I used to be a purveyor of spiritual self-help. The biggest portion of my bookshelf at home has long consisted of this genre. These books point to different ways to bring peace, love, health, cash, and prizes into your experience. Some of them are bent towards the non-secular and others the secular.
They all offer a ‘right’ way to do ‘it’. In order to get what they promise, you do things this way.
And so, for a very long time, I’d do what the book in front of me told me to do. I’d have a nice spiritual buzz for a few hours or days. Sometimes, I’d see a nice uptick in whatever area of my life I was working on — maybe it was finances — and I’d think, Great! This stuff is working!
And then that sense of emptiness would arise again which would prompt me to go get another spiritual self-help book in order to fill that longing for...
Yeah… I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what it was that I was seeking. I thought it was money, but I’d personally known a number of monetarily wealthy people and they didn’t seem much happier than me.
Whatever my search brought me was never enough. I was never far enough up the spiritual ladder, it seemed.
I know I’m not the only one who’s grown tired of climbing up the delusional spiritual ladder to nowhere.
Well, since my deconstruction of the modern religion of non-religious spiritual self-help (which came years after my deconstruction of the brand of Christianity I was raised with), I’ve returned to the Christian faith with a post-conventional point of view. I’ve recovered the baby from the bathwater (I think) and since my return, the biggest game-changer for me can be stated with one word…
Grace is the biggie. Grace is what makes ancient contemplative Christianity unique and it’s so often overlooked (especially in our modern culture out West when we’ve turned it into just another brand of self-help).
This is because grace has nothing to do with our self-will. It has nothing to do with our spiritual morning routine. We can’t manifest grace. Grace just is. Grace is all we need. And all we can do is be aware of it, open to it, and accepting of it.
Grace comes into our tiny human view when we reach the end of ourselves. When we’ve self-helped and self-helped some more only to realize none of it has really done the trick (for very long).
It’s when we realize how little help we can offer ourselves that we open ourselves up to help from all of life itself.
This is spiritual self-helplessness — the emptying of the self and the acceptance and extension of grace.
Because when we realize how our efforts of helping ourselves are topically nice (I mean, I like money, health, and sex), but mostly in vain, we can open our hands to the divine and be free from our struggling, striving, self-obsession, and external manipulation. We can know that we are children of God, that we’ve never left the garden, and that all of our stumblings are forgiven.
This is what we yearn for at the soul-level. But we replace it with superficial material ‘things’ that are mere false idols for what really matters — our innate wholeness that never waivers, but that we so easily forget.
And so, here I am. A purveyor of spiritual self-helplessness. (Probably not going to be on Oprah’s list anytime soon, but at least you’re here and I’m here, which is great.)
My prayer for you and your helplessness is this…
May your self-help bring you all the help you can give yourself. May you manifest just enough of the things you desire so that you can see that it’s never enough.
May you come to your knees before the end of this incarnation and realize that your wholeness and completeness aren’t up to you and never have been. As a child of God, they’re etched on the underside of your soul, out of physical view, but securely seated as ever.
I pray that you feel the relief of that. May you feel — truly feel — your helplessness. In other words, may you realize God’s grace. May this grace release you from the fruitless pursuit of personal perfection and power. And may you extend this grace to the brother and sister who stumbles alongside you in this clumsy, vulnerable human experience.
May this grace allow you to see that you’re not in the driver’s seat and never have been. I pray that you find the back seat comfortable as you enjoy the ride through this life knowing that it’s way better with others to share the view and laugh along with.
Yes, I pray that you laugh at the helplessness of the human condition. May more and more tension ease with each guffaw.
You and I — we’re personally helpless. But in this realization, we’re free.