Wisdom in crisis

cristian-palmer-718048-unsplashIt’s some time since I’ve been out in big surf. I don’t trust myself anymore. I’m certainly not as young or fit as I like to think I was. But there have been times in the past when I’ve been dumped by large waves, tossed and turned, struggling to find my way to the surface, desperate for air, wondering if I was going to drown.

Life can be like that. We can feel so tumbled and turned that we don’t know which way is up and which way down. It’s all too hard, too scary. Crises have the capacity to disorient and destabilise. Where do we turn when our world is falling apart around us, when the ground is shifting under us, when the sky is falling in on us?

James, in the New Testament, writes to his Christian brothers and sisters, calling them to have a joyful outlook as they face their fears. A nice thought, but when the trials come, that might well be the last thought to enter our minds. The darkness closes in and we struggle to find a glimmer of light. It’s seems easier to retreat, to curl into a ball, and to hope the darkness goes away. And so we will often miss out on what God wants to do in us doing in these tough times.

It’s no simple matter to find joy in the context of suffering and pain. It takes real wisdom to see the broader context and the deeper reality. So many time over the past few years, I’ve sat in a dentist chair while needles and probes and high speed drills have gone to work in my gums and teeth. It can be hard to focus on the ‘greater good’ when your gums are being stretched to splitting point and a high speed pain delivery device is doing its stuff. But there is a greater good. There is a genuine joy to be found in the midst of the suffering. The pain is short-term but the gain is long-term. And I need wisdom to remember this.

James writes into the the context of suffering…

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
(James 1:2-5)

So often we lack wisdom. We can’t see the bigger picture. We are overcome by the circumstances we are facing, and joy seems an impossible dream, let alone a present experience. And into this crisis we are called to ask God for help.

It’s not humanly possible to find joy in the midst of all pain and suffering. Don’t waste your energy trying to lift yourself up by your shoelaces, to conjure up enough faith to carry on, to convince yourself that it will all work out fine. But do ask God for wisdom. The great promise is that God will give wisdom to those who ask him. He will. It’s a promise. This doesn’t mean you will necessarily feel wise, but God promises to give you wisdom all the same.

If…

That’s right, there is a proviso.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
(James 1:6-8)

When you ask God for wisdom, be willing to receive it. Don’t be secretly working out your alternatives for when God doesn’t seem to give it. Don’t go through the facade of praying that God will give you his wisdom, but always planning to rely on everything else to get you through. These verses don’t mean that you have to be 100% sure of God, or that there is no place for confusion or fear. This isn’t about the power of positive spiritual thinking, or ‘name it and claim it’ word/faith mysticism. What they are saying is don’t be double-minded. You can’t have a bet each way. You need to come to God and rely on him to equip you with what you need. You can depend upon God. You don’t need your back up plan. That will only turn you away from God and keep you from his wisdom.

So if you struggle to see the greater good, if you can’t find the path to joy, if everything is overwhelming, then pray. Ask God to graciously open your eyes. Ask him to ease the pain in your heart and to find solace in him. Seek his supernatural help to keep on trusting in Him.

“Father God, please give me wisdom to see the unseen, to remember that you are at work in all things, to know deeply that you will never leave me nor forsake me, to grasp that there is real hope, to feel your comforting presence, to be reminded of your deep, costly, generous love in Jesus, and to keep my faith in you, now and for the future.”

Resilience – A Spiritual Project

resilienceResilience and burnout are big issues in work and ministry at present. In the field of Christian ministry the statistics of burnout seem alarmingly high and the focus on building resilience is both urgent and important. Kirsten Burkett has provided a great service by sharing her research into these areas in her latest book Resilience: A Spiritual Project. This isn’t a popular level book. For a start it’s published by The Latimer Trust, as the 84th of their brief academic studies. While only being 46 pages in length, it includes another 9 pages of bibliography, comprising mainly of academic journal articles. But don’t let these things put you off. Resilience: A Spiritual Project is compact, yet thorough, and I found it engaging and easy to read. While much of her book is surveying and summarising findings in the literature, Dr Birkett draws us to practical conclusions with profound pastoral implications.

