Marvin Repinski: Self-help books: Wisdom or limits or nonsense?

Published 5:26 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.  (Bible, Luke 13:19)

My encouragement is to search and find a resource that you can use to address the growth or change you desire. A memory comes from my college years when I read and applied some of the advice in the book  “Power of Positive Thinking “ by Norman Vincent Peale.

There were missing pieces of a puzzle in my life, growing up in an embattled and destructive home. Eventually my parents separated. That was followed by years living in a foster home, where a loving family brought stability to my years. But healing and mature directions, as are necessary for most of us, were for me a need to do some personal reading, reflection, and embracing some suggestions that met my needs.

The emphasis on self-help is in abundance. My writing these paragraphs is to lay out my insights. In agreement with the Kathleen Jackson and her husband William Miller, teachers at the University of New Mexico, both ordained in the Presbyterian Church, I share this observation: “The shelves of bookstores are laden with books promising to work miracles in helping people change. There are books to help one lose weight, gain friends, sleep better, improve one’s memory, feel less anxious and more zestful, hypnotize oneself and decrease bad habits. Books to tell you how to have more fun, cope with stress, live longer, find a career, live through divorce or get over lost romances, make a fortune, become more relaxed, less depressed, more spiritual, less bored, more rational, less procrastination, more assertive, less indecisive, more effective on the job, or the tennis court (add golf course!), or in bed. From womb to tomb, there are books on how to do it better.”

The authors share their research and trial applications over the years. They  “may or may not be effective … most despite their extravagant claims which are based on absolutely no sound evidence.” I am fond of saying of myself and great numbers of people,  “We need all the help we can get, so a diligent search for what will aid us is necessary.”

Being aware that even in advice,  truths, promises and readings in the religious communities may only lead to feelings of “I’m a failure” or  “Nothing works for me” or  “Am I beyond hope?” One may realize that the so-called fault may be in the giver of advice rather than the reader. The road to the health, betterment and redress of bad steps may very well be a long journey. Patience! Don’t give up! Sometimes just being yourself, without all those  adjustments others place on you, are in order. Recall the Chinese saying:  “Many knotted and crooked trees reach old age.” Naturally perfect, because they are useless to the house builder.

The title of this article calls into question the self-help invitations that I call nonsense. I qualify that with the words exaggeration, lack of credible witnesses, or imaginary prospects. In collecting a number of  “claims” for your future paradise, wealth and happiness, I note the following citing of an abundance of  activities you are to entertain and practice. A reader is told:  “Enjoying the activities might sound strange to someone who is doing something they don’t like. Most important, you should not be doing something you don’t like. Get rid of that job and find a rewarding career; one that brings you joy! This is not a rehearsal; this is your life. Make it fun. Find a career that is fun.” There you have it — an answer for a new life. Wow!

The same book advises you to make a promise:  “I will network everyone I know to find a place.” And then to be in shape for all of this, you need new goals. One of your new goals: “I will take a self-defense class this year.” Enough said!

Is it time for prayer?

Almighty God, we are uneasy about the way life comes to us. Too often we do not like the bodies we have. We would exchange our jobs for the jobs of others. We would like to do away with parts of our history. We would like to start over again. We desire the prestige of others. We resent the injustices we have suffered and cherish our sorrows. We have often refused to live because we have held out for better terms.

Heal us, restore us, grant us opportunities that will enable us to believe who we can become. Amen.