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INTRODUCTION Helen Keller wrote in her autobiography,

"Literature is my Utopia. Here
barrier of the senses shuts me
discourse of my book friends.
barrassment or awkvmrdness".

I am not disfranchised. No
out from the sweet, gracious
They talk to me without em-

If she, sightless, could write in this fashion; how much more should we, sighted,
have some deep appreciation for the "gracious discourse of our book-friends". Again,
today, as was the case last Sunday, I want to introduce to you a new "book friend"
as the start of a sermon that grows out of that book.

When I first came across the title of this book on the best seller list, "How
To Be Your Own Best Friend", my reaction was somewhat negative. I think many of
us have grown skeptical of the 11 Hov1 To ••• " books. They can be scheming and self-
serving and would seldom qual"ify for the kind of literature that Helen Keller had
in mind. So this title sounded to me like a prescription for self-centeredness and
self-conceit. "How To Be Your Own Best Friend".

DEVELOPMENT But I kept hearing more about the book, until at length I finally
picked up a copy of it over at Gimbels and I think it has some

true and important things to say about self-regard. The book is quite short, and
it reflects the answers to a series of questions addressed to a husband and wife
team, Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz, both of whom have good credentials in
the reaL"ll of mental health. The tone of this book is very much in the tradition of
"I'm O. K. -You're 0. K." -though it's not as thoughtful and detailed as that book.

This little volume is not primarily a religious book, but it does have some
of its roots in the Bible. For example, it quotes the commandment, "You shall love
your neighbor as yourself" in support of the author's contention that a healthy self-
love is basic to any healthy love of others. And again, calling upon a person to
look within himself, it declares, "the kingdom is within you" -which reminds us of
Jesus when He said, "The Kingdom of God is within you". More than once, as I read
the book, I thought to rrwself that it's not far removed from what Jesus says. Con-
sider some of the main themes running through the book.

RESPONSIBLE FOR OURSELVES First, the book beams the message clear and strong
that we are responsible for ourselves. Quoting from it,

"To take responsibility for our lives means making a profound
change in the way we approach everything. We do everything
we can to avoid this change, this responsibility. We would
much rather blame someone or something for making us feel
unhappy than take the steps to make us feel better."

How true it is. The book points out that some people feel that their parents
treated them unfairly or unwisely as children, while others nurse a grievance at
some difficult circumstance that hurt them at some stage in life. And this is the
response of the authors:

"People feel very justified in their anger ••••• they may be right •••
but what they don't see is that they are now cheating themselves
as adults. As long as they spend their energies being angry at
the people who deprived them once, they won't spend their effort
on getting for themselves what they need now!"

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There is a comment in Emerson 1 s JOURNAL which is in the same spirit. He

"Henry Thoreau made, last night, the fine remark that, as long
as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his
way11 •

A person, I believe, can be his own worst enemy, and there is a fine sense in which
a person needs to learn something about being his own best friend.

There are, at least, three facts that determine individually what we are and
what we do with our lives. Heredity. Environment. And a personal response.
Heredity is our personal heritage. Environment is our personal set of circum-
stances for the days of our lives. Personal response is what individually we
create with the heritage and circumstances that are ours.

To be sure, heredity and environment are pov1erful factors in shaping our
lives, but they are not the sole factors. If they were, then people with fortunate
genes and ideal circumstances would invariably be strong and solid folk, while
people with blemished backgrounds and poor circumstances would invariably be weak
personal failures. And it 1 s never as clear-cut as that. There is this further
element of personal response - in which a person accepts responsibility for him-
self, his choices and devotes himself, with the grace of God, to making something
of worth out of his own life.

The hinge,, in the Parable of the ProdigalSSon, that turns the story from a
study in a young man's descent into irresponsible self-destruction fFeM '&H:!it to a
study in a young man's ascent into responsible personhood is one beief phrase in