Dr Birkett writes as an experienced researcher, academic, author, and teacher. However, she does this in sync with her experience of grappling with burnout herself, and with an eye to equipping men and women in pastoral ministry. She understands the particular dangers and threats for those engaged in a profession where resilience is needed to fuel perseverance and endurance. Most profoundly, Dr Birkett draws on the wisdom of the research to argue that resilience ‘can be learned’ and ‘people can be trained against future stress’ (p17). She is also careful to emphasise that resilience is not a cure all. Sometimes people are simply tired and need to slow down, rest, or take time out. Other times people are overwhelmed by sadness, grief, or trauma, and just need time to weep and mourn. However, she writes:

If we keep resilience in perspective, as ways of helping healthy people stay healthy and of helping ill people recover, it seems to be an extremely useful construct. Human beings are resilient — we could hardly have survived this long otherwise. (p25)

Dr Birkett demonstrates in her book that there are significant overlaps between resilience research and Christian spirituality. Many features identified in the literature as important in building resilience, find expression in biblical expressions of Christian faith in action. She examines the following areas:

  • Adversity leads to strength
  • Sense of meaning and purpose
  • Transcendence
  • Hope and optimism and positive emotions
  • Altruism
  • Self-efficacy: God efficacy
  • Forgiveness
  • Social network

If you have a good understanding of the life of a Christian then you will hear the resonance already.

We believe that God works to strengthen and transform his people through adversity. Suffering is not to be sought after, but it is to be expected. ‘What people need, it seems, is not a stress-free life, but the framework to treat stress well; to use it as a stimulus for growth, rather than buckling under it’ (p33).

We believe that we have been created for a purpose, essentially for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16). We are not the product of chance and time. There is meaning, purpose, significance, and eternity. We may not always understand our suffering but God, in his wisdom, uses it to produce good (Romans 8:18,28).

We believe, not in some external transcendent force, but in a God who is accessible and invites us to come to him in our times of need. God has come to us in the incarnation of Jesus. God dwells in and among his people by his Spirit. We have access to God through the death and resurrection of his Son, and so we are invited to come before him in prayer, and present our requests to him rather than staying isolated in our anxiety.

We believe there is good reason for hope. Our faith is built on hope in the promises of God. God has shown he is faithful in Christ Jesus and because of this we can have joy even in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 1:3-7).

We have deep reason to love others. We did nothing to deserve it, but God has loved us, at enormous cost, through the atoning death of Jesus. This leads to a purposeful altruism, motivated by God’s work in and through us. At the heart of this is power and willingness to forgive those who have wronged us. We can shed our anger and avoid bitterness.

We believe, not in self-efficacy, but in the efficacy of God. There is honesty in Christian understanding that we are not equal to all tasks. We don’t need to be demoralised by our continual sub-par performances. We’re not required to grow super powers. Our sovereign God knows our needs and will accomplish his purposes for our good. This is stress-relieving.

We believe that God has given us a community. We are adopted into his family and called to love our brothers and sisters. Hospitality and care are part of the fabric of our relationships.

You see, in other words, God is in the business of building resilience in his people. How then should we train Christian ministers for resilience? Dr Birkett nails it with her insight:

It would seem we do so by training them to be Christian. (p38)

Read that again! Building resilience comes from Christian discipleship.

Building resilience in Christian leaders isn’t simply the domain of Christian psychologists, as important and as helpful as they can be. It should be the fruit of putting a deepening understanding of God and his ways into practice. It should come as we soak ourselves in the Scriptures and turn to God in prayer. Resilience should be the outworking of good doctrine and faith working itself out in love. There are no silver bullets, no secret elixirs, when it comes to avoiding burnout. But, as God’s children, we have a Father in heaven who knows us, loves us, guides us, equips us, heals us, and sustains us. Let’s turn to him in our hour of need.

Resilience: A Spiritual Project is a word in season.

R U OK?

