Secular psychology is the unpaid debt of the church. Always getting it almost right; plausibly true; a set of straight sixes just missing a perfect seven. Counterfeits.
What's a nice Christian girl like you doing in a secular support group, I quizzed Susie's animated praise of her new psychology find-"Affirmations." She was getting traction with some personal problems of long standing, she replied, heading toward wellness after years in a dark tunnel.
"Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better"-That would be an example of an affirmation, this hackneyed one credited to 19th-century hypnotist Emile Coué.
I poked around on the web and it turns out I'm the last person in any people group to know about affirmations. Sports coaches, sales professionals, performance experts, weight-loss gurus, and millionaire wannabes are up on this technique to achieve personal goals by a new twist on positive thinking.
It's all very scientific (something to do with the Reticular Activating System of the brain stem and the mid-brain amygdala that produces neuro-chemicals), but in layman's terms it boils down to the dictum that people behave as they believe.
"Science is finally entering the Spiritual Age," boasts an ad for Sculptor 3, a computer software affirmation product. But most versions, including Susie's, use only paper and pen. You pick a goal, formulate an affirmative statement about it, and write it in your journal. Examples: "I am a confident person." "I am slim and beautiful; I eat only when I'm hungry."
The next step is crucial. Nothing you tell yourself only once will have any impact in changing your behavior. Repetition is key. Say "I am a confident person" when you wake in the morning, and "I am a confident person" when you go to bed, and "I am a confident person" at intervals throughout the day. Say it out loud. Affirmations work, boasts one booster, "because the subconscious mind cannot differentiate between reality and suggestions." Lovely.
We are all chatterboxes by nature, chattering silently to ourselves the livelong day, not so much in linear stream-of-consciousness as in tight little narratives. If you think about it, affirmations are just clipped stories, and we all live in stories. If you are reading this essay and breathing, you inhabit one story or other. It's either a true story or a lie.
For a Christian there is one true story: God loves you and has proved it by sending His Son to die so you can share in His glory. Say, try that one on when you wake in the morning, and when you go to bed at night, and at intervals throughout the day. Say it out loud. Plug into that glorious narrative all the disparate data of the day-your fender bender, your lumbago, your irascible new boss.
The secular affirmation literature promises, "Ultimately, the affirmation will dominate over the previous beliefs, values, or identity trait in the person's subconscious and will automatically produce the corresponding behavior." Nay, not automatically. Prayer and meditation on God's Word are effective not mechanically but because by them we apprehend "the living God."
I once complained I was depressed and a brother said, "I have three words for you: worship, worship, worship." He meant I should banish lie-based thinking with a muscular meditation on God's character, His blessings, His promises. And guess what, veni, vidi, vici, I testify that the blues flee as often as I offer sacrifices of praise. "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind," said brother Paul (Romans 12:2), who never heard of clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas D. Yarnell and his "Affirmations for Personal Growth and Self Improvement."
Why did Susie have to learn from the heathens the value of affirmations? Is it not because miserable non-Christians are wont to stumble on adumbrations of truth while the children of God, unaware they are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17), are ignorant of their own great riches? Let me henceforth name and claim and sue for every affirmation in the Word of God. Why go to strange cisterns when the waters flow abundantly from our own well?