My husband and I recently moved, and as we packed up our bookshelves, he made an off-handed comment about how many “self-help” books I had. Feeling sheepish, I grabbed the one in his hand and said “I’ll handle packing these, thank you very much.” But as I picked up where he left off, I realized my husband was right. I am a self-help book junkie.
My obsession with being a “better me” started at a young age. I can remember reading Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in 6th grade. I still have my original highlighted and dog-eared version, and I treasure it. In fact, I’ve given more copies of it away than I can count. It’s chock full of wisdom that I still work to implement in my own life, every day.
Because there’s safety and validation in numbers, I’d also like my husband and the rest of the world to know that I’m not alone in my pursuit of self-improvement. Over 15 million copies of Carnegie’s book have sold worldwide since it was first published in 1936, so chances are someone in your family has one of them on their bookshelf right now. And the self-help industry as a whole is booming – it’s estimated to be worth $11 billion in the United States alone, with an average 5.5% growth each year.
As great as it all is – and I stand behind the biblical principle of wanting to be “excellent” in all aspects of our lives – serious problems arise when the advice in my oversized collection of books seems contradictory. Take diet books for example: how am I supposed to pick one diet to follow, when there are 50,000 books to choose from, each touting their unique roadmap as the best way to lose weight (fast!) and keep it off? And don’t even get me started on relationship advice. When I was single, I tested every strategy I read – from waiting patiently for the Lord to deliver my man (preferably via FedEx), to going out with everyone who asked (even losers) at least once, to taking a six month dating sabbatical (in the hopes of finding The One on day 30 of month 5). Though all of these strategies were rooted in biblical truth, none of them helped me lose the last ten pounds, or find my happily ever after.
The truth is, we’re all seeking wisdom – and the world has plenty to offer us. God loves speaking through His people, and He’ll do it through sermons, friends, books, circumstances, conferences, and podcasts alike. I still love ‘em all, and recommend them to friends.
But at some point, we all need to press pause on the Amazon checkout button, and recognize that the Source of all Wisdom is just as accessible to us today, as He was to King Solomon thousands of years ago. In his book of Proverbs, King Solomon – widely recognized as the smartest dude ever – says that “[t]he Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to ask God for wisdom, “who gives to all generously and without reproach.” (James 1:5). And in the New Testament, we are told that the Holy Spirit, who lives in our hearts, offers non-stop “wisdom and revelation.” (Ephesians 1:17)
So why do I – knowing all of the above - look to humans for help when The Source of all knowledge is just a prayer away? I guess you could call it a habit – maybe, if you’re being nice, you could even call it being “resourceful” and “proactive.” But what you can’t call it is “mature.” There is no imitation for the Real Deal, and there’s no short-cut to growing in wisdom. God’s way requires preparation, prayer, humility and accountability, in a manner that self-help gurus do not. The catch is, if we ask God for wisdom, we’re accountable to Him for everything He reveals to us. And maybe, just maybe, that’s part of the reason we’re so reluctant to ask Him for it in the first place.
Now that I’m married, I can’t hide anything from my husband. He’s like a real-life, hunky, Southern version of the Holy Spirit (y’all), who knows more about me than anyone else. He holds me accountable when I ask him to, shares his wisdom when I ask him for it, and encourages me to be a better, holier version of myself each day. But even my husband, whom I admire more than anyone else in the world, comes in at a distant second to Jesus. There’s simply no human substitute - no matter how smart, learned, credentialed, or best-selling they may be - for the Holy Spirit’s ability to counsel, convict, and correct me in my wrong-headed ways and thoughts.
So the next time you find yourself torn between Tony Robbins and Dr. Henry Cloud, put each of their books back on your nightstand, and consult The One who knows and loves you best. I’ll always be “that girl” who pre-orders anything written by my human gurus. But I also pledge to be “that girl” who gives unlimited soul access to the God who both counsels and empowers me to walk in His truth. By seeking God first, “all of these things” – wisdom, strength, and a sound mind – are added to my life; without them, everything else, in the words of sage Solomon, is “utterly meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Denise Gitsham is a San Diego-based attorney and small business owner. Her career has spanned nearly two decades in legal, political, and entrepreneurial spheres. Previously, she lived and worked in Washington D.C. at the White House, US Department of Justice, and in the US Senate. She’s the proud daughter of a Chinese tiger mom, wife to Josh, and adopted mother of the most adorable golden retriever in the world: Jack. We’re Follow along with her adventures @dggitsham!