: Drive out ‘unbelief’ with God’s help.

It’s been said that discontent is a fretting humor, which dries the brains, wastes the spirits, corrodes and eats out the comfort of life. But contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious ‘frame’ of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

CHAPTER 12: Health through Simplicity

Though is has been variously commended and practiced for centuries, simplicity has seldom been more needed than it is today—Health requires it; sanity demands it; and contentment facilitates it! If ‘overload’ is sabotaging our equilibrium, then simplicity can help.

We hear frequent talk about the “rat race” and the “treadmill”—about stopping the world to let people “off.” Many fantasize about walking away from their jobs, throwing away the TV, and moving to a cabin in the woods. Indeed, in the last few decades, many have acted upon just that fantasy. The solution, however, for our stress-overload-pain ‘triad’ is not so much escaping as it is TRANSCENDING—the solution is simplicity—though not a ‘guarantee’, it is immensely helpful.

The modern ‘era’ has witnessed many ‘simplistic’ examples—like hippie communes and cultural dropouts. Austere separatists such as the Amish, once widely scorned for being so ‘backward’, now garner more respect. Author John Charles Cooper writes, “They do not pollute the earth. They do not waste food. They concentrate on the care of the earth and the care of their families. They have no ambitions for wealth or status. They harbor no political lusts to control the lives of their neighbors. All they ask for is the right to live simple, godly lives. The joy of these plain people lies in their communion with Christ and with one another.”

Even non-Christians can appreciate the ‘simplicity’ by which Jesus is said to have lived by, even though He could have chosen another way. His life was free from the ‘ties’ of possessions and money. He lived with little, and died with nothing. His ‘simple’ life was no accident. If one desires to ‘follow’ Him, simplicity, sacrifice, and servanthood should be our way of life.

“The precise meaning of the ‘simple life’ has never been fixed. Rather, it has always represented a shifting ‘cluster’ of ideas, sentiments, and activities,” comments historian David Shi. The following common threads, however, can be identified:

– Voluntary: The plain life is far more ‘profitable’ when it is chosen as an act of the will.

– Free: For anxiety about our reputations, possessions, and ‘tomorrows’.

– Uncluttered: Materially, instead of possession gluttony, we practice ‘de-accumulation’.

– Natural: The simple life ‘understands’ that natural beauty exists and that it penetrates deeper than the adornments of humankind—and the ‘real’ beauty of another human exists within the spirit and consists of virtue and purity.

– Creative: Simplicity sets the imagination free to work and to enjoy—it affords an opportunity to rediscover the joys of creativity.

– Authentic: Focus on those things that have ‘eternal’ value—like people, love, service, prayer, relationships, contentment, freedom, and rest.

– Focused: We ‘lock in’ on what is good and true—-we ‘bind’ ourselves to that which has eternal value.

– Margined: Together margin and simplicity are allies in a hostile world. Thanks to their ‘efforts’, health has a better chance to reach its final destination—relationships.

– Disciplined: Comfort is not a legitimate primary goal—authenticity is.

– Diligent: It is good to be physically active—work with our hands, and have pride in the process and product.

– Healthful: A life that is voluntarily chosen and lived in freedom; uncluttered and natural; focused, and disciplined; and characterized by creativity and spiritual authenticity is the ‘healthiest’ life one can live.

There are also misconceptions about the ‘simple’ life—and we can clarify it as much by explaining what it ISN’T as by delineating what it is. So, simplicity is not:

– Easy: To bake your own bread or cut your own wood is not always the ‘easiest’ way to provide food and warmth—but doing these chores yourself allows an often hard-earned ‘independence’ that can facilitate simplicity.

– Legalistic: The message of simplicity is better ‘spread’ by invitation than by judgment.

– Proud: All of these highly visible ‘sacrifices’ serve to elevate your (perceived) righteousness level several notches above that of your ‘inferiors’. This is not the ‘right’ attitude (try giving, fasting, and praying).

