By MARTIN WILLOUGHBY
How’s the MARGIN in your life? Dr. Richard Swenson wrote a series of books on the need for “margin” in our lives. He defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits and is related to our reserves and resilience.” I think creating margin is one of the most challenging aspects of living in today’s world. A lack of margin can destroy relationships, our finances, and even our health. We live in a land and time of unprecedented abundance, yet too many of us probably feel more burdened than ever.
We have such an abundance of food that we have a $20 billion dollar weight loss industry. We have tools and resources that simplify so much of the daily labor that life required 100 years ago, yet we work longer hours than ever. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week; and Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers. Our wages are higher than ever, yet American consumers have $11.38 trillion in debt ($852 billion in credit card debt, $8.15 trillion in mortgages, and $914 billion in student loans).
I focus on three key areas of margin in my coaching practice: TIME, MONEY, and ENERGY.
The best I can tell, Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. He accomplished an incredible amount in three short years of ministry, but always seemed to go at his own pace. Time is a very finite resource. I believe that we tend to grossly overestimate what we can accomplish in a day, and vastly underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. How we spend our time, like how we spend our money, reflects our priorities. If we are going to have intentional living and create the margin of time in our lives, then we need to start planning how we want to spend it. Building margin requires tough choices and the ability to say NO.
Andy Stanley, the leader of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, is one of my favorite speakers. He gives some of the best talks on managing your finances I have ever heard. Stanley points out that many people never create financial margin because they don’t decide to live on a percentage of their income. Instead, as their income rises they raise their standard of living. Even high net worth people struggle routinely with getting trapped into lifestyle choices that require them to work harder and harder just to keep up. However, when we live on a budget and use percentages to govern our giving, saving, and living, we are on a path to financial margin.
The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) reports that sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic and reports that an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder. We need rest and rejuvenation. The Lord provided us a Sabbath to renew ourselves. How do you feel after your Sabbath? Eating right, exercising, and getting proper sleep are such simple concepts—but so hard to consistently live out. The question becomes WHY? Look at what is robbing you of your health. Too often it is tied to a lack of margin of time or worry about our finances (or both).
To live with margin in our society is not going to happen by accident. You have to fight for it. We have to be highly intentional on our choices and learn to do without. When we have margin, we can become more outwardly and others focused. Our cup flows over with God’s love, and we can pour ourselves into others. I encourage you to not let another year go by that you struggle with a lack of margin in your life! It is an investment in yourself you won’t regret!