Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Words and Wool (The Words Bit)

Last week I promised I would post the "words" part of my "Words and Wool" post. I'm finally getting a good opportunity to do that.

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson hit the nail on the head with so many aspects of what life is like in our super-busy, information-age world. He spent the first quarter of the book diagnosing the problem and showing how crazy our lives have become all in the name of "progress." I found this part of the book a bit slow because I already agreed with him on this point.

However, in part 2 Swenson shifts his writing and gives us the prescription for finding margin -- specifically in the four areas mentioned above. Wow! I took pages and pages of notes and need to go back and condense what I wrote into something that I can go over and over.

Without even looking at my notes the sentence that comes to mind to distill this book down is: Margin is for and about relationships -- relationships with others, relationship with ourselves (our health, etc.), and our relationship with God.

Swenson talks about how to find and achieve margin in our lives and gives lots of practical ideas on how to make margin actually happen. I thought I could probably skim his part on finances because we already have and work with a budget. But I was wrong! He goes beyond that to talk about contentment, about learning to need less and less, about choosing a simple lifestyle. Very challenging!

Another key idea Swenson talks about is choosing not to excel in one area of life in order that you may not fail in any area of life (sometimes we excel so well at our job or our children or whatever but then end up failing our spouse or God, or something else). Swenson advocates choosing to do a relatively good job in every area rather than striving for super excellence in only one or two. This is not the message I got growing up but I think it is a healthier way. It does mean sacrificing but it also means not losing. Swenson says: Productivity is not wrong but it must not be idolized.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz was another very helpful book. Schwartz describes the amazing overload of choice we are offered in every area of our life from buying jeans to choosing a coffee at Starbucks to finding a good deal on a new toaster. He shows how the plethora of choices adds to our crazy lives and saps energy from us as we take the time and energy to agonize over and choose between far too many things.


I particularly thought of this problem of too many decisions for those struggling with chronic illness. When you are not well you struggle with making decisions -- in fact they can become overwhelming. This book provided helpful wisdom on how to make the decision-making process a whole lot easier.

Once again the whole idea of simplicity and contentment comes into play (some of the same themes from the Margins book).

Some of Schwartz' ideas are:

-- choose when to choose -- "two options is my limit"
-- accept "good enough" rather than expending excessive energy to find "perfect" and always wondering if it really was "perfect"
-- thinking about the attractiveness of the unchosen will always spoil the satisfaction of the chosen
--practice gratitude
--regret less
--control your expectations and reduce the number of options you consider
--curtail social comparison -- focus on what makes you happy, not on what others say makes them happy
--learn to love constraints: freedom of choice leads to tyranny of choice

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller is an excellent little book on thinking of yourself less (not thinking less of yourself). He discusses our present day infatuation with self-esteem and our own egos. He talks about identity and what our identity should be. He talks about how hard it is for us to stop thinking about what others must be thinking about us. In the Christian Gospel we get the verdict on who we are before we actually do anything. In the Gospel we are declared right with God not based on anything we do, but on the actions of Christ on our behalf on the cross. The verdict for Christians is in -- we are loved and accepted by God and because of this we can go and do things for the joy of doing them -- not so we will be loved and accepted by God or others. Keller explains it all so succinctly, nevertheless I have decided that I need to re-read this several times over in order to help the truths sink more deeply in.

Well, those are my book recommendations for today. Please note that this post contains affiliate links.


Pom Pom said...

Oh, I REALLY liked The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I read Margin many years ago and I think of its' message very often. I love the way it taught me to look at life as a page in the book... is there enough white space in the margins so to speak.

Re-reading Bread & Wine now. I had given my copy to Stephanie but it is very inexpensive at the moment on Amazon. So I used credit to purchase it and have it on my shelves. This one is staying! ;)

Esther said...

Thank you Heather! I need to read the first two books. Both covering topics I am wrestling with daily right now. :)

Esther Howe

elizabeth said...

lots to think on here.. thank you!