– Impoverished: Simplicity does not reject money and ownership—just merely subjugates it. We don’t seek wealth as a ‘goal’ in itself, since it really can’t ‘buy’ us what we need.

– Ascetic: The world is full of good things—our material ‘appetites’ just must be controlled.

– Neurotic: Such a ‘guilt-driven’ lifestyle is not simplicity—if we choose it, it will be out of sensitivity and devotion.

– Ignorant: We don’t achieve such a lifestyle by burning our books and burying our heads. On the contrary, one of the main advantages of such a life is the opportunity it provides for study, discussion, and meditation.

– Escapist: the simple life is not a ‘location’, as much as it is an attitude. It is not separation—it is ‘sanctification’.

Many among us might wish to ‘turn back the clock’, to retreat to a simpler, easier time. But there is much debate over such nostalgia. Is it ‘healthy’, or is it escapist? Is sentimentality an ally or a deceiver? We often forget the horrid problems of the past, and in the process, also overlook the blessings of today.

So, should we ‘retreat’ to the past? Well, not only is it ‘impossible’—it would be ‘irresponsible’. Though progress is very ‘strong’, it can be ‘suspended’ and/or reversed on an individual level (and, for that matter, on a societal level, though with great difficulty).

But is this the best direction for our ‘simple-life’ search? Could we not hold on to what is good and reject what is destructive?

What ‘factors’ make the simple life so hard to obtain? First off, we ‘encounter’ our first problem; society’s disrespect—and we need to decide ‘who’ we are trying to please.

Question: Why do we spend a few months working for the money to have that new car, when we could work a few weeks for an older one (including the repairs and maintenance)? It is primarily because, deep down, we desire the ‘respect’ of others—appearance, not function, rules us.

Another problem we encounter on that narrow ‘path’ to the simple life is our own expectations. After decades of convenience and affluence, we not only desire but ‘expect’ ease and satiation.

Our lack of discipline presents us with yet another ‘obstacle’. We have not needed much discipline during this era of abundance, and we have lost interest in it as a component of lifestyle. Most of us have grown ‘soft’.

Finally, our own mistaken opinions of how things ought to be also ‘trip’ us up repeatedly. True enough, we need a lot of income to live as our society ‘demands’—to partake in the many benefits of our age (but it’s not true that we need a lot to live on).

The following are some suggestions that can assist us in living simply. But beware of the ‘distinction’ between suggestions and rules—for if you make them rules, you will have converted simplicity into ‘legalism’, and defeated its purpose.

POSSESSIONS/FINANCES
– Cultivate contentment—desire less
– Resist covetousness
– Resist consumerism
– Wage ‘war’ against advertisements
– Buy things for their usefulness, rather than their status
– De-accumulate
– Develop the habit of giving away
– Share possessions
– Offer the use of your possessions—don’t make others ask
– Develop a ‘network’ for exchange
– Avoid overindulging
– Avoid as much debt as possible
– Don’t buy “on time”
– Avoid credit cards if they are a ‘problem’
– Reject fashion—especially fads
– De-emphasize respectability
– Simplify your wardrobe—give away excess
– Learn to ‘make do’ with a lower income, instead of requiring a higher one

PACE and ATMOSPHERE
– Slow down
– Don’t exhaust your emotional ‘bank account’
– Lie fallow
– Say no
– Enjoy peaceful music
– Control/restrict/eliminate TV watching
– Get ‘Tivo’ and “delete” the advertisements

RELATIONSHIPS
– Cultivate a closeness with God
– Schedule ‘dates’ with your spouse
– Teach your children
– Enjoy family ‘field trips’
– Practice regular hospitality
– Help each other—emphasize service
– Encourage others
– Always speak the truth
– Don’t judge
– Learn to enjoy solitude

APPRECIATION
– Send ‘cards’ when others are not expecting them
– Be grateful for things large and small
– Emphasize a joyful life
– Appreciate creation

SPIRITUAL LIFE
– Make the Bible a ‘central’ reading
– Meditate; memorize
– Pray
– Encourage simple ‘worship’

ACTIVITIES
– Make your commitments simple
– Don’t overwork
– ‘Fast’ periodically from media, food, and even people
– Elevate your reading—go to the library
– Simplify Christmas
– Write down those things you need to remember—and forget everything else!

