Eight and a half billion dollars. Anyone have a guess what $8.5 billion might buy in today's world?
Solid guesses are the cost of J.P. Morgan's financial loss under the leadership of Jamie Dimon, the cost of the 2012 presidential election, or the cost of pulling our troops out of Afghanistan.
Add up the cost of books, CDs, audiocassettes, infomercials, motivational speakers, videos, multi-media packages, public seminars, workshops, holistic institutes, personal coaching, yoga retreats and the latest diet fad purchased in the United States over the past year and $8.5 billion accumulates quickly. It is the market value for self-improvement products.
Imagine how surprised Epicetus, a first century Roman stoic philosopher, would be to learn this $8.5 billion figure.
Epictetus, a lame ex-slave, taught the Romans that our society is all to quick to go to "external" fixes, rather than engage the difficult internal work. We "buy" solutions, because we can't take the burden of soul work. But do you think he could have imagined $8.5 billion?
We've all bought in with our wallets. But even more so, we've sold our inner reserves of sensibility and strength.
With this blog, I want to tuck into your pocket 10 words that will keep you from spending the next $10 on self help: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
These 10 words lead us through every single developmental stage and offer an infinite source of wisdom and strength. We can listen in and locate our own situations at any point along this sentence.
I describes the first glimpse of a new being with a unique identity -- that miraculous life knit together in the mother's womb. This is the precious and irreplaceable weight of a new baby in your arms.
I can is the toddler's first steps, first words, first tumbles. Picture that toddler at the park stumbling and tumbling along in joy. They can walk and talk and connect.
I can do is all of the things we celebrate about the best of youth who are filled with passion for adventure, service, mission and learning.
I can do all reminds us of our idealistic young adult days. All things were possible. A world wide open. No constraints. A future to live into with hope, not cynicism. This is why we love to listen to commencement speeches -- because they speak to a community of young adults with potential and idealism.
I can do all things takes us to those moments when life becomes routine. Things are marked by the weekly trash take-out. Things can fill the calendar and the laundry basket, but not always the heart and soul.
I can do all things through reminds us of the resilience by which we get through the tough parts of life. We get through cancer treatment, we get through lay offs, we get through addiction, we get through the funeral, we get through relationships where alienation is painful and reconciliation impossible. Remember that old story, "Going on a Bear Hunt" -- you can't go under it, can't go around it -- you gotta go through it. But we sure need help on that journey. So we need that seventh word -- Christ.
I can do all things through Christ gives us the strength that we are never alone. Christ: companion, savior, redeemer, friend, nourisher, healer and teacher who is with us to the very end.
I can do all things through Christ who reminds us of those moments when we question who is this Christ? Who is this resurrected one who calls me by name? Who is he, and who is he calling me to be? This is the place where we pray for belief, but struggle with moments of unbelief.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens allows us to look back on a life's journey and see the saving grace of Christ along the way who brought strength to sustain all things. This is the down in your bones faith deeply engrained even in the strain of circumstance.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The 10 words come full circle, back to me. Our identity is made complete from womb to grave by the presence of Christ who continually saves. This is not a journey culminating in "me." This journey is about Christ who calls us into our very best selves for the service of the gospel in a world aching for our very best.
Perhaps these 10 words are best seen as a place to begin praying. Perhaps they are a breath prayer for running, swimming, meditating or even falling asleep. They might be balm to share with a friend enduring chronic pain or navigating a difficult breakup. Inhale, I can do all things. Exhale, through Christ who strengthens me.
Or perhaps they are words to read along until one stands out in bold. For example, you might start by saying one word at a time -- I, can, do, all, things -- until you find the word that resonates where you are today. Things? Meetings. Hospital visits. Soccer practice carpool. Dishes. Phone calls. Each of these invite a prayer for strength in purpose.
Or, perhaps the words are a cross. The horizontal line represents all the interactions on the horizon of your day, I can do all things. The vertical line shows the divine dimension intersecting our path and providing surprising strength, through Christ who strengthens me. At the intersection of those two lines crossing is the place where God is at work in your life today.
These words are not a magic wand nor an instant fix. These words will not replace necessary medication or treatment. But they do offer a resource for inner strength, beyond your own, to provide stamina through the wisdom of Christ in life's journey.
Save your money from the self-help industry. Send your ten dollars to a mission agency that serves this broken world. And instead, may these ten words guide you through every age and stage of life.
An early version of this article appeared on the "Call and Response" blog of the "Faith and Leadership" online magazine.