I’m not saying anything novel or shocking when I declare that the contemplative stream of Christianity is a completely different mindset compared to the self-help strategies of the business world and Christian self-help subculture.
I’ve read enough of both contemplation and self-help works, and in my unprofessional opinion, there is one core difference between contemplative Christianity and self-help Christian/self-help business world:
Christian contemplation differs from Christian self-help based on the promise of delivering fulfillment and happiness.
This is the difference between finding happiness, fulfillment, and meaning in what you do each day. It’s the promise that taking certain actions, following a program, or designing a particular business or spiritual program will bring you the fulfillment and joy that you want from life.
There’s a mechanism to the self-help mentality. For self-help Christianity, one must design the right mechanism with the right mix of Bible study, prayer, and service.
For self-help business, one must design the right balance of sleep, family/relationships, exercise, and work, preferably with some kind of automated function or outsourcing for the business that relies on selling high end products.
The more you see the self-help Christian world and the self-help business world in action, the more they appear to be different sides of the same coin.
The more I’m exposed to the Christian contemplative stream, the starker I see it in contrast to the self-help mindset.
The self-help Christian/business world tells you that you must work harder to build something so that you can find peace and fulfillment. And here is the dirtiest trick of all in the self-help world: so many of these people who promise to show you the way that they have blazed aren’t going to actually deliver. Sure, they can help us do a few things better. They aren’t completely useless. They have learned about time management or other productivity skills in some cases, and they do have wisdom to share at times. However, the whole self-help program will fail the majority of those who read the book, take the course, or join the community.
The truth is that most of these business bloggers and self-help Christians aren’t going to tell you “exactly” how they achieved their peace and status. They can’t. There are too many factors that go into success or personal fulfillment in the first place, the promises they make are too hollow, and many of these high profile experts have gotten support from each other in order to “make it.” There’s only room for so many experts at the top to realize their “dreams” or lead the “life that you love” if their financial success hinges of getting you to want they have so that you buy their books and courses.
The self-help world says that you don’t have the life that you love because you aren’t doing the right things or investing in the right systems. For a small fee, that is really a bargain compared to what the OTHER GUYS are charging, you can find the happiness and fulfillment that you deserve. Can you really put a price tag on that? All of your competitors are signing up for the course; do you really want to be left behind?
Before you start pulling out your wallet, let’s step back for a look at contemplation.
Contemplation tells you that your true self and the identity you have longed for with all of your heart already belongs to you in God. You can only find it with greater clarity and learn to live in it. You can’t build something that has already been given to you.
You can only find that you are deeply loved by God if you take time to live in your belovedness.
Of course you can make your life better with certain decisions and your work plays into that, but your happiness isn’t tied to a career or a lifestyle. That is too fragile and small-minded an approach to life.
With the Christian contemplative stream, there’s no course or program that maps a path to success, fulfillment, or the “life you want.” You can only find practices that you can literally practice daily. The results aren’t guaranteed in any way other than the promises of scripture and the examples of those who have gone before us. Somehow, this works, but if it’s going to work, it probably won’t look like what you’re expecting.
While the self-help world tells us ways to put ourselves first, Christianity says that you find life by “dying” to yourself. You can’t come up with a much stronger contrast! However, Christians who affirm “dying” to yourself can also slip into the self-help program. We can fight and scrap and plan and take courses to find the things that God has given to us already.
I spend most of my day circling back to the love of God. Yes, I have tried to focus my work on the things I’m better at doing and that I find enjoyable. Yes, I’ve limited my work hours when possible in order to prioritize time with my kids. However, at the root of my happiness, fulfillment, and personal quest for meaning, I spend most of time shoving aside the things that the self-help people tell me I need.
I feel the pull toward the quest for personal comfort, fulfillment, and success. It haunts and grabs at me every single day. And so I circle back in contemplation onto the present love and mercy of God. I circle back with the Examen to remember where God has been present and where I have gone off on my own.
I’ve found that I live the “life I love” when I live in the love of God. No membership fees are required other than a deep need for God.