The Trouble with Self...
"Self-help" books are a bit of a misnomer - reading someone else's idea of help is not really coming up with that help or idea for yourself. George Carlin quipped in his stand-up; "I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose." He also said, "If you're reading it in a book, folks, it ain't self-help. It's help."
The self-help gurus often have their own agenda - to help themselves - and the secret formula to success remains elusive to their followers despite books, courses, classes and study groups. Perhaps we are turning to these people and their methods because they promise something we can't achieve on our own, or think we can't achieve.
Change is hard, a struggle for most of us. It doesn't come easy, and often takes real work and persistence. Our culture has bred in many of us an expectation of ease, instant results, and progress. Sometimes "self-help" books offer a quick solution, a magic bullet, so that we feel we don't have to go through as much effort. Really, there is nothing wrong with getting help, or working to improve our knowledge and capability, but are we seeking a quick fix, trying to take a shortcut to our goals? Someone else might be able to show us a method or shed light on what is blocking our path, but we still have to clear that path ourselves, and walk that path ourselves.
That doesn't mean that we don't need help, or shouldn't accept help. We still often need encouragement and motivation too, which can be found in support groups, church, friends or family. We have to be careful to be not too self-reliant, and accept appropriate help when it is offered, and humble enough to recognise when we don't have all the answers.
Life itself is full of contradictions, and our struggles are often with ourselves - internal struggles about what we should do, or what we shouldn't do. Making decisions, making resolutions, and keeping to our self-appointed goals. Paul recognised this and wrote about it in his letter to the Christians in Rome.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Bible Gateway passage: Romans 7:14-25 - The Message.
We can expect to make mistakes along the way, and it is our choice to view these as failures, or as learning. The Bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, said in a sermon around 400 AD.
Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
While we might not be happy that it's not a quick and easy journey, think twice next time about shelling out $19.99 for a book that offers instant and effortless results, and think about relying on Jesus instead to steer you in the right direction. There's real help right there.
Decide what needs to be done, equip yourselves, and make a commitment to change.