IMG_1281Today is ‘Keep a low profile’ day. Well, I expect it will be for many. It’s actually R U OK day – a day to remind us all that it’s important to look out for one another. The trouble is that many will cringe if the only time people care for them is on a designated day. Every day is a good day to ask R U OK. So let’s slow down sufficiently to keep an eye out for each other.

I know a good number of my friends aren’t OK. Life sucks sometimes, and sometimes often. I get this. Sometimes life feels like the walls are closing in on me and I need help to see the big picture.

So if you’re not OK, please reach out.

Beyond Blue  1300 224 636

Lifeline  13 11 14

(Original artwork by Liam)

Decluttering the inbox

No Junk Mail copyI’ve spent much of the past couple of days in bed due to my three weekly chemo malaise and I feel like I’ve achieved something worthwhile—I’ve decluttered my inbox. More than simply getting hundreds of emails down to a small handful, I’ve systematically unsubscribed to dozens of regular newsletters, blogs, advertisements, and junk that fill my box every day. I have no idea how I ended up collecting many of these emails. Some were an impulse click. Some were a good idea at the time, but are no longer relevant. One or two I’ve changed the frequency from daily to weekly or monthly. People keep telling us that too much information—which often corresponds to too many emails—can’t be be doing us any good. I’m looking forward to a simpler eLife!

Crazy Busy

crazybusyI read this book some months back and was intending to review it immediately. But then something happened—I got crazy busy! I took on a new ministry role and pretty soon I had a full diary, began skipping exercise, let my good eating habits go, kept myself awake at night thinking about things, and couldn’t even find time to finish a summary/review of what is a fairly short and simple book.

Crazy Busy: a (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem is a book for Christian leaders that was always destined to be a best-seller. I’ve yet to meet a pastor who doesn’t cry ‘busy’. To be honest, it’s rare to meet anyone these days who doesn’t lay claim to being crazy busy. Busyness is epidemic in our fast-paced, technologically-advanced, opportunity-laden, affluent, western societies. All the ridiculous promises for the future—that we will have so much time on our hands that we won’t know what to do with it—were just that: ridiculous promises. In fact, in some circles busyness is worn as a badge of honour. Unless someone is busy they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

De Young warns of the dangers of busyness…

But if the strain is mental—as is the case for most jobs and for most of us—the negative impact on the body can be huge. So don’t ignore the physical danger of busyness. Just remember the most serious threats are spiritual. When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is not to let our spiritual lives slip away. The dangers are serious, and they are growing. And few of us are as safe as we may think. (p26)

Busyness can blind us to problems that are deep and destructive. Our lives can become joyless as we struggle to keep up with all the demands. It can rob our hearts of the opportunities to reflect, learn, and grow. Discontent can eat away at us as we envy the time, opportunities, and ‘freedoms’ of others. Busyness can cover up deeper problems within our souls. Having our diaries and planners crammed full does not equate to faithfulness or fruitfulness. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else. And like everyone else, your joy, your heart, and your soul are in danger. (p32)

Crazy Busy offers seven diagnoses to consider in understanding the depth of our problems with busyness. The first of these is pride. He strings a list of ‘P’ words together to make his point. These include people-pleasing, proving ourselves, seeking pity, poor planning, a need for power, the problem of perfectionism, seeking prestige, and more. De Young has found one simple question helps him to assess whether pride lies behind his busyness…

Am I trying to do good, or make myself look good? (p39)

The second diagnosis has to do with obligation. Are we trying to do what God doesn’t expect us to do? We need to be reminded often that we are not the Christ; that the gospel is great news of joy—not a demand of all that must be done; that care is not the same as do; that we have different gifts and different callings; that the church is a body with many parts; that prayer is something positive and practical we can do; and that even Jesus didn’t do it all. Above all, we need to remember that it’s not up to us to keep the universe going—God has that covered.

De Young’s third diagnosis focuses on mission creep. He reminds us of the importance of setting and sticking to priorities. Jesus recognised that there were so many good things he could do, but he would not let the good get in the way of his number one priorities. Jesus was not ultimately driven by the needs or the approval of others. He was focused on his divine mission. Not that we are on a mission from God in the same vein as Jesus, but the point is that if Jesus had to set and stick to priorities, then so must we. We simply cannot do everything and nor should we try.