NUTRITION and EXERCISE
– Exercise, bike, or walk
– Make your recreation active rather than passive
– Develop healthy sleep habits
– Avoid overeating
– Frequent a co-op
– Whenever possible, buy food directly from those who grow it
– Garden

Is simplicity a ‘trendy’ fad? Will it fade in significance as the hippie communes did? Our age is ever becoming more complex and diffusely overloaded, and simplicity is a ‘movement’ whose time has come!

CHAPTER 13: Health through Balance

The human body is a ‘universe’. Made up of 10 to the 28th atoms, we each contain millions of times more atoms than there are stars in space (10 to the 20th)!!!—and ninety percent are replaced every five years!!!

Veritable ‘factories’ that never ‘shut down’, our bodies exhibit a complexity beyond human comprehension. We each are made up of trillions upon trillions of working ‘units’, all perpetually moving, metabolizing, combining, interacting, adjusting, purifying, purging, building, and decaying. Yet everything must function in ‘balance’. If this balance is disturbed, disease is the result. We get sick, and we feel pain.

Likewise, in the area of mental health, for physiology to avoid becoming pathology, balance is essential. It is no different in the broader context of life.

The balanced life today seems inaccessible—too many activities; too many choices; too many decisions; too many commitments; too many expectations; too many people; too much hurry; and too much change. Overload, stress, and complexity are all ‘unbalancing’ pressures. Their effect is to cause ever-increasing ‘disequilibrium’ in systems and people.

The average conscientious American wants to be committed as a spouse, responsible as a parent, faithful in the church, successful in the workplace, and active in the community. Each one is a legitimate ‘pull’. Indeed, life is full of ‘tugs’:

– Work — Leisure
– Action — Meditation
– Leading — Following
– Speaking — Listening
– Handwork — Headwork
– Productivity — Recreation
– Intensity — Idleness
– Serving — Waiting
– Giving — Receiving
– Applying — Learning
– Structure — Spontaneity
– Assertiveness — Submissiveness
– Confidence — Humility
– Judgment — Grace
– Analysis — Synthesis
– Specialization — Integration
– Society — Solitude
– Laughter — Solemnity
– Duty — Freedom
– Joy — Sorrow
– External life — Internal life

How does one find the ‘balance’? Is it possible?

Much is made today of the virtues of ‘excellence’. But what does that really mean? Often described as the ‘narrow corridor’ of life—a single-minded focus.

So, what do ‘high achievers’ think of balance? For many, it is the ‘enemy’. One-hundred percent effort is the minimum—and those who question such asymmetrical dedication are distrusted and unpromoted.

While undivided devotion to one cause can bring great success and vault a person into prominence, such a priority structure often leaves the rest of that person’s life in ‘shambles’. Traditional wisdom had told us not to put all our “eggs in one basket.” Yet, in pursuit of excellence, we often disregard this basic wisdom. Balance is not the goal—preeminence is.

Studies have shown that when a person strives for a high degree of excellence in one area, other areas in their life might actually experience a “negative excellence”  (i.e. failure) in many important areas.

So how do we choose so that we can live a balanced life?

If we accept that balance is important (actually it’s healthy), priorities is a good place to start. For those committed to ‘ultra-excellence’, on e goal stand alone on the top—perhaps its wealth, power, success, or intellectual prowess. Sequentially beneath this ‘exalted’ goal are myriad subordinate goals. If written down, some people’s list might look like this:

– God
– Spouse/ marriage
– Children
– Self
– Work
– Church
– Friends
– Health
– Security
– Civic duty

Does creating such a list help us solve our problems and lead us to authentic decisions about balancing priorities? In Dr. J. Grant Howard book, “Balancing Life’s Priorities,” he observes that we cannot achieve balance by “stacking our priorities on top of one another.” He thinks it is better to think of it as a ‘dart board’, with the most important thing is ‘central’ to everything else—and then ‘build’ outward from that point.

