In the first article, Running on Empty: The Need for Margin-Part I, we looked at the spiritual, psychological, and emotional overload we experience in modern culture. Progress has offered us more and more, faster and faster, but we are often oversaturated. We assume bigger, better, more will make us happy. In part II of the article, we will look at how our modern definition of success runs counter to that of scripture.
One of my favorite movies, Only You, has a scene in it where an Italian man is explaining to an American housewife from Pittsburg, “You Americans live to work. But here in Italy we work to live.” He says this while sitting on a restaurant terrace and gesturing toward the sparkling Mediterranean. He explains the Italian philosophy is that life is about love and beauty. And he suggests that someday he should “come to Pittsburg to see all her beauties.”
Having lived for a time in Europe, I have to admit, Europeans are mystified by our American priorities. They seem to naturally work margin into their lives. As a general rule, they are content with less. That isn’t to say that Europeans are happier than Americans. They have their own issues which are beyond the scope of this article.
A big part of managing the overload of modern life is changing our expectations and our definition of what constitutes success and what is enough. I admit this is hard. Our culture tells us we are valuable if we are young, beautiful, rich, and successful. Those of us in the Faith community have to admit this is NOT how God defines success.
What Scripture Says About Success
Scripture has a lot to say about what constitutes success and where our priorities should lie.
- But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33
- He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
- Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:15-21
- 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 neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
- I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13
- For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. I Timothy 6:10
Creating margin is counter culture. It isn’t what we see encouraged or modeled in our culture. And margin isn’t something that happens without effort. It requires a great deal of self-conscious effort to sustain. Swenson says, “Margin flows toward overload, but overload does not revert to margin unless forced.”
The Benefits of Margin
Margin is about living life to the full, the life Jesus promised us. If we live life with margin it does not guarantee a life free of problems, but it can give us many rich rewards. These are a few:
- Ability to nurture my relationships with God, myself, and others
- Spare energy to really be present for those God puts in my path
- Spare time and energy to handle inevitable issues and crises
- Spare money to be generous
- Less anxiety about unexpected expenses
- Mental “space” for creativity
- Less “stuff” to keep, clean, organize, and store
- Time to reflect on what really matters, to practice awareness and gratitude
Suzanne Jones, BSN, MA is a Licensed Professional Counselor. In addition to being a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, she holds certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC). She is a member of the Louisiana Counseling Association and the American Mental Health Counseling Association firstname.lastname@example.org