How’s Your Snow Pack? Or The Necessity of Margin

 

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I’ve been reminded in many ways that most of us live life “just in time.”

Many live paycheck to paycheck, hopefully earning enough money “just in time” to pay the most important bills. Many complete a project “just in time” to meet the deadline (scary word!).

In retail and manufacturing, “Just In Time” (JIT) inventory management is a concept designed to increase efficiency, cut costs and decrease waste by receiving goods only as they are needed. You don’t stockpile merchandise.

This may be good business, but it can be soul-draining when applied to personal and community life. Just in time praying, just in time communication, just in time physical effort—all equal lots-of-time stress!

It makes me think about the snowpack in the mountains. (Hang on– you’ll see where I’m going…) Living in an arid or semi-arid region means you pay attention to precipitation—rainfall and snow fall.

If you listen to weather reports in California, you are curious about the amount of rainfall, but you are really interested in the amount of snowpack (the accumulated snowfall in the mountains) because the snowpack is the real drought-buster. Rain is useful for recharging groundwater, but a deep snowpack can provide water for months and months. When the average Sierra Nevada Mountains’ snowpack melts in spring and summer it provides about 30 percent of California’s water needs.

Let me mix in another metaphor: It’s not wise to drive until you’re out of gas. In fact, it damages the fuel system of a car by drawing into the fuel lines the impure “residue” that settles in the tank. Problems multiply.

Likewise, we have spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and financial tanks (to name primary ones) that need to be sustained. We cannot count on the occasional rainfall of inspiration that may come. Each tank needs a “snowpack” source of sustenance.

What I call “snowpack” physician Richard Swenson calls margin. “Margin is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed.” The reserves we develop provide “shock-absorbers” in our lives and relationships. But margin is in short supply.

The conditions of modern-day living devour margin.  If you are homeless, we direct you to a shelter.  If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps.  If you are breathless, we connect the oxygen.  But if you are marginless, we give you yet one more thing to do.

Swenson compares the stressful state of lacking margin with the “blessedness” of cultivating margin in our lives:

              Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.

Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.

Marginless  is hurry; margin is calm.

Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.

Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture.

Marginless is reality; margin is remedy.

Marginless is the disease of our times. Margin is its cure.

SOURCE:   Richard A. Swenson, M.D., Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress, 1992),  13, 14. with slight revision.

The problem is that we don’t pay attention to our need for margin until it’s too late (see my blog Drink Before You’re Thirsty). The account of Joseph in Egypt illustrates the blessings of margin. Having interpreted Pharaoh’s dream warning of seven years of famine in the future, we read,

“Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it” (Genesis 41:48 NIV).

Jesus calls us to store up resources far more significant than worldly wealth and status,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew  6:19-20).

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the gifts of time to replenish your soul, of activity to refresh your body and mind, of a phone call or coffee-date to catch up with a friend. It will never be easy to “make” time for these things. You just have to take it!

You may not see immediate results. But who would think, as they watch flurries float lightly down from the sky, that those flurries would accumulate to provide life-sustaining water for months to come?

1 thought on “How’s Your Snow Pack? Or The Necessity of Margin”

  1. Thanks Doug, very relevant and inspirational. Analogies are well understood and easy to grasp. I pray this will help those seeking guidance to increase their margin.

    Like

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