Fourthly, we are warned to stop freaking out about our kids. He reminds us that it’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and it’s impossible to guarantee their future successes. In trying to do more and more for our kids we may be increasing the build up of stress in our lives and theirs. De Young refers to a Galinsky survey of more than thousand children in grades three to twelve. He asked the kids what was one thing they would change about the way their parents’ work was affecting them.

The kids rarely wished for more time with their parents, but much to the parents’ surprise, they wished their parents were less tired and less stressed.  (p70)

The fifth diagnosis looks at the impact of the screen and technology. De Young confesses that he used to roll his eyes about technophiles, until he became one!

Now I have a blog, a Facebook Page, a Twitter handle, a Bluetooth headset, an iPhone, an iPad, wifi at work and at home, cable TV, a Wii, a Blu-ray player, multiple email accounts, and unlimited texting. (p78)

We’re warned to take seriously the threat of addiction to all our devices. Multiple lines of instant communication can be a continual distraction to achieving anything productive. Our busyness makes us more prone to descending into trivia and mindlessly tuning out in front of the TV or the internet. It’s hard to be alone when we are ‘on call’ all the time—and being alone is important. We need to ask the hard questions about whether our new technologies are making our lives simpler, or more complicated. What steps should we take to ensure that such things remain our servants and don’t become our masters?

Diagnosis number six reminds us of the necessity of rest. God’s design was that we work and we rest. The danger these days is that we blur these two. Life becomes overwhelming because our days and weeks and years lack rhythm. We take work home with us. Our phones and lap tops are part work/part pleasure. We give lip service to the idea of day off, but we’re never totally on or off. (I confess this is my struggle.) De Young reminds us that we need to work hard just to rest. Breaks need to be planned. Unscheduled time needs to be scheduled. The rhythms of work and rest need planning. (p98)

The final diagnosis is a surprise one. We are busy because we are supposed to be busy. We’re too quick to assume that life was intended to be easy, comfortable, relaxed, calm. The reality is that we are sinful beings living in a complex world. We should expect to struggle with tiredness, illness, confusion, complex relationships, burdens and busyness. Sometimes our problem lies not with the circumstances but with our attitudes to them. We’re caught out, confused, and we don’t know how to respond.

The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in the providence of God. (p102)

De Young’s answer is to point us to Jesus. We are encouraged to spend time ‘at his feet’ listening to his words. We’re called to devote ourselves to the Word of God and prayer. The problem is, when I hear this, it can sound like another busyness burden to add to all the others. And so I need to be reminded that it is God’s word that refocuses and refreshes me. It is through prayer that I can unload my burdens and anxieties upon God. Beginning the day with God helps me to keep perspective. To Do lists, difficult conversations, meetings, preparation and planning, sermons, studies, and everything else, need to be seen from the perspective that only God’s word can provide—eternity. And so I will learn again to humbly ask for God’s wisdom, grace, and strength, to do what he would have me do, for his glory.

Growing yourself up

GYUThis book takes me back a quarter of a century to my times as a social worker. In the final year of my BSW degree, I focused primarily on studying family therapy and the writings of Murray Bowen were very influential. I loved this stuff. It was so helpful to see people as part of a family system and to explore the influences and impact of relationships, family members, experiences, and expectations. One time we saw an adolescent boy for counselling. He had been acting out at school and finding a multitude of ways to get into trouble. It wasn’t until we met with his family and discovered that his father had become dependent on a kidney dialysis machine, that we were able to begin understanding and helping him. It wasn’t his problem alone–it was a family problem.

I enjoyed reading through this book and discovered many insights relevant to my circumstances. I know others have found much benefit in this material, but one or two have commented to me that they’ve found it hard going, like entering another world with its own vocal and jargon. Perhaps, my earlier training made this book easier.

