Self-Help vs. God-Help: A Remedial Approach

The last post discussed putting faith and hope in God’s heavy lifting, but what if you don’t have that kind of relationship with God?  What if you desire life change but don’t believe in a higher power that is loving and intent on helping you, or if you’re unsure what you believe? 

My personal experience goes against Twelve Step wisdom on this point.  The Twelve Steps encourage turning one’s care and will over to God at the start of the journey to recovery and renewal.  If you are aware of something in your life that needs healing or change, but you’re not in a place to turn it all over to a higher power, I encourage you to embark on the journey on a self-help basis.  Here’s why. 

My first real experience of life change was shortly after college.  I was motivated to change because the evidence amply demonstrated my old way of being wasn’t working.  I analyzed and thought my way into new behavior patterns that yielded better results.  My perspective then was that I did it under my own intellectual power.  Looking back on the experience calls to mind a once-popular greeting card poem that inspired many to look on their life struggles differently. 

 One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
             Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
                  In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
                       Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
                           other times there were one set of footprints.
 
                                  This bothered me because I noticed
                                that during the low periods of my life,
                             when I was suffering from
                         anguish, sorrow or defeat,
                     I could see only one set of footprints.
 
          So I said to the Lord,
      “You promised me Lord,
         that if I followed you,
             you would walk with me always.
                   But I have noticed that during
                          the most trying periods of my life
                                 there have only been one
                                       set of footprints in the sand.
                                           Why, when I needed you most,
                                          you have not been there for me?”
 
                                 The Lord replied,
                          “The times when you have
                  seen only one set of footprints,
          is when I carried you.”
                                                   Mary Stevenson (1922 – 1999)

When I look back, I see one set of footprints in the sand.  That much is clear.  I was sure they were mine at the time, but from a vantage point 20 years later, I now believe God was doing the heavy lifting that I attributed to my youthful intellect. 

I was a physics major so I’m drawn to scientific analogies.  Here’s one.  Black holes emit radiation unfazed by whether you believe in black hole radiation or whether you have even bothered to examine the evidence about them.  The fact that you don’t believe in God doesn’t alter the fact that he loves you and acts in your life for your good.  So go through the motions under your own power.  You might meet God along the way! 

Join the conversation.  Have you ever discovered God in the midst of your self-help?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Self-Help vs. God-Help

Have you ever undertaken a new year’s resolution or committed to avoiding an old pattern only to find your efforts or will power lacking?  If so, I have a compliment for you.  You recognized a change was possible and you had the initiative to pursue it.  I especially commend you for reaching for something that was difficult.  I’d like to offer a word of hope and encouragement.

Goal oriented people are accustomed to scheduling objectives with the full expectation of achieving them on time.  This may describe you.  You may have a high level of confidence in your ability to accomplish whatever you set your mind to.  If so, I applaud you.  I also want to encourage you to dream even bigger.  Ask yourself whether you returned from a voyage safely because you sailed too close to shore.  What if you contemplated something so big, so significant, so difficult but wonderful, that you couldn’t possibly do it all by yourself?

Maybe this does not describe you.  Maybe you may feel so downtrodden you expect to fail.  Perhaps you have no confidence that you can follow through on anything.  Whether this describes you or you are the goal-oriented achieving type, there is wonderful news.  The weight doesn’t have to rest on your shoulders alone.  God will do some heavy lifting.

I look to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand not only for inspiration but also as a how-to guide for inviting God to do heavy lifting.  In all four gospel accounts, Jesus retreats with his disciples to a remote place for rest and encounters a crowd.  Having compassion for them, Jesus teaches and heals until late in the day.  The disciples grow anxious about where their next meal will come from and ask Jesus to send everyone away.  Jesus doesn’t go for it.  Instead he instructs his disciples to feed the crowd.

What happens next is the crux of the story.  The disciples say, “We don’t have enough.”  Jesus says, “Give me what you have,” and then he does the miracle of making it enough.  So it is with us.  If we are really stretching, doing something bold with our talents, we will feel like we don’t have enough–enough acumen, perseverance, persuasiveness, tenacity, grace, generosity, etc.  If you do have enough, then you might just be playing it too safe.  Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to play it safe or to have enough.  And he didn’t ask them to do it on their own.  He asked them to give what they had in partnership with him.

That is where the rubber meets the road in distinguishing an ordinary self-help program from a spiritual practice of introspection, healing and renewal.  We must give God what we have—all the self-control, patience, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness we can bring to bear—and he will do the miracle of making it enough.

Whether the life change you seek results from addiction or deeply rooted coping mechanisms or a recent change in circumstance, rest easy in the knowledge that you can’t find healing and renewal on your own.  Accept yourself where you are and know that you are not alone.   It is only by God’s grace that any of us have come this far, and only his help will move us on.  It glorifies God when we choose his power over will power.

Join the conversation.  Glorify God and encourage others by sharing the heavy lifting God has done for you!

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.