Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Help (02/20/06)
TITLE: The Real Meaning of Self-Help
By Amory Calcott
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Let's face it: some people don't need their self-esteem stroked. It's so huge already that they can scarcely fit their ego inside the front door. However, I won't go to the opposite extreme and suggest that nobody needs help with their self-image. Without a healthy dose of self-esteem, a person becomes a weak, spineless jellyfish. One of the reasons that destructive cults do so well in America is because they exploit people with a lack of self-esteem. Cults don't grow when people regularly tell the cult leader to jump off a cliff. They grow because people lack the self-esteem to address abuses and excesses.
Having said that, I don't think that the answer to cultivating healthy self-esteem lies in the current trend of indulging every whim that comes along. Today's self-help industry gives us an excuse for every failure and a highly unpleasant, whining, never-satisfied "inner child" to endlessly dote upon.
I think that the true idea of self-help lies in a phrase my mother often said when I was young: "God helps those who help themselves." Self-esteem isn't going to be handed out like a cosmic Welfare check. Each of us is called upon to make the first step toward our own improvement. Nobody can take that first step for us.
When Jesus called the fishermen–-the future Apostles–-to follow him, He didn't say, "Stand right there doing whatever you want to, and I'll eventually cruise along and pick you up someday." Instead, the message was to drop everything immediately and follow Him. For the Apostles, that took incredible courage and faith. It also took a step forward. Jesus wouldn't take that first step for them; they had to do it themselves.
There's an old joke about a man who moans and complains to God because he hasn't won the lottery yet. After the man whines endlessly to Heaven, God's irritated voice finally comes booming down from on high: "Try buying lottery tickets!" This man expected God to do all the work for him, ignoring the fact that you can't win the lottery without going out and buying tickets. Likewise, you can't win at life without some personal effort.
We'll get a lot farther by being like the Apostles and boldly stepping out in faith than by nursing some imaginary sulking "inner child". If the Apostles had decided that their "inner child" didn't feel like following Jesus, they would have remained simple fishermen, losing out on the spiritual journey of a lifetime. The true meaning of self-help isn't a psychological handout. It's SELF-help, after all. Help yourself by exchanging the idea of a weak, emotionally needy "inner child" for the reality of being a child of the King.
Will we be like the Apostles, journeying forward in faith, or like those who refused to follow Christ because of some convenient excuse? Christ demanded followers to leave everything (their old selves) and follow him immediately (becoming the new self). The entire New Testament is filled with images of the transformed self, and that self is paradoxically not only an heir of glory, but a servant of both Christ and one's fellow man.
We help ourselves by following Christ, and help others by actively living for Christ. It's the ultimate journey of self-improvement-–becoming useful to others, as well as to ourselves. After submitting to the will of God, endless glory and spiritual riches are ours to tap into, but only if we have helped ourselves by taking that initial step forward in faith.
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