Jenny Brown has built heavily on the work of Bowen in her excellent book, Growing Yourself Up. You could probably describe this as a ‘self help’ book, but with a difference. It’s about helping the reader to gain an increased sense of ‘self’ to enable them to enjoy better relationships with others. We grow into personal maturity as we learn to more clearly differentiate ourselves from others so that we develop healthy personal relationships. This book draws on family systems theory to help us understand who we are in the light of, and distinct from, our relationships with others. Our families of origin have a profound impact on who we are—how we think and act and speak.

Brown’s underlying conviction is that it’s never too late for any of us do do some more growing up. Greater emotional maturity is at the heart of this goal.

This book starts with the big question: Are you willing to take a fresh look at your own maturity gaps, instead of declaring that another needs to ‘grow up’?  (p8)

Growing Yourself Up helps us to see and understand the immature part that that we are playing in our relationships with others. Instead of pointing the blame, we are helped to see our own contribution to the problems and impasses we find ourselves caught up in. Unlike much recent psychotherapy which focuses on finding our inner child, this approach is about growing our inner adult in all areas of our relationships. Moving beyond childhood to adulthood can be expressed by the following attributes:

  1. Have your feelings without letting them dominate; tolerate delayed gratification
  2. Work on inner guidelines; refrain from blaming
  3. Accept people with different views; keep connected
  4. Be responsible for solving our own problems
  5. Hold onto your principles
  6. See the bigger picture of reactions and counter-reactions  (p17-19)

It takes time to work through these things. We need to learn about ourselves in relationship with others. We need to learn not to let our emotions dominate our thinking. We need to learn how to take control of our anxieties. This is all part of growing our inner adult—slowly.

Relationships—close relationships, while remaining a distinct self—are at the core of adult maturity. Our experiences of relationship from our earliest times vary along a continuum of feeling isolated and abandoned, through to feeling inseparable or smothered by others. We are helped to understand more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of our previous experiences of relationships—especially those in our family of origin—and how they impact our decision making in the present.

This book takes us through various key life stages, circumstances, and changes. It looks at the threats to and opportunities for growing in maturity. Such areas include leaving home, single adulthood, marriage, sex, parenting, work, facing setbacks such as separation or divorce, midlife, ageing, empty nests, retirement, old age, and facing death. Pretty well covers it really! In all these situations there are issues to face in our quest to grow into adult-maturity. This book helps us to understand our part in navigating these changes and stages wisely.

One section in this book, I found particularly helpful deals with the temptation to triangulate our relationships, especially in situations of conflict. This is one of the major threats to adult maturity. A relationship triangle is where the tensions between two people are relieved by escaping to a third party. (p44) This may serve to dissipate tension and help families and groups to manage, but it also results in issues not being addressed and often placing the third person is a vary awkward position. It’s helpful to examine how we might have been (or currently be) involved in such triangles, and why. Such triangles are very common and universally unhelpful for dealing with conflict and tensions in families, churches, teams, and a range of relationships.

This is the type of book that you benefit from reading through completely and then returning to digest the most relevant sections in more detail. As a pastor who deals with people all the time, I found this book offering many helpful insights. It is especially important to understand people in the context of their relationships. And it’s in these relationships that we grow ourselves up.

Margin

marginMargin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives by Richard Swenson is an important book for anyone who is living in the red zone. If hearing the word ‘stress’ makes you stressed; if hearing the word ‘workaholic’ makes you defensive; if you’re worried about burnout; if you’re always on edge; if you’d prefer to hide in a corner than talk with people; if your credit card never gets paid off; if your children’s sporting and social calendar controls your life; if you’re never on top of what needs to get done and everything seems to be getting more and more out of control; if you never have enough time… then you should probably make time to read Margin.

Swenson argues that overload is a modern western epidemic. People are exhausted, hurt, anxious, and fatigued. Our bodies and our relationships are suffering. We can’t keep up with the demands of life. He describes this as losing our margin—the space that exists between ourselves and our limits. Margin is what we desperately need to regain.

The pain of progress, stress, and overload

Progress is normality for twenty first century Westerners. And we work on the assumption that progress is by definition good. We’re often blinded to the negative personal, relational, and environmental consequences of progress. So often progress sabotages margin, leads to increased stress, has unforeseen negative consequences, and overlooks areas of life that we should value more highly.

