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Love is Beyond Self-Help Promises and Fantasies

By Ernesto Tinajero

Here is an excerpt from my memoir “With Love” about finding the true meaning of love during my son’s medical trials. 

I write this in preparation for Valentine’s Day when we turn our thoughts to love.

I confronted the questions of faith as a beginner. I still do. Jesus was more than simply a ticket to heaven, as Jesus has called me friend. The questions came at seminary. I began to slowly live into these questions of who Jesus is for me and finding Jesus within the context of my life.

As I moved more into an intellectual as wells as spiritual encounter with God, I recalled my former life and the seduction of the sirens of self help. The good life began to take shape as I continued to pray and read and encounter my God with my whole mind, body and spirit. I looked back at the other answers.

Yes, libraries are full of books promising the secret, how-to guides, and books, which even make Scripture into a tool for our desires. Before my encounter with Jesus in the New Mexico high desert, I searched within these guides to find what was missing in my life. Sometimes it filled me with confidence and the advice came through on its promise, but it was still fool’s gold.

Vacationing with my family on the clear  Mexican beach over 15 years ago, I was filled with some self help advice, and took a risk by approaching two woman in their twenties. I was lonely and the book promised my desires for company. Soon, the advice paid off and they become interested in me. Yet, in my victory of impressing them, something felt empty. The tools were working. I established rapport by mirroring their actions. I asked the right questions; they laughed and found me funny, but a wall arose between us. Love was missing. Even as I kissed and made out with the prettier one later that night, something crumbled with the advice. Yes, the techniques work, but without presence, love disappeared. Lips without caring become bitter. Love was what I needed.

But what is love? The promised power, money, success and freedom are all part of the sales pitch of the self help industry, but without love, power becomes inert, success becomes failure, money empty and freedom becomes its own golden cage. The truth was that love was missing for me during my time on the beach. These books told me to love myself. They told me to trust my desires for success and money. They lack what Jesus gave. Love based on his forgiveness and his cross. His grace differs.

Love differs. Love differs from what those self help guides promise. How many of us have bought into this spiritual snake oil? Click your heels three times, close your eyes, and tell the universe or God your heart’s desire; pray the right prayer to God and the universe or God, white wand in hand, grants you your deepest desires. Lonely? Need a mate? Need riches? Need fame? These books proudly proclaim that Dr. Faustus lives and your desires are within your reach. Forget Jesus’ Gospel, they entice with good consumer fantasies.

I read books on how to gain power and creating rapport complete with an Oprah endorsement. I read about how to read people’s eyes, all to manipulate them for what I wanted. I wanted accepting eyes and they promised how to manipulate to get my desires, but you have to don a mask to make them work. Their only price was forgoing love. For in calculating the use of the tools promoted, we have to forgo actually being with others. Only when we dwell with one another as Jesus dwells with us can we hope love finds us.

To be fair, their techniques do work. I did get more dates using some of their tools, but not love. I got to make out on the beach with a pretty young school teacher from Seattle, but neither of us cared for each other, because we didn’t know each other. We just practiced a game, nothing more. We passed the time to abate our shared loneliness.

What does it matter if one gets a steady stream hot and cold shower of fulfilled desires like money and success if it fails to bring love? What does it mean to gain the whole world at the cost of love? Jesus gave the answer. The self help books sells a fantasy. For love means something different from what lays under the covers, in our bank accounts or in the heads of strangers. Connection means more than a hook-up. Freedom means move than doing want you desire. Love means so much more.


About Ernesto Tinajero

Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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