I love my job at C.A. (so does Nan). It is what I believe God designed me to do. It is challenging and satisfying and I love the people I work with. So when I feel myself pulling back from it or getting irritable, I know something is wrong.
A few years back Nan & I invited Dr. Richard Swenson to speak at Christian Assembly. He is the author of a book entitled “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.” This concept of ‘margin’ struck a loud chord in my soul and it has been a theme I have been talking about (and paying attention to) ever since.
Margin is the space between your load and your limit.
If you have $3000 (limit) coming in and $2700 (load) going out, you have a margin of $300. You can relax in the area of finances. But if you spend or commit the $300, you have no margin. Any expense you incur after that throws you into a deficit position and you are in financial pain. Your load has just exceeded your limit. It is always sad to see someone who is so burdened by debt that their options have been virtually eliminated. It is doubly painful when they are the perpetrator of their own financial imprisonment.
The same thing applies to time. When I am fully or overcommitted and have left insufficient time for rest or recreation I can begin to resent even the positive things in my life. Any new opportunity seems like a burden instead of a possibility.
In the same way we can run down our health by overeating (or eating junk food), under-exercising, under-sleeping. We use up our reserves and fuel ourselves with coffee and adrenaline and our body suffers.
I often see couples stress each other out with emotional baggage to the point that all the grace is used up. At times I have heard someone in counseling declare “I have reached my limit. NO MORE!” At this point the relationship is in real trouble and there is no margin for future error. Any new stressor may result in the total breakdown or breakup of the relationship.
So how are you doing in those areas in your life? Where do you lack margin?
The solution is to take positive control over your own life. Learning to say ‘no’ to yourself and others may be a challenge. It’s never easy to turn down fun opportunities, or resist spending money or take the extra energy to prepare a healthy meal. But the reward of margin will far outweigh the effort. It will allow you to be able to say ‘yes’ to really significant things as they present themselves. And you will experience joy in doing them instead of pain.
Wrap your mind around the concept of margin and reap the harvest.
I just finished reading the chapter entitled “The Impostor” from Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. It is about the false self — the shadow personality or projected self that we all have.
The false self always wants to look better than it is – better than it feels. It wants to project an image of being more successful, smarter, more courageous, more confident, more competent, and more emotionally healthy. But it is hiding behind an illusion of its own making.The ability to present our true selves is critical in dating and marriage. How can I really love you if I don’t know who you are down deep. If I don’t really know you, then who and what am I saying “yes” to at the marriage alter? This is one of the reasons why taking a reasonable amount of time before becoming engaged is essential. Can you really say you have gotten past the projected image to the real person?
It is always unpleasant to be confronted with our failings and dishonesty, and harder yet to admit them. It is an even more difficult task to actually dig for them. Is the purpose of that kind of exercise to lead us down a path of self condemnation?
Not at all!
Honest self examination should lead us to humility and to self forgiveness. It should bring us to a place where we can accept the reality of our flaws without becoming overwhelmed by them. The failure to do so will often result in hostility towards others and/or hatred or some other form of violence towards our self.
Accepting the existence of our false self does not mean becoming resigned to living out of our false self. Rather, it means being aware that there is an internal tug-of-war going on that wants to put image ahead of honesty. Let’s face it; it is painful to let others see our uglier, but more honest side. But will they truly know us until they do? Can we accept others’ imperfections until we make peace with our own or will we just become judgmental and harsh with them?
Again, the key is in self forgiveness just as God has forgiven us.
We can move towards maturity and growth and honesty and away from fear, anxiety and self protection when we know that we are acceptable and loved. Intimacy with others grows as we reveal our true selves. Vulnerability with safe people produces closeness, and closeness lets us experience love and acceptance.
Drawing near to God may be our first step in shrinking the false self. He accepts us just as we are, and He loves us unconditionally. And He does so knowing us completely. When He is our focus, we begin to lose some of the need to hold on to our insecurities and defenses. We realize that He protects us and validates us and our identity shifts.
If there are obstacles in the way of your growth, there is always help available by reaching out.
I love reading, and so do many of you – after all you are reading this blog. So I happily recommend a book Nan and I are reading right now: Scary Close – dropping the act and finding true intimacy – by Donald Miller. It is well written and an easy read – and it also brings a significant message.
Chapter 9 is entitled “Five Kinds of Manipulators”, and I thought I would excerpt from each type. It is always valuable to assess whether you are in a romantic, work or other relationship with one or more of these people. But I believe it is even more important to determine which one of these types Donald Miller is describing most resembles us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will get uncomfortable reading through this list.
- The Scorekeeper Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win. Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way they’re winning. Scorekeepers keep tabs on whatever favors you owe them and call in those favors when they want to control you.
- The Judge A Judge personality strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power. Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around. When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others. The Bible becomes a book of rules they use to prove they are right rather than a book that introduces people to God.
- The False Hero The False Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do. The dark side to the (False Hero who is a) visionary personality is they can lead people to believe they have a future when it might not be possible or realistic, to actualize that vision. You might be dealing with a False Hero when the future they’re describing seems too good to be true.
- The Fearmonger Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell. Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong. They are never vulnerable and fear being perceived as weak. Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy. You know you’re with a Fearmonger when they overemphasize the concept of loyalty. Certainly loyalty is a virtue, but what a Fearmonger calls loyalty could better be described as complete and total submission.
- The Flopper A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can. This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation. In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor. If you enter into a relationship with a Flopper, sooner or later that oppressor will be you. A Flopper’s internal mantra goes something like this: If people hurt me they’re in my debt, and I can hold it over them to get what I want. False victims are, themselves, passive oppressors. They seek control by making you feel guilty about what you’ve done. They don’t want to reconcile, they want control. If you consistently feel responsible for somebody else’s pain, but you can’t figure out how you caused it, you’re likely in a relationship with a Flopper.
I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for a deeper read – as in the whole book.