Most modern progress has been in:

  • the physical environment (wealth, technology, health—the material world)
  • the cognitive environment (knowledge, information, education—the intellectual world)

Most of our pain has been in:

  • the social environment (family, friends, etc)
  • the emotional environment (feelings, attitudes—our psychological world)
  • the spiritual environment (eternal, transcendent, etc)

Human beings have physical, mental, emotional and financial limits. Progress keeps putting us on a collision course with these limits. When we move beyond our limits we move beyond our margin into overload. We need to live with an awareness of our limits. If we live within our limits, then we create margins that help us to function in healthy and sustainable ways.

Change in my lifetime has been exponential, and continues to be so. This leads to unprecedented levels of stress. If we’re overstressed then we have two options: stress reduction and stress management. Stress reduction takes courage. It may require rearranging our lives: changing jobs, living on smaller incomes, learning to say no. Stress management is about learning how to handle our responses to stressors by taking a dose of margin.

Many of us live in the world of overload. Activity overload, change overload, choice overload, commitment overload, debt overload, decision overload, expectation overload, fatigue overload, hurry overload, information overload, media overload, noise overload, people overload, possession overload, technology overload, traffic overload, work overload (using the word ‘overload overload!). We tend to believe ‘one more thing won’t hurt’—until it does. Chronic overloading has a bad impact on our spiritual, emotional and relational lives. We need to learn what our limits are, and to respect them.

Margin

There is an African saying about those from the West. They say: ‘You have watches—we have time!’ They enjoy margin. Life for many is lived at a slower pace. Things are more deliberate. There’s more time for friends and family and neighbours. Progress has taken this kind of margin away from us. 

While agreeing that margin is a good thing, many would say it’s a luxury or unrealistic. Overload is the new normal and it takes too much work to change it. Swenson writes that to be healthy we need margin in at least four areas: emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. Emotionally, we have rarely been so stressed, so alone, exhausted in spirit. Physically, we are over-fed, under-active, and sleep-deprived. Time-wise, we are busy and worn-out. Financially, with live beyond our means in times of extraordinary widespread personal debt.

Margin in emotional energy

Of the four areas we need margin, margin in emotional energy is paramount.

Emotional overload saps our strength, paralyzes our resolve, and maximizes our vulnerability, leaving the door open for even further margin erosion.  (p79)

When we are emotionally resilient, we can deal with much that comes our way. When it’s lacking, it makes everything else more difficult. So if we find our emotional energy has evaporated, how can we get it back? Dr Swenson offers fourteen prescriptions:

  1. Cultivate social supports
    Good friends are good medicine. We should intentionally seek out relationships that refresh, with people who care for and understand us.
  2. Pet a surrogate
    Pets are capable of bonding, are loyal, and often affectionate. Except for cats—just saying!
  3. Reconcile relationships
    Broken relationships are a razor across the artery of the spirit.
    (p87) Reconciliation is powerful and health enhancing.
  4. Serve one another
    If you do regular volunteer work then you will increase your life expectancy, as well as your joy in life.
  5. Rest
    Escape. Relax. Sleep in. Take a nap. Unplug (turn off) the phone. Try setting aside time regularly for quiet and rest.
  6. Laugh
    Apparently people who laugh often heal faster. I’ll have to try it!
  7. Cry
    If you laugh hard enough you will! Crying contributes to emotional restoration.
  8. Create appropriate boundaries
    Learn to say ‘no’.
  9. Envision a better future
    We all 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. (p91)
  10. Offer thanks
    We all have much to be thankful for. Grumbling drains. Gratitude fills.
  11. Grant grace
    Stop judging people. You’re adding burdens to your back. Lighten both your loads.
  12. Be rich in faith
    The most vital ingredient of resilience is faith. (p93)
  13. Hold fast to hope
    Hope fosters physical and emotional health. Real hope is not naive optimism.
  14. Above all, love
    Receive it and then give it away.