Using the above list as an example, we do not love God, then spouse, then children, then self, then church. We love God, spouse, children, self, and church all at the same time. Similarly, we do not love God 100%, spouse 95%, children 90%, and church 80 percent. We should love all of them 100% all of the time.

One of the interesting things about love is that it is not a mathematical ‘entity’. When divided, it multiplies! Love ‘expands’ infinitely—and in doing so, it delivers us from the need to prioritize our love ‘sequentially’.

Though it doesn’t make sense to have sequential priorities in terms of love or commitment, it, however,  is appropriate when we speak of ‘time’. Time cannot be ‘stretched’ or ‘borrowed’. It is a universal given, and it is in apportioning this time that balance and priorities become very important.

TIME, THEN, IS THE KEY. When we couple it with our goals, desires, and responsibilities, we have some priority decisions to make. It would be unwise to give all of our time to work and family, but none to personal health—and vice versa.

Partitioning our time is probably the most important practical issue in achieving balanced living. Yet ‘rationing’ it wisely presents a dilemma for each of us.

So, how do we do it? Well, first and foremost, balance cannot be achieved unless we are willing to SAY NO—even to some very ‘good’ things.

After this follows four additional ‘steps’ to restoring balance:

1. It is important that we gain ‘control’ over our own lives, for only then will balance be a possibility.

2. We must ‘place’ God at the center of all things, and build outward from there—making our choices in the light of accepted limits, reassessing regularly, and ‘defending’ each area of importance from the ‘onslaught’ of other demands.

3. We must beware of the trap of trying to solve problems of imbalance by becoming even more imbalanced. If one is already maximally scheduled, they cannot give added attention to one area unless the ‘subtract’ from another area.

4. We must accept the “no” given by others. We ought not feel ‘offended’ when another person is merely trying to achieve balance in their life.

One of the most ‘charming’ books written about balance and simplicity is a small volume by Anne Morrow Lindberg (wife of famous pilot Charles Lindberg). Called the “Gift From The Sea,” she wrote:

“For the natural selectivity of the island I will have to substitute a conscious selectivity based on another sense of values—a sense of values I have become more aware of here. Island-precepts, I might call them if I could define them, signposts toward another way of living. Simplicity of living, as much as possible, to retain a true awareness of life. Balance of physical, intellectual, and spiritual life. Work without pressure. Space for significance and beauty. Time for solitude and sharing. Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency  of life: life of the spirit, creative life, and the life of human relationships.”

Balance is necessary and attainable. Not easy, but possible. When we understand that we are finite, and that it is okay to be finite, then we can begin to accept our limits with comfort. What we do, we should do well—but we DON’T have to do it all!!!

CHAPTER 14: Health through Rest

Often-used descriptors of our society include active, busy, driven, fatigued, exhausted, weary, burned out, anxious, overloaded, and stressed. But seldom do you hear “well rested.” We have ‘leisure’, but little rest. The pace, noise, expectations, and interruptions of modern life have not ‘soothed’ the soul nor brought refreshment to the burdened spirit.

To be healthy, the authentic and balanced life will include time to be still, to remember, to meditate, and to delight in who God is and what He has made. But, there is a large obstacle ‘standing’ in our way: There is no GLORY in rest; no social acclaim. We will never be the ‘hero’ because we are rested—it’s not socially reimbursable.

Being from the “Motor City,” an engine analogy might help here. The healthiest lifestyle comes equipped with four ‘gears’. The first is ‘park’ for the contemplative times. This gear is to be used for rest and renewal.

The second gear is ‘low’—it is for relationships—for family and friends. We use it when talking with someone, and it prevents us from being distracted and nervously moving on to the next activity while still in the middle of a conversation.

