Saturday, November 23, 2013

Critique of Margin by Richard Swenson

            Richard A. Swenson is a medical doctor who has written several different books. This book fits into the system of books that has been written by him, it seems as though most of them focus to some degree on margin and things dealing with it. For the purpose of this critique we will be evaluating only the first ten chapters of this fifteen-chapter work. The ten chapters we are going to be evaluating fall into two separate categories that the author has established. Chapters 2-5 are in what he calls The Problem: Pain. While chapters 6-10 are The Prescription: Margin.
            None of the chapters are terribly long, each being about ten pages sometimes twenty not much more than that. Before Dr. Swenson gets too deep into the problem he starts off explaining how we go about in marginless living. You could say that marginless living is living with no room for the unexpected. Swenson defines margin in this manner, “Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.” [1]
            After defining what margin and marginlessness is, he goes on to lay out what he call the four areas of pain: progress, problems, stress, and overload.  What exactly is progress and why is it a problem? According to Swenson, “Simply stated, progress means proceeding to a higher stage of development.”[2] So, progress is technological advancement, along with advancement in other field or area you can thank of. For most people I would assume that the problems of pain and stress seem to be pretty self-explanatory. While the problem of overload may seem the same way, is not exactly the case. How does one differentiate the problems of stress from that of overload? It is not so simple to answer that question. I would guess to say that stress is our reaction to the situation while overload is not just one situation but the taking on and handling of too many different things. He responds in kind to the four areas of pain with four different prescriptions to help change the pain to healing. The areas of healing are in emotional, physical, time and finances.
            Swenson has some valuable input when we sit down and take the time to read and digest what he is saying. Progress is dangerous when it is not kept in check. Swenson says, “Before we can subjugate progress, we must first break the addiction.”[3]  This is not going to be easy because progress has crept into every area of our lives, so now vigilance is required so that progress does not gain any further ground. A great statement that he makes is found in his section on stress. I had never thought of it the way he defined it. “Stress is not the circumstance, it is our response to the circumstance.”[4] He also speaks about vacations and how they are supposed to be joyful and restorative, that is something I have always struggled with, which means I may be a type A according to Swenson. He says, “Most people find a vacation relaxing, but type A’s often do not. “[5]
            “The overload syndrome is often inaccurately labeled weakness, apathy, or lack of commitment.”[6] It is a shame for people who have taken on so much to be given such negative labels. They are more than likely people who struggle with the ability to say no. So what is needed is margin, “Margin is the opposite of overload.”[7] We often look back at how bad generations before us had it without the modern amenities we often take for granted, but Swenson makes an excellent point, “The past might have been poor and deprived in many respects, but its people had margin.”[8]
            I am not sure whether or not I agree with this statement, “Emotional overload saps our strength, paralyzes our resolve, and maximizes our vulnerability, leaving the door open for even further margin erosion.”[9] There seems to be a lot of truth behind that simple statement, because our emotions play such a vital role in our lives and how we process the things going on around us. It is safe to assume that most people would feel blessed (or at least should) by the amount of things they have but, “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.”[10] This is a shame because it shows us that we no longer worship the creator, but we have been worshiping creation and it is not meeting the void it has created inside of us.
            As a person who lives with depression, I appreciate the fact he did not brush it of as merely psychosomatic when he said, “A depressed person suffers a type of anguish which in its own way can be as painful as anything that can happen to a human being.”[11] One other thing that I really appreciate about his work is that he does not just tell you that your life is screwed up and there is no hope. I like the fact that he mentions God in positive ways and offers solutions while they are broad because not everyone’s situation is similar. One of the best statements that he made was “Progress brings technology, affluence, and education, but not the kind of inner discipline necessary to maintain sound physical health.”[12] And he is right; there is no amount of money or advancement that can make a person do what they do not already want to do for themselves.
            Swenson has written a book that can do the world some good not just pastors. I would recommend this work to anyone with the caveat not to read it unless you are fully alert, because most of the text is very dry. This work can add to the field of pastoral ministry by providing pastors with material that can be used in counseling sessions, and personal application. This book is beneficial because Swenson seemed to work very hard to offer real life principals and anecdotes.  I have ready many different books on the condition of man, and this one has to be one of the better ones on getting the closest to why we are as miserable as we are. When you read this work he is saying that we have allowed so many things to crowd our lives we have no space, among that no space is time with/for God and the things He wants for us. While I may not agree with everything this author has had to say there is much from this book that can be taken away.

Swenson, Richard A. Margin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives.          Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2004.

            [1]Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2004)13.
            [2] Ibid., 22.
            [3]Ibid., 29.
            [4] Ibid.44.
            [5] Ibid.47.
            [6] Ibid.59
            [7] Ibid.69
            [8] Ibid.73
            [9] Ibid., 79
            [10] Ibid.,83
            [11] Ibid.84.
            [12] Ibid.96