Unhelpful Self-Help

cover of Aunt Erma's Cope BookI recently reread Aunt Erma’s Cope Book. (Erma Bombeck, first published 1979) It’s a hilarious send-up of that time when self-help books first became the rage. Her chapter titles play off then-popular books (like the famous Passages, which she parodies as “Packages”). And she throws in some made-up titles, like “How to Face a Visit from Your Mother on 1200 Calories a Day”! She covers fitness, astrology, marriage, finances, family, career, worth . . . And of course, she fails miserably as she moves from advice to advice, while her friends seem to sail along.

Here, almost 40 years after Erma’s revelations about self-help, we find ourselves in an endless stream of books/seminars to find our “real self” or the key to a dream job or the secret of a perfect relationship or what our personality types deserve. The information seems so authoritative, it can make us feel unworthy, victimized, always searching, discontent, missing out . . .

Sometimes the self-help bottom lines don’t even line up with Scripture’s teaching on who we are and what God’s path is. It strikes me that our search for our skills/passions/dreams/whatever might best be “self-helped” by starting with the Bible’s repeated instruction of “obey the Lord’s commands and don’t be afraid.” (Ex: Joshua 1:6-9) If we aim for that—first—won’t that keep us busy? And mightn’t a lot of the rest fall into place, with the Lord himself (not MYself) handling the secondary arranging?

In the end, Erma pretty much throws everything out and just decides to simply be herself (without even figuring out what that is). Her sarcastic-ish evaluation of the somewhat-less-than-helpful books has a lot of truth amidst all the laugh-out-louds. So I rank this as the #2 self-help book, with the Bible forever as #1.


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