Help Yourself...

First published October 2017

The Reverend John Chandler reflects on the role of self-help in furthering the needs of others as well as our own.

Flying away on holiday recently, we heard the usual safety announcement, including the words: “…and if oxygen masks are presented, fit your own mask before helping others, including children”. We know the reason, of course – we won’t be able to help anyone if we aren’t even breathing. But each time I fly, those words remind me of the need to be strong in myself and have all I need, if I’m going to be any use to other people.

Doing things for ourselves (meaning being internally resourceful) is good; doing things for ourselves (meaning for a selfish purpose) is less so! But in our modern world, advertisers seek to cash in on what they call the ‘me generation’ of people who seem to look only to their own wants and needs. And the question so often asked isn’t ‘what good would it do?’ but ‘what’s in it for me?’.

A self-service store used to mean we choose from the shelves, rather than having the proprietor serve us. Now it means we even operate the till – and the store gains most from that! Do-it-yourself can be very affirming, building our abilities as well as saving money, and there are many skills we can’t acquire without actually doing them: but even using ‘Teach Yourself’ books means we’re learning from the experience of others. Even self-help groups are facilitated so that we learn from the experience of those in a similar position. The fact is that we develop best as a community when we learn from others and share our skills with others.

Key to this approach is Jesus’ summary of the Ten Commandments – love God, and love our neighbour as we also love ourselves (Matthew 22:38-39). Jesus often had ‘me time’, going to a solitary place to pray, to build up Spiritual strength for times ahead – and he encourages us to do the same: ‘When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your heavenly Father’ (Matthew 6:6). Prayer like that strengthens us as individuals; prayer together strengthens the community. And being Spiritually strong is as important as being emotionally and physically strong, if we are to be fully effective as whole people.

I think we all know that, but perhaps it’s good to be reminded sometimes, so that we can take the initiative, build ourselves up and use our skills and energies to best effect.

Go on – help yourself!

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