Richard Swenson wrote a New York Times Best Seller in 2004 titled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.
He defined margin as the space that exists between ourselves and our limits.
The fact that it was an instant best seller and has enjoyed several reprints and revisions over the years suggests that many of us are in need of help. We do indeed live on overload.
Understand that the ubiquitous iPhone did not appear until three years after Swenson’s book.
Apparently, Americans were struggling with the frantic pace of the daily grind even before we became addicted to text message alerts or notification badges and electronic jingles and swishes that call us to attention constantly.
Our electronic toys have only accelerated and exacerbated the perception of stress all day every day. We have become strangers to the sound of silence.
Musicians recognize symbols called “rests.” There are several of them, each distinctly indicating the length of the pause, the number of beats where there is no sound.
Those rests, though silent, contribute hugely to the meaning of the music. Silence can be powerful!
My mind goes to the last few measures of Handel’s’ “Hallelujah Chorus.” We are sitting on the edge of our seats after the crescendos of the “hallelujahs” coming from every section of the choir. All of a sudden and without warning there is a complete interruption of sound. Nothing. Nothing. Total and complete silence for two beats…followed by a final huge “Hallelujah!”
It is triumphant and dramatic, and it really doesn’t matter how many times you get to experience it because it leaves you as in awe the hundredth time as it did the very first time!
Much of the impact of the finale comes from the fact that it was preceded by the silence. Silence is not powerless. Sometimes, the quietness is the very thing that makes the next thing impactful!
Psychologists and physicians warn us that sensory overload is real, and it is affecting both adults and children. We used to call that phenomenon “Burn Out.” There is a sense of nervous exhaustion and a reduced ability to work productively that comes with it. Shorter attention spans, sleep irregularities and actual structural changes in the brain are the side effects of what one psychologist calls “Electronic Screen Syndrome.”
I notice a certain free floating anxiety that is a hallmark of contemporary life. I see it on the faces of the strangers in front of me at the Kroger or the Walgreens. And I see it in myself, too. Surely, we resemble multi-tasking mechanical robots as we stare into our hand held screens and frenetically tap out our communiques to the invisible person on the other end. There is a human connectedness that is slipping away because of our engagement with our devices. This is not good.
Technology is a big offender when it comes to ramping up the stress and speed of life, but it is not the only culprit.
We are blessed to live in an age that affords many opportunities for travel, study, entertainment, and a plethora of experiences that did not exist a hundred years ago. We have a smorgasbord of choices from the day we take our first breath until the day we take our last. So many choices and so many voices can create a daily schedule of complete chaos if we aren’t careful! You don’t have to do it all or have it all at the same time and in the same season of life.
In designing roads, bridges and buildings, engineers consider margins of safety as they determine the maximum weight a structure can bear. You can be sure they allow a margin between the structure’s ideal weight and the weight that would cause collapse.
When we live right up to the line with our time, our resources and our energy, we are like the bridge in danger of collapse.
There is no space left to allow a spur-of-the-moment kindness for a friend in need, no reserve of resources to offer to a cause that touches your heart or to help where there is a desperate need, no reserve of anything inside of us to be the light of Christ in someone else’s broken place.