The third gear is ‘drive’. This is our usual ‘speed’ for work and play. This gear uses a lot of energy, but it ‘feels’ good because it is productive.

The fourth gear is ‘overdrive’. It is reserved for times that require extra effort—like if a deadline is coming. If we are playing a football game, and the two-minute  warning of the fourth quarter just sounded, you ‘call’ upon this gear to energize and ‘kick’ it up a notch.

Unfortunately, many in our society haven’t learned how to ‘downshift’ from overdrive. Even stock cars are not meant to race at high speeds ‘continuously’—the engine would ‘blow up’. Neither are our minds and bodies.

In our everyday lives, most of us need rest in three ways:

– Physical rest (least important)
– Emotional rest (more important by several orders of magnitude)
– Spiritual rest (though widely neglected, it is of ‘supreme’ importance)

Constant activity is a characteristic of our age. If we are not active, we feel ‘slothful’. If we are not productive, we feel ‘guilty’. A healthy 28-year-old man sitting on a lawn swing for an entire Sunday afternoon would more likely feel the need to ‘apologize’ to his neighbors should they ‘discover’ him. This comes from a cultural value system that ‘idolizes’ productivity.

Productivity is not ‘wrong’, it just must not be idolized. Industriousness might be good for the economy—particularly one like ours—but that does not mean it is healthy in all respects.

Like a stock car, it is necessary for our bodies to be active—but it’s also necessary to rest. For many Americans, however, the activity-rest ‘cycle’ is way out of balance. They work hard; they play hard; they even ‘rest’ hard.

To be sure, work is very important—but other activities are MORE important. The people who work the hardest and rest the least naturally rise to the top, from where they ‘drive’ others to do the same. In just the past few decades. profit-making work has ‘swallowed’ Sundays and holidays. No wonder everyone has been getting so tired.

Our bodies were ‘engineered’ for more than just work—including relationships, personal reflection, spiritual development, and yes, rest.

Americans do not tolerate an ‘activity vacuum’ well. The slow, contemplative life is largely foreign to our experience. Therefore, when “leisure time” appears on our schedule, we select from the many activity options society offers.

This is not inherently wrong—neither is quiet, introverted reflection always right. But curiously, those cultures that have the most “labor-saving” devices are the most ‘hectic’ and the least rested. Although ‘progress’ may not approve, it’s OKAY to rest physically.

More important to our overall health than physical rest is the resting of our emotions. The unacceptably high rate of tranquilizer use is a reliable indicator of our lack of emotional rest.

With each successive decade, the ambient environment noise level has increased. Even within the four walls of our homes, TV’s ‘blare’ an average of seven hours a day—sometimes with no one watching it. Rock music has ‘defrauded’ an entire adolescent generation out of anything even approximating emotional rest.

Activity overload deprives us of needed rest, yet we are busier than ever. Inappropriate expectations deprive us of rest, as our culture ‘screams’: “You deserve the best.” Pride deprives us of rest, as we worry about every ‘wrinkle’ we have and every piece of clothing we wear. Discontent and covetousness deprive us of rest, yet our culturally-sanctioned advertising intentionally stimulates discontent. The preoccupation with success deprives us of rest, by ‘pushing’ us to always climb a little higher and get a little more.

This is also evident in our preoccupation with ‘power’. Success and power are two ‘cogs’ of the “American Dream,” and we are reluctant to let them go. Debt deprives us of rest, yet our debt is at unprecedented levels. We worry about our image and our reputation until we have no rest.

Perhaps the greatest root cause for the absence of emotional rest in our society is fractured relationships. When strife ‘enters’, rest flees. So, do yourself a ‘favor’—give something that, once it’s given, will help you two-fold: forgiveness. Something the other person may not ‘deserve’, but desperately needs—and you will ‘receive’ a much needed emotional rest yourself (maybe ‘more’ than the other person!).

If we are to avoid the many unexpected pains of our day, we must discipline our expectations, tame our discontent, and mend our relationships—for it is very important to rest emotionally.

