We are bombarded with promises of happiness, wealth, fulfillment and all our dreams met. Yet we are miserably unhappy. Why?
Get Out of Your Head
By Jennie Allen
It’s almost impossible to navigate through our culture without being bombarded with messages about how we can do better and be better. “Experts” speak directly to our desire for hope through self-improvement books, websites, articles, infomercials and so on. We feel a surge of optimism—the thrill of anticipation rises within us—when we hear how the right mantra, the right workout, the right financial plan, the right determination will lead us to the better, more fulfilling life we sense should be ours.
Who doesn’t like to nip and tuck, to plan and resolve, to declare and push and grow? Who doesn’t like the idea that with a little determination we can be better than we were before? None of us want to stay stuck where we are. We all want to flourish, to thrive.
Despite the wild success of today’s lifestyle gurus, the idea of self-help is nothing new. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ time, people were writing ethical arguments to help people choose wiser, better lives.
The self-help culture as we know it today has its most obvious origins in the 19th century. For example, in 1859 Samuel Smiles wrote a book that was titled, fittingly, Self-Help. You may recognize the famous maxim Smiles included: “Heaven helps those who help themselves.” This message is so readily embraced that people have often been sure it’s a quotation from Scripture. It isn’t—the line is found nowhere in the Bible—but it might as well be. Who needs God when the real helper is inside us, is self? Ideas like this helped birth the self-help industry.
Time marched on, and others joined the cause.
Dale Carnegie released How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Psychotherapy grew more and more popular.
Infomercials became a thing.
Motivational speakers began to draw crowds.
And here we sit in a post-truth society bombarded with promises of happiness, wealth, fulfillment and all our dreams met. Yet we are miserably unhappy. Why? Because for all the good that self-help does, that help always comes up short in the end.
The best that self-help can do with our suffering, with our shortcomings, with our spiraling thoughts is to reject it, to determine to do better, to declare, “Today this awfulness stops!”
But we don’t simply need our spiraling thoughts to stop; we need our minds to be redeemed.
Bondage necessitates rescue.
Oppression needs to be lifted.
Blindness waits for sight.
Waywardness must be transformed.
No self-generated declaration—loud and passionate though it may be—can bring about this liberation. Instead, we need a complete transformation: our minds exchanged for the mind of Christ.
We are not made to think more good thoughts about ourselves. We are made to experience life and peace as we begin to think less about our¬selves and more about our Creator and about others.
“Seek first the kingdom,” Jesus said.
The greatest commandments? Love God and love others.
The only true self-help is for us as followers of Jesus to believe who we are as daughters and sons of the King of the universe and to know that our identities are secured by the shed blood of God’s own Son.
When we believe that about ourselves, we think less about ourselves and more about the mission we have been given to love God and the people God puts in front of us, no matter our circumstances.
Sure, you can make a certain amount of progress on your own, but you’re not going to have the fruit of the Spirit, and you’re not going to have the mind of Christ. Are those who urge us to take control of our lives entirely wrong? No. We do have a part to play. But our effort won’t take us across the finish line if there is no outside force shifting the inside of us.
The world understands that no progress can be made without doing the work. They understand it better than many Christians do. But self-help can offer only a better version of yourself; Christ is after a whole new you. God in you. The mind of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit coming through you. You go from a dying, withered spruce tree to a thriving fruit tree producing pears. It’s a completely new creation.
Excerpted from Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen Copyright © 2020 by Jennie Allen. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Used by Permission.