My husband is one of those people who can find something positive about gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

On the other hand, I can give you a list of the negatives starting with the five tools in my kitchen that I’ll have to use to dislodge the gunk (all of which I will have to sanitize afterward), exactly how long it will take me to remove it, and the three things on my To Do List that will now be impossible for me to accomplish that day because of this untimely and completely inconvenient incident. I’m not just an anal anti-optimist. I can be positively fatalistic.

Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to “self-help” books (although I admit that the very name of the genre makes me cringe. It’s like admitting you enjoy reality T.V.)?  I like the motives of self-help authors—aside from trying to make a living (or a fortune) off of other people’s hang-ups—they try to empower people to overcome the very challenges the authors themselves may have struggled with their whole lives.

My big issue, challenge, or whatever you want to call it, is fear–fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of what you are thinking about me at this very moment. For as long as I can remember, fear has followed me around like a overeager Rottweiler dogging my heels at every turn. One of the books I’ve read lately, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, had some excellent points, and very practical and helpful exercises to help me overcome my irrational anxieties. But as I continued to listen to the author (most of my reading is done via audiobook), I realized that many of the points she made were vaguely familiar, like echoes reverberating in an empty house.

For example, in order to deal with fear, the author suggested we change how we think about both ourselves and our present situation, that we try to view our life differently.

A voice in my head abruptly spoke up. “That’s right”, it said. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

I blinked. I knew that. I had heard that phrase somewhere before.

The author’s next recommendation: Deal with your negative thinking.

As I said, I’m fatalistic. I can start with the fact that I paid my power bill two hours late and in 20 seconds create an entire scenario in my head that ends with my business collapsing into bankruptcy, my writing being rejected by every agent and publisher in America, and my homeless family camping out in a tent under the interstate using my kids’ Wii game nunchuks as a clothesline.

But before I could fall into an utter state of panic, the lingering voice returned to me: “Take captive every thought and make it obedient…”

Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Where did I hear that?

Last–but by no means least–the author suggested I be around positive people and read positive things.

Okay, I’ve already worked on this area to some extent.  I try to NOT read the news everyday. I mean seriously, a week of the front page of the Orlando Sentinel is enough to leave Pollyanna swimming in a bottle of anti-depressants.
This time, because I’m trying to avoid the latest celebrity scandal and flee the newest sports star’s dirty laundry, the voice is so much clearer now: “Whatever is true, whatever is right, noble, excellent, praiseworthy…think about such things” and just as audible “bad company corrupts good character”.

And then it hits me. I’ve heard all this before because somebody else said it before, WAY before all these wonderful self-help authors “discovered” it. And the reason that these concepts work when applied is because THE author of authors wrote THE how-to-get-OUT-of-your-Self manual long before self-help was cool.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think these books—many of them anyway—are amazing. Hey, I can Flow and Awaken the Giant, Eat that Frog so I can Win Friends and Influence People, Develop Seven Healthy Habits so I can find out the Color of my Parachute as I discover Man’s Search for Meaning, all as a One-Minute Manager. Through the power of personal experience and vulnerability, the authors of these books give vintage concepts a different twist. They shed light on areas that have become dull and powerless from repetition. They reveal old truths in new ways.

But let’s not be fooled.  If all of civilization collapsed under the mantel of nuclear war, if South American Army Ants raged across the US wiping out entire cities, if everything that Dan Brown ever wrote was true–oops, sorry, I’m doing it again. 

Bottom line, there’s only one book we really need for life and empowerment. And it was on the bestseller list long before there was one.

So, yes, when I’m not needing a sci-fi fix, when I’m not craving the pubescent exploits of Harry Potter, and when I’m not hankering for a Jody Picoult tragedy to make me feel better about my mundane life, I’ll continue to read these self-help books and they will always have a place on my bookshelf.

But only one book will stay lodged like a life preserver on my bedside table. And it ain’t Stephen King.

(These are the words that were whispered in my ear–Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Philippians 4:8, 1 Corinthians 15:33)

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