Friday, December 01, 2006

The Theology of Self-Help Continued

Continued from the post, The Theology of Self-Help:

Help Yourself! by Lyn Perry (c) 2007

Let's face it, we're a self help society. From fill-up to checkout more of us help ourselves than ever before. In fact, successful companies have long understood the labor saving and cost cutting advantages of this trend. But this 'do-it-yourself' mentality has moved way beyond gas, groceries, and home improvement.

Look at the explosion of success literature. From the classic best sellers by Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale to the surge in popularity of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Chicken Soup for Every Imaginable Soul, positive thinking has become a multibillion dollar business. Amazing!

Why is that? Is it an indication that we live in a self-obsessed culture? Are all these publishing companies simply pandering to the Narcissus in each of us? That may well be the case. But in my opinion there is something behind this movement that is good and right and necessary. Our longstanding fascination with self help is not so much a navel gazing exercise of the me-generation (although it can be that). I believe it is a legitimate response to an invitation.

We've been invited to help ourselves.

Open Invitation

Here's what I mean.

Imagine standing outside in the weather, knocking at the door, looking forward to the warmth of fire and friendship. Suddenly, the door swings wide, you're greeted with kisses and hugs. Come on in. Make yourself at home. Open the fridge and help yourself.

Reading and digesting a book on personal growth or attending a seminar on positive thinking mirrors this picture. It is simply accepting an offer to help yourself grow and develop to your fullest potential. The truth is, we all long for relationship, joy and fulfillment; that is, to come in from the cold. And we're knocking about searching for those things the best we can.

The personal development movement, then, is about – or at least should be about – accepting the invitation to help one's self to a satisfying, enjoyable, and abundant life. We may not be doing a very good job at it, we may be looking in some (very) wrong places, we may even become obsessed with all that is set before us. Nevertheless, there's an offer on the table and we're taking the host up on the invitation. This is a good and necessary response.

Who's Hosting This Party?

But here's an interesting question. If we're responding to an invitation, who is doing the inviting? Who is our host? Recall that within the phrase help yourself are two implications: Invitation and familiarity. We don't party in a vacuum. Neither do we develop ourselves by ourselves.

If my perspective on this topic is correct (and of course that is what I'm advocating!) then pursuing a vibrant life is about responding to a gracious host who wants us to say yes to fellowship, yes to friendship, yes to fulfillment. What's more, we are responding to a person who has our best interests at heart.

Think about that. This is an astounding truth. When it comes to all that life has to offer, someone is doing the offering and wants only what is best for us. Self help is simply responding to someone's invitation. But who is this someone?

Motivational writers and speakers often refer to a power or energy or wisdom available to each of us – a universal life force that we can tap into; that we can help ourselves to. With the right techniques and proper awareness, we can access Infinite Intelligence (a phrase used by a well known success author ).

Despite the capitalization ('Infinite Intelligence'), this energy field is not a personal being and should not be confused with the biblical concept of God. No matter the moniker, what many self-help authors are referring to is simply a natural force, an energy that permeates, and is often identified with, the universe.

This is not what I'm talking about. For a number of reasons. First, a force is impersonal. Impersonal objects do not invite people to help themselves. Only in poetry will the wind call us to set sail and head for the open sea. (I didn't say it had to be good poetry, but you get the idea.)

Second, energy is not relational. I'm speculating now, but I assume you would not want to pursue an intimate friendship with an electrical outlet or lightening bolt. So you see, this personal development movement, properly understood, is not really about tapping into some power source that already exists. No. Self help is responding to the Source of this power. Capitalization intended.

Time For An Illustration

Say there's a vending machine at work. You put your quarters in and grab a snack. In other words, you pay the price and help yourself. Now who is actually providing us the opportunity – in a sense, inviting us – to partake of this tasty and nutritional (broadly speaking) product? It's not the vending machine. We would think it mighty strange if we overheard a colleague thank a distribution mechanism for releasing a bag of chips. We don't look to some contraption as the ultimate source of provision. That would be silly. Obviously, someone is stocking the machine.

Snacks don't offer themselves. The only reason we can choose from the variety of goodies set before us is because someone – not something – is inviting us to 'help ourselves.' (By the way, don’t blame the vending machine or the vendor for your increase in caloric intake! We’ll cover taking personal responsibility at a later time.)

All Good Things

Now fortunately, the Creator of the universe is not indifferent about the offerings available to us. The Source behind all matter and energy is a personal being who cares about how this matter and energy are utilized. In fact, that is one reason why God (for this is the Someone we've been alluding to) created human beings. After creating all things, God installed Man and Woman as stewards and recipients of all that has been created. We have a veritable feast set before us. And we not only have permission we have a mandate to take what we've been given and . . . enjoy it!

Come on in. Make yourself at home. Enjoy yourself.

Our Host is extending to us a personal invitation to join the family, find friendship, and experience a life of abundance. This is a genuine offer and it is extended to each of us. Help yourself!

How do we go about doing this?

That is what we'll explore in the ongoing blog entries of Thought Renewal. The purpose of this blog is to help us learn to help ourselves to all good things in life. In the following months we'll discuss, among other things, five fundamental strategies (see below) for crafting a life of fulfillment.

Picture yourself as a masterpiece in progress. Your commitment to personally develop is not selfish, it is responding to the Master Craftsman who designed you for greatness. We've been given the tools to unleash abundance; it would be selfish not to utilize them.

Thinking Right

The five strategies I want to unpack over time center on our thoughts – challenging, correcting, and controlling our thoughts. Our mind is a powerful tool. With it we interpret everything that happens to us and assign meaning to those various events.

It has been said that it is not so much what happens to us that matters as how we respond to what happens to us. At the risk of sounding cliché, this is exactly right. Our life often lacks abundance and meaning because we think in terms of lack and meaninglessness. Our environment is limited because our thinking is limited. Controlling our environment is largely dependent upon controlling our thinking.

This goes beyond merely being positive or optimistic. It means correcting our limiting beliefs by thinking correctly about who we are and our purpose in life. Thus if I were to write a book (wink wink) titled, Help Yourself! then the subtitle would be: How to Enjoy a Life of Abundance by Thinking Right and Overcome Limiting Beliefs. (Maybe that's a bit long, what do you think?)

Right thinking is essential if we are to unleash the abundance in life that is ours by right and mandate to enjoy. The five strategies that will help us accomplish this ongoing project (remember, we're unfinished masterpieces) are:
  • Living on Purpose
  • Taking Every Thought Captive
  • Renewing Our Minds
  • Properly Utilizing Faith
  • Serving Others
Additional resources include the Power of Mentors and Thinking Right About Wealth.

We'll explore these themes and others throughout this blog and examine each of the strategies in light of appropriate God-given universal laws or principles. We'll unpack and apply those principles to various life situations and offer some mental exercises so that we can grow and develop.

Along the way we'll note some 'wrong thinking' (and even dangerous teaching) that is circulating out there as well as discover some surprising truths about life, the universe, and everything. My hope is that this work might serve as a guidebook for those interested in such matters. If you've made it this far I'm assuming you're one of the people I'm hoping to touch.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.


Febz said...

Thanks for your inspiring words. I was browsing the web for road maps that will help me change my attitude and propel me to utilize my talents. I believe I have been openly invited to partake in the good news that your blog has to offer.:-)

Lyn said...

Thank you Febz for stopping by and commenting. I was wondering if this entry struck a chord with anyone. :-) Have a great week helping yourself to all that God intends. Lyn from Thought Renewal