May 6, 2015

​Confessions of a Self-help Enthusiast

Some editor of some publishing house is enjoying a luxury vacation to some exotic holiday destination somewhere in the world thanks to all the self-help books I have in my personal library.

I‘m the proverbial self-help enthusiast, on a constant quest to improve myself and attain perfection. My “psychoanalyzing,” as Brian calls it, drives my dear, patient husband crazy. Thankfully, he’s long-suffering and humors me as each new purchase becomes the topic du jour. I inevitably rope him into discussions about any new self-help revelation I have just discovered.

As I chatter on about my latest epiphany on this and that, which is sure to finally help us be the perfect family and is certainly the thing that has been missing from our imperfect little lives, he patiently smiles (probably inwardly rolling his eyes), comments, and waits for the episode to blow over—for life to return to normal.

Pity Party for One

Many of our family’s idiosyncrasies make for fun times at gatherings. But, truth is, I’ve felt quite sorry for myself for most of my life, as these dysfunctions have made me the imperfect individual I am today. (Yes, I know, very Freudian. I grew up before the term cognitive behavioral therapy was a buzzword.) I have finally realized that we all come from dysfunctional families because we live in a fallen world. That may seem very obvious to some, but it was a complete revelation to me some time ago. In fact, I realized that there is not even one perfect family in the Bible. They all range from mildly to severely dysfunctional.

So now, at least for the moment, I feel a little less sorry for myself.

In Search of a Perfect Example

When I became a Christian, I expected the world’s number one bestseller to be filled with perfect people on whom I could model my life. With people called friend of God, a man after God’s own heart, or righteous Lot I was certain I’d find a plethora of perfect families to show me how it is done. Imagine my shock as I started reading stories of these friends of God and righteous people. If a cinematographic representation with all the bells and whistles were made of the families in the Bible, could you imagine? You’d blush, feel downright ill, and shake your head in confusion; then you’d sit down to write a letter of complaint to various broadcasting commissions.

We all come from dysfunctional families because we live in a fallen world.

But as Christians we grow. There’s only one perfect example, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and He came from an imperfect family too.

Jesus didn’t have it easy. He was born out of wedlock under the most mysterious circumstances, was poor, and came from the wrong part of town. Can you imagine the snickers He had to endure? Did you hear about His mother? Apparently the “Holy Spirit” impregnated her [peals of laughter]. Yes, I know, and I heard that Joseph wanted to leave her, but an angel told him not to [giggles]. Seriously, has anything good come out of Nazareth?

Mary was not a perfect mother. I am sure every parent has their own my-child-went-missing-in-the-mall/market-story, but one year Mary left her son behind in Jerusalem and discovered the loss only hours later. When she found Jesus, she blamed Him for being left behind. Later she tried to encourage Jesus to volunteer His services at the wedding at Cana (which proud mommy has not been guilty of doing the same)?

When Jesus’ brothers weren’t thrilled with His public image, she supported them in their request to get Him to let things be. Joseph wasn’t perfect either. He was concerned about his image in the community and at first did not believe Mary’s version of events. He knew he wasn’t the father. An angel had to tell him not to leave her because she was, in fact, telling the truth. And the brothers? They weren’t exactly enlivened by their stepbrother’s marching to the beat of a different drummer from childhood, cramping their style. You get the picture.

Lessons From a Less-Than-Perfect Family

Jesus’ earthly family wasn’t the happy family we used to see on TV sitcoms. You know what I’m talking about: Mom and Dad never exchange an angry word; the kids are always clean and polite; clothes are wrinkle-free; Mom never walks around in her maternity pants 17 months postpartum; breakfast, lunch, and dinner are gourmet meals; the kitchen and each child’s room sparkles; and the siblings are best of friends. Jesus’ family background certainly made Him a candidate for potential therapy sessions. Yet there’s something to be learned here, five things, in fact.

First, Jesus knew who was in charge. Jesus was aware, even as a young boy, that God had a plan for His life. He knew that God was the one leading and guiding Him, and that His heavenly Father was His first priority. So He could ask Mary and Joseph, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).*

Second., Jesus kept His eye on the Lord and wasn’t concerned what others said about Him. Scripture tells us in Luke 2:40 that “the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”

Third, Jesus set appropriate boundaries. When Mary came to Him at the wedding, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come’ ” (John 2:4). He set an appropriate boundary, yet still honored His mother.

The fourth lesson? Mary and Joseph were willing to follow God’s lead. They submitted to God’s will, and they knew “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), despite circumstances or disappointments.

Last but not least, Jesus’ brothers matured and grew. It may have taken time, but eventually His brothers were among His disciples, and it can be said of them, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord” (Eph. 5:8-10).

I hope the aforementioned editor is enjoying the luxurious, exotic getaway, because it will probably be the last one for a while. I know I will continue to “psychoanalyze,” but I am sure Brian will be glad to see the budget for self-help books decrease exponentially. I realize it’s probably time to stop feeling sorry for myself and acknowledge that God uses imperfect people from dysfunctional families in a fallen world to point the way to a perfect Savior. Jesus, His imperfect family, and all the other dysfunctional people in the Bible are meant to teach us important lessons about our loving God, who is eager and able to transform dysfunction into growth.

* All Scripture quotations have been taken from the the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Maike Stepanek is a stay-at-home mom from Bloemfontein, South Africa. She homeschools their two boys, Lukas and Markus, while her husband, Brian, works in IT to bring home the rolled oats.