A 2017 article valued the self-help industry at 9.9 billion dollars!1 This line of business encompasses everything from books, motivational speakers, phone apps, and weight loss programs to personal coaches. Americans are not happy with themselves, and they’re looking for answers. The available options are so numerous we can’t put our heads around them, but they all share a common premise: that we have the power to fix, or at least improve ourselves.
We have a saying in medicine: “When you find numerous treatments for a condition, it usually means none of them work well.” I think the same could be said about the thousands of options offered by the self-help industry. Could it be that we’re going about this the wrong way?
If we’re going to improve, we need to accurately understand our current situation, our goals, how and why those two are different, and what treatment can correct the discrepancy. You won’t find these by looking at your neighbor or media messages. Instead, we start by looking at our origin and design, and to do that we need to look at our Designer: God. What can we learn about ourselves from knowing who God is? In this and the next three blogs, we’ll look at four Divine truths and how they can help us understand our identity, our destiny, and what we should do.
So who is God? We first recognize Him as our Creator.
God created us. Before we existed, we were nothing. God has infinite power. On the other hand, what power we have over the natural world has been given to us.
God sustains us. God did not create us and abandon us. We continue to exist because He wills it. In every moment he sustains us. We remain dependent on Him.
God gives us purpose. God created us with a purpose: for the praise of His glorious name and to share in His divine life. He calls us to seek, know, and love Him with all our strength.
God created us in His image. He created each of us good and with a dignity unrelated to the opinion of people. He gave us an intellect and the capacity to know and love God and others. He has given us a love for what is good and true. Imprinted on our hearts is a desire for Him, and through Him only can we find truth and happiness.
The Dark Side
We also have been mortally wounded by sin. Somehow man lost the grace for perfect spiritual and physical health in the primeval event we know as The Fall. Recorded in the third chapter of Genesis. Catholics believe this is a figurative story told to communicate a fundamental truth: that man fell from grace because he wanted to be like God. Exercising his free will, he chose to deny his dependence on his Creator. The effects of this first sin have carried on throughout history, resulting in personal defects, disordered relationships, social discord, illness, and death.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot overcome sin and its effects by our power alone. That doesn’t mean we don’t try, however. Our efforts have led to some dysfunctional behaviors.
Denial. We deny our dependence on God. We rightly seek to be free of sin and its effects, but try to pursue it without His help. We tell ourselves we can do anything with the right mental attitude and enough willpower, despite evidence to the contrary that we are not all powerful.
Seeking power and control over others. With God out of the picture, life becomes all about us. We use power meant for the good to control and use others for selfish purposes. We even try to manipulate God, Himself.
Lack of trust in God. God desires that we trust in Him. Instead, we rely on ourselves, possessions, abilities, and force of will.
What Can We Do?
Here are five ways we can respond to this dilemma.
- Acknowledge God as our Creator.
We are creatures and not deities. We are not the result of random processes. We have been made good and have value, regardless of our defects or how others treat us. Each of us has a purpose and a calling to an eternal destiny with God.
- We admit that in many ways we are powerless and need God.
We cannot overcome sin on our own. We need a Savior. We need Jesus Christ.
We need indwelling of the Holy Spirit, with whom we must cooperate if we are to grow in holiness and Christlikeness. Sometimes the only way to do this is just to let go of the things we cling to so tightly.
- Practice Christian assertiveness.
Asserting yourself is about communicating truth in order to do good. It should always be done in love. Christian assertiveness expresses a healthy love of self (we love ourselves as God loves us). Sometimes assertion is used to bring life-changing truth to others. Asserting is not about dumping, attacking, blaming, denying, gaining control, rationalizing, manipulating, or using any other means to gain power or avoid losing power in relationships.
- Stop trying to control or change others.
Instead, we use our gifts and abilities to give God glory.
- Learn to trust in God.
We do what God gives us to do and work at it with our whole being. Then, we leave the rest to God.
1 John LaRosa, “$9.9 Billion Self-Improvement Market Challenged by Younger and More Demanding Millenials, Changing Technology, WebWire: Deliver Your News to the World, Aug. 1, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018,