Margin in physical energy

Australia has become the nation of obesity. The book speaks about Americans, but Aussies have a greater problem. We’re overweight, lacking in energy, and addicted to the wrong things. Our bodies only work properly when cared for, fuelled properly, rested regularly, and serviced occasionally. We’re more vulnerable to the effects of stress when our energy reserves are low. The keys to physical margin are sleep, exercise, and nutrition.

Prescriptions for restoring margin in physical energy:

  1. Take personal responsibility
    Changing habits is difficult, but necessary to create margin. Surround yourself with others who will help you to break out of the old patterns of thinking and living.
  2. Value sleep
    Develop healthy sleeping patterns. Don’t push on having less than you know you need and don’t oversleep. Try to develop good routines. Take naps occasionally if you need to. If you eat and exercise better, then you’ll likely sleep better too.
  3. Eat well
    Cut the junk food, eat healthy, and drink plenty of water.
  4. Exercise
    Exercise your heart. Build your muscles. Increase your stamina. Improve your flexibility. Do it regularly, but don’t overdo it.

Margin in Time

We live busy lives. We speak of having no time, losing time, borrowing time, being out of time, and trying to find the time. We’re constantly filling all our time and need to create margins.

With smart phones, laptop computers and wireless internet, some people are always in work time and need to learn how to margin time to rest. In creating a margin of time we must allow time for ourselves, our families, our friendships, and God. Again this means learning to say ‘no’, to make priorities and honour them. Some things need to drop out of our lives—we can just keep adding.

We need to relearn the value of simplicity and contentment instead of continuously desiring the latest and greatest. We should probably turn the television off and find other things to do. Maybe surfing the internet isn’t the best alternative. We should stop living in the frantic and urgent, and devote more to the long-term and important. We should focus less on how much we do and evaluate what is best to do. Let’s stop and reflect, enjoy what we do, and learn from it.

Create buffer zones, plan free time. Ask yourself—do you have time for the unplanned and unexpected? Stop being so busy and plan to make yourself available.

Margin in Finances

Our world is in economic crisis. We can’t keep on living beyond our means and expect things to keep getting better and better. This is true globally, nationally, and personally. Creating financial margin has obvious benefits. Lowering expenses below our incomes decreases stress and pressure. Having margin gives us opportunity to contribute to the needs of others.

Some people are in deep trouble financially. Swenson offers some suggestions for restoring financial margin, and here is my summary:

  1. Don’t allow economics to be your primary measure in life
  2. Be willing to part with the culture in its quest for more and more things
  3. Live within your means
  4. Discipline your desires and redefine your needs
  5. Decrease spending and increase saving
  6. Make a budget
  7. Cut up your credit cards
  8. Limit your mortgage
  9. Resist impulse buying
  10. Depreciate things and appreciate people
  11. Learn to lend and give away your things
  12. Forget fashion
  13. Do without
  14. Remember what you have belongs to God

Increasing my margin

Creating margin is a helpful way of describing how to ‘underload’ our overloaded lives. We need to create margin. Margin for people, margin for ourselves, margin to think and plan, margin to refresh, margin to stay out of debt, and more. My problem is I’ve so often closed that margin.

I remember looking at my timetable one day and realising that I’d booked meetings back to back all day. There was no time to plan before meetings, reflect after meetings, or travel between meetings. As the day went on I’d get further behind and I’d finish the day exhausted. No doubt the latter meetings weren’t as helpful as the earlier ones. So I began slotting in longer times for my meetings to allow time to catch my breath, think over what was coming up, jot notes afterwards, pray about what I was doing, and to allow for travel from one meeting to another.

This afternoon I attended a farewell event for a fellow pastor in Canberra. It was a wonderful tribute to the work of God in and through this man and his family. One thing stood out among the many praises showered on this man—he always has time for people. Ministers are infamous for putting out the vibe of busyness, so it was exciting to hear of a friend who has broken the mould. Would that this be me and many others I know.

Busyness is not cool. It’s not a virtue. It’s not a sign of how important, indispensable or valuable we are. It’s more often an indicator that we haven’t managed to effectively prioritise or manage our time. It probably means we’re dominated by the urgent rather than the important. And it certainly means we need to create margin in our lives.