A few weeks ago, I read a fascinating book by Richard Swenson called Margin. Subtitled Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, it was an amazing book that really made me think deeply about the fundamental choices I make about how I choose to spend my time. It left me with a lot of thoughts in my head, a lot of notes in my notebook, and a deep desire to read the book again (which I have).
In a nutshell, Margin argues that the biggest factor for modern exhaustion and melancholy is that our lives lack margin. Most people are pushing every aspect of their lives to capacity – spending as much as they bring in (or more), working absurd hours to fuel their spending and their concept of a career, rushing through things in their life just so they can rush through more things. Then, when something bad happens (a job loss, etc.), we don’t have that extra gear – we have no margin. The book offers a ton of great advice on how to restore that margin, advice that couples well with the material found in the best personal finance book I’ve ever read (and one of my favorite books ever), Your Money or Your Life.
At first glance, this seems like a great book to review on The Simple Dollar, and I actually began writing a review of the book for the site. Yet there was something nagging at me as I wrote that review that kept me from finishing it – one big factor that held me back from going through this book in detail.
It was written for a Christian audience and is integrated with a huge dose of Christian theology and teachings.
Faith is an issue that I try hard not to deal with on The Simple Dollar. I know from a lot of social experience that religion is on that short list of things you don’t talk about in polite company and, especially since The Simple Dollar pushes hard on personal finance (a very intimate topic that people have a hard time talking to others about), I usually try to avoid opening up another topic (religion) that generates similar feelings.
That being said, many people out there, from all political and personal stripes, find personal growth from their faith. It drives them on to great things in life. I’m not referring to any specific faith at all: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and many other members of various faiths are led to great things by the tenets of their religion.
For me, at least, one verse from the Bible actually inspired me quite a bit to turn my financial life around: Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15. That’s a profound piece of advice, no matter what your religious orientation.
At the same time, I am also quite aware that faith can be a double-edged sword. It can lead to narrow attitudes, closedmindedness, radical behaviors, a loss of social propriety, and sometimes it leads to behaviors that can destroy lives and tear communities apart.
I’ve witnessed both sides of this coin in my own life. I’ve watched a religion run roughshod over a community. I’ve seen blind, religious-fueled anger grow out of control. I’ve also witnessed people turn their lives around thanks to faith, and I’ve seen people reach new heights because of it.
After some reflection, my take is this: if something inspires you to make a positive change in your life, whether it be faith-based or secular, jump on it. Use that inspiration to bring yourself to some positive life choices. I’ve found inspiration in a pile of personal finance books, in my son, and even in religious works (not just the Bible, either).
The only danger is to shut yourself off from something that can really help you because of your preconceptions. A Christian who refuses to listen to advice from a secular source because it’s secular is foolish. Similarly, an atheist/agnostic or a person of a different faith who ignores something compelling from a Christian writer simply because that writer is a Christian is also foolish. Find answers for yourself, and don’t close yourself off from great advice just because of your own preconceptions. Trust yourself, be open to new ideas, and the answers will come.
Given that, I’m probably going to give a proper review to Margin in the near future, and I’m going to be more open to exploring books that speak to the topics of The Simple Dollar, even if they touch on faiths and other perspectives that I don’t necessarily agree with. I hope you’ll be open to those ideas, too.