Margin: Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.


Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, details a very common narrative of modern-day life in America. A storyline that is recognized all too well from most of our daily struggles and challenges. Where, Swenson contends that in the name of progress “the disease of marginless living” is devious, prevalent, and infectious.[1]However, “there is a cure” for this sickness, which will return margins to an individual’s life.[2]This review will summarize, critique, and evaluate Swenson’s practical suggestions for recognizing, restoring, and sustaining margins in one’s life.

SUMMARYMargin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Livesis devoted to uncovering and correcting the specific type of pain that results from marginless living.[3]Swenson paints a colorful picture of what marginless living looks like. A diseased portrait indoctrinated with exhaustion, stress, haste, anxiety, and obedience to the status quo behaviors of society.[4]Then in Part One of the book, Swenson proceeds to expound on just what causes this illness.

The cause of this illness is pain, which includes the pain of progress, problems, stress, and overload.[5]While progress in the “physical environment”, such as prosperity, technology, and health, as well as, the “cognitive environment” which includes knowledge, information and education are important.[6] These advances in the material world and intellectual world are not balanced appropriately. It is this imbalance or lack of margin that causes pain in the social, emotional and spiritual environments.[7]Swenson asserts that a major failure of progress is its lack of ability to nurture and foster “right relationships”.[8]Nevertheless, there is a prescription for this pain.

The prescription, in Part Two, is the restoring of margin. Reestablishing margin in the areas of emotional energy, physical energy, time and finances alleviates the overload of operating without boundary.[9]According to Swenson, margin allows freedom and permits relaxation.[10]Which is reflected in a simple formula: power – load = margin, where power consists of energy, proficiencies, time, education, emotional and physical strength, faith, and societal supports; while load refers to factors like employment, difficulties, obligations, debt, deadlines, and interpersonal struggles.[11]With a restoration of proper balance between power and load an individual can grasp that “We and our margin belong to God and only the choice belongs to us”.[12]

In Part Three, with the correct choice made then the “prognosis is health” through contentment, simplicity, balance, rest, because pain, margin, and health are in the right relationship.[13]It is at this point that an individual has restored margin. Swenson affirms that this margin should be “guarded for the sake of self, God, family, and friends since health is not far behind”.[14]


It is apparent that many Americans live without margins because of aspirations to sustain progress are promoted at the demise of balance.[15]Written in a very dense convoluted manner,Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives requires that one read a few chapters in order to fully grasp the meaning of margin. However, the complexity of the writing does not take away from the simplicity of the message. It essentially enhances the significance and helps the reader grasp the urgency and seriousness in the message. Which is the need for margin in order to improve the quality of one’s life.

Nevertheless, equipped with scriptural support, statistics, personal experience and common sense, Swenson provides an organized, comprehensive and practical approach to recognizing, restoring, and sustaining margin. Through a clear description of the problem, a well-defined prescription; Swenson upholds that the choice to follow the treatment is up to the individual.

However, Swenson practiced what he preached by attesting to the fact that decades ago, he made the decision to live with margin at a significant loss of income.[16]Nevertheless, he has “no regrets”.[17]That was a great acknowledgment to Swenson’s belief in the power of margin through personal sacrifice.


It is with commitment and wisdom that Swenson beseeches individuals to choose health over stress and pain. “If stress crushes your spirit . . . either conquer stress or walk away” for it is imperative to maintain margin for a healthy balanced life.[18]This book, Margin is a most needed and timely reminder of the value of balance, which so many individuals have discarded in the pursuit of progress. Hopefully, this word to the wise will help restore margin to a desperate world with weary individuals.

For Swenson put into words what I have felt and experienced for numerous years and seemed to be overwhelmed by the past few weeks. While my mind recognized the symptoms, my thoughts had not devised a term for what I sensed. Hence, it is with the utmost genuineness and eagerness that I desire to restore margin to my life. For this was not just a book about somebody else, for somebody else, it was a book for me. This was one of the few books that I have read that provides guidance for my current situation with practical applications in a confident and influential way.

Furthermore, when there is no margin, problems take on an unmanageable dimension, as individuals struggle to form a right relationship with self, others, and God.[19]It remained inspiring to perceive how Swenson respectfully balanced this practical approach for restoring margin in a manner that valued both Christendom and the secular world. This was such an enjoyable book to read. It is one that I am positive I will re-read.

[1]Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004), 15.

[2]Ibid., Margin, 18.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Ibid., 13-15.

[5] Ibid., 21-65.


[7] Ibid., 31.

[8] Ibid., 30-31.

[9] Ibid., 69-148.

[10] Ibid., 69.

[11] Ibid., 70.

[12] Ibid., 147-148.

[13] Ibid., 151-214.

[15] Ibid., 145-148.

[16] Ibid., 16.

[17] Ibid.


[19] Ibid., 42.