When our bodies find rest, we feel ‘refreshed’. When our emotions find rest, our countenance is ‘lifted’. But our relaxed muscles and minds are of little worth unless our souls rest in the ‘acceptance’ of God. Such rest ‘transcends’ the problems of our world and ‘shelters’ us where no injury can follow.

We should be concerned with at least two ‘types’ of spiritual rest—one is “Sabbath” rest and the other is “surrendered” rest.

Someone once remarked, “God rested—and He wasn’t tired.” He gave us an example that He knew would be ‘good’ for us.

A Sabbath rest is not simply to rest the body and the emotions—although they are important. Instead, it is a ‘remembrance’.  Remembering is an act of contemplation. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff warns, “It is my own conviction that the church, and humanity at large, neglects inwardness at its own peril. It seems to me that amidst its intense activism, the Western world is starved for contemplation.” The Sabbath rest is an opportunity for this.

The Sabbath rest is something God ‘calls’ us to, but the “surrendered” rest is something He ‘offers’ us. The Sabbath rest we do out of ‘obedience’, but the surrendered rest is entered out of our ‘need’. The Sabbath rest arises from the good and perfect ‘grace’ of God. The Sabbath rest is for remembrance; the surrendered rest is for ‘meekness’. Both provide ‘soothing’ healing.

Jesus said that “My toke is easy and My burden is light.” These words ‘draw’ weary people everywhere, with the message being one of ‘meekness’.

We can live with love even when others hate—all the time knowing that love always ‘wins’. We can respond with grace when others fight, knowing that grace always ‘wins’.

In an age of strife and unrest, our bodies are weary and our spirits are frenzied, “Don’t worry, be happy,” will not ‘rescue’ us. Corrie ten Boom, a Nazi concentration camp survivor said it well: “Don’t wrestle, just nestle.”

Even when we feel inferior, even when we have been victimized, even when the pace and pressures of life bring us to the pint of collapse, Jesus will ‘bring’ you to His rest. When your “surrender” is completed, and Jesus’ yoke is accepted, then your soul will find rest.

In an age such as our, it is IMPERATIVE that we rest spiritually.

CHAPTER 15: Pain, Margin, Health, and Relationship

No matter what their ideological ‘bent’, the trend watchers are united in one opinion: Something is afoot. Along with much of the rest of the world, the U.S. is in a period of profound ‘disequilibrium’. Having never been through a disjuncture of such dimension or consisting of such particulars before, we are not quite sure in what condition we will find ourselves when it ‘leaves off’.

In this unfolding of historical change, we have been guided by the process of history called “progress.” In many respects, progress has done a ‘good job’, bringing us places previously reserved for fantasy writers—and at such speed! But progress has been especially painful of late.

At times it appears as if the cumulative weight of suffering and sorrow will sink the entire world. People hurt, families hurt, friendships hurt, churches hurt, communities hurt, and nations hurt—some hurt more than others, and many have hurt for so long that it seems as if the pain will never end.

So, what do we do with all this pain? First, let’s ‘thank’ God for it (yes, I mean thank). Anything that ‘redirects’ us TO Him is of benefit.

Secondly, we must ‘repent’—the kind of repentance where you conduct ‘business’ with God and whereafter life has actually changed and you are headed in a different direction.

Thirdly, do some ‘surgery’. Let’s ‘prune’ away the time cancers, amputate the energy tumors, and drain the debt abscesses—for without surgery, margin and health will not return!

Lastly, let’s hope for a ‘better’ future. God is still ‘working’ and still interested in your ‘success’. J. B. Phillips notes that, “When this life is over, nearly all that makes the headlines in the newspapers or fills the bulletins on the radio will seem to be of purely temporary significance. But the work of those who have cooperated with God will remain, for it is part of his everlasting purpose.”

For the SHORT TERM, we need only ‘worry’ about today. Plan for tomorrow, for sure—but worry only about today—since we can only ‘get there’ one day at a time, and today is the day to do what is ‘right’.

