Not By the Sweat of Your Brow

We’re a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” type of people. We take great pride in a job well done, an obstacle conquered, and a goal reached. Self-help books frequent the best-seller’s lists with titles like “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” “Act like a Woman, Think Like a Man,” and “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work,” and yet, society as whole, has not changed. Not to say that there hasn’t been progress. Better health practices, iphones and wireless internet obviously has made life easier. But morally, for the most part, we’re the same. At least from where I’m sitting.  Some say we’re worse. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I certainly don’t see the euphoria that all these self-help books and documentaries should have created, if they worked.

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time studying others, and once you make it past the outward smile or the teeth-gritting stick-to-itness, you begin to see some very dark and lonely hearts. And although I am limited to the study of those with whom I am in contact with, from where I sit, it seems like those who frequent the self-help section the most are often some of the most miserable. Oh, they’ll make progress for a while. They’ll read the book, post notes to their mirrors, door frames and cupboards, but over time, their best-efforts fizzle, sometimes even leaving them worse than they were before. Where is the progress the five steps promise? Ah, but we’ve found the solution. We’ll just try another book, and then another, and then another. And if we try harder, and commit, next time will be different. We’ll find the perfect relationship, lose those pesky twenty pounds, eradicate our insecurities, and suddenly gain the confidence to feel comfortable in our skin. And so the never-ending cycle continues, our drive for perfection fueled by our momentary successes until our lives are enslaved by goal sheets, to do lists, and frequently chanted affirmations.

But then there are others who seem to float through life on a perpetual peace cloud. While our marriages fail, theirs deepen. While bitterness consumes us, they are filled with joy, peace, and increasing love. Not a love of convenient reciprocation, but a genuine love that bubbles from within, coloring all they see and do. And so, we raise them up onto our “self-help” pedestal and make an analysis of what they do, focusing on their outward behaviors instead of what drives them. So we run for another rag and spruce up the outside of our cup, leaving the inside, our inner selves, untouched. Because stick-to-itness can only take us so far, and its effects will last but a moment. Life changes, real life changes, the kind only the Father can provide, last forever.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus calls us to surrender our burdens so that we can relax in His arms. “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yours souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus calls us to stop striving, grasping, reaching…performing. He bids us to come to Him so that we may rest. And as we grow in Him, He takes care of all the rest.

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