Today, we must ‘agree’ that our choices DO make a difference—whether we live without margin, work two jobs, build an expensive house, overload a friend, or don’t spend any time with our children. We should also determine if we are going to ‘value’ the things that God values, we should cease valuing those things that are of no value to Him.

Today we can ‘decide’ to love, with the ‘sacrificial-service’ kind of love. Today, we can forgive someone who should have been forgiven long ago. Today we can light one little ‘candle’ and stop cursing the darkness.

For the LONG TERM, we can start to ‘rebuild’ our families, and ‘reclaim’ our society. These are ‘huge’ jobs, but we can work on them ‘tomorrow’. God has given us the ‘instructions’ on how to rebuild, we just have to start doing it and leave the ‘results’ to Him.

So, put away the newspaper, turn off the nightly news, and forget about the ‘despair of problem mountain’. You can ‘return’ to them later. Right now it’s time to put on the ‘work’ clothes and ‘report’ for duty in the front yard. This is where God awaits us, with the ‘confidence’ of a Leader who has been through it all before.

As we become ‘teachable’, He will give us His advice. He has, of course, already given us lots of instructions (the Bible), all of them valuable. But if we were to ‘boil’ them all down to one principle, what would rise to the top would be the priority of RELATIONSHIP.

If you believe God’s ‘greatest’ commandments are as inclusive as I believe they are, when life is over and we receive our ‘report card’, it will have only ONE CATEGORY—“Relationship.” There will be three ‘checkboxes’:

– How did we relate to God?
– How did we relate to ourselves?
– How did we relate to others?

We know that relationship is so important to God because He does ALL HIS WORK there. That is why progress MISSED HIM—since progress kept telling us to search for ‘buried treasure’ inside bank vaults, while all the time God ‘buried’ it the heart of our neighbor!

Even if we have little time for healthy relationships, we all instinctually understand their importance. Due to the ‘antagonistic’ influences of marginless living, however, they are an increasingly rare commodity. Overloaded contemporary life attempts to ‘de-rationalize’ us.

Today, it is possible to live in a city surrounded by one million people and be ‘alone’ for a lifetime. The God of the Bible, however, is a ‘personal’ God—and relationship is of utmost importance to Him. He created us as relational beings—not because He had to, but because it ‘reflected’ who He is. We are relational and dependent whether we acknowledge it or not—whether we want to be or not. God gave us to each other for the reason of benefit, not ‘torture’.

How do we know that God’s report card contains these categories? Well, Jesus told us so. When asked outright by the Pharisees, He answered that, of course, the “Shema” was the greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” However, He didn’t stop there: “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these!” [Mark 12:29-31].

In so answering, Jesus laid out for us the greatest ‘imperative’ of eternity: to love God, our neighbor, and our self. This commandment must be the first ‘guideline’ for ALL of life’s decisions and actions.

God has ‘shown’ us the road to health, the path to blessing—and it is the way of relationship. Do you see now why careers, degrees, and estates can never quite get the ‘job’ done? Somehow we just keep taking our expensive automobiles to our posh offices to make another 100 grand, while all the time our relationships ‘vaporize’ before our eyes, and our loneliness deepens.

But we are not helpless—progress doesn’t ‘own’ us! We do not have to ‘let’ history “happen to us.” We are FREE to change—and God is REALLY interested in lending a ‘hand’.

We can focus on relationship and create a margin for it. We can simplify and balance our lives so that relationships have some ‘space’. We can invest ourselves in other people—even when we don’t feel like it.

Soon, love will begin to flow out from us, and with the flow there will also come a flowing back. For love, you see, is “the most excellent way.”

All the commandments in Scripture reduce to Jesus’ “Great Commandment”—and it ‘reduces’ to one concept: LOVE.

The history of the world reduces to this: You are being PURSUED by ‘Love’. He has ‘courted’ you; He has ‘followed’ you; He has ‘loved’ you. God is ‘there’, waiting to be ALLOWED ENTRANCE into your life. In the ‘economics’ of eternity, God paid a great price for you—and if we only better understood the ‘cost’, we would also better understand OUR WORTH.

Love is the ‘currency’ of the relational life—we ‘spend’ it and ‘receive’ it—and God wants us to spend it freely, even generously. When we do, everyone becomes ‘rich’.

As you can see, love is not like other resources. There is an ‘infinite’ supply! You can use it and use it and use it—and there’s still more left over. As a matter of fact, the more it is used, the more the ‘supply’ increases.

Some ‘guard’ their supply of love, doling it out in portions. This kind of thinking works with money, but not with love. With money, the more you ‘hoard’, the richer you become. But with love, the more you ‘spend’, the richer you become!

Somehow, we just can’t  ‘wrap’ our minds around this idea of love. We can’t ‘nail’ it down and say, “There, I’ve got you.” Love is ‘strange’—it is weak yet tough, vulnerable yet strong. It chooses to lose but can never be ‘beaten’. It puts itself last yet always leads the way. It is ‘mysterious’, yet it came in the flesh and ‘stood’ before us. It is death—yet it is life.

God’s love is commonly undervalued and always underestimated. No virtue can ‘compete’ with it, and no vice can defeat it. God ‘ordained’ that it should be so—and He ‘stands’ guard to see that no one changes the order of things.

Must we love? That is a nonsensical question. It’s like asking, “Must we breathe?” Well, no we don’t ‘have’ to breathe, and no, we don’t have to love, but the consequences of both those decisions will be the same!

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS: Pain surrounds us all. Much of this pain comes from progress’s blatant disregard for our need of margin—and much of this pain is because of neglected and BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS. It is difficult to be healthy in a society where relational, emotional, and spiritual sickness is endemic. If you live in a swamp, malaria has a ‘head start’.

But do you know what? Malaria can be treated, just as pain can be. Margin can be restored. Broken relationships can be healed. It takes work; it takes love.

Are you ready to commit to relationship in love? This is not like asking, “Would you go to the store for some milk?” but more like, “Are you ready to lay down your life for your friends?”

If you are, then do everything you can to ‘travel’ in the health direction. If stress ‘crushes’ your spirit by poisoning you with despair, then either conquer stress or ‘walk’ away—but don’t stop relating. If overload destroys your relationships, then ‘dispatch’ overload to the far side. If that malignant, universal ‘enemy’ of relational health, marginless living, leaves you panting for air and desperate for ‘space’, then go and take margin back! Hack it out of your cultural ‘landscape’—and guard it for the sake of God, yourself, your family, and your friends.

Health cannot be far behind!!!

[Excerpts from: Richard Swenson]

Blessings…Mark

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v74) for APRIL 2005
If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at: mbesh@comcast.net

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“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.” [Peter Drucker]

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DEEP THOUGHT
For some of you reading this book, perhaps the single most spiritual thing you could do right now is put it down and take a nap. [John Ortberg]

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DISCUSSION GROUP OPPORTUNITY
Starting Tuesday, 12 APR 05, and meeting every Tuesday for 5 weeks from 7 PM-9 PM, I will be hosting a discussion group called “HOW GOD WIRED YOU UP.” It will guide you in exploring your gifts, talents, and your personality traits.

The topics are as follows:
WEEK 1: Wired For relationship
WEEK 2: Hard Wired By God
WEEK 3: Wired For Serving
WEEK 4: Wired For Impact
WEEK 5: Wired For Freedom

So, give me a call if you are interested (or if you know someone that might be), and I can give you more details (248.788.1758)—or just visit the following link to sign up for my group (or another group if another day or location would be better):
http://www.kensingtonchurch.org/

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I hope you enjoyed some of these insights. Share them with your friends and colleagues, so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from—and more to share with! Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” especially if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” [Matthew 6:19-21].

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

<‘)))><  <‘)))><  <‘)))><  <‘)))><  <‘)))><  <‘)))><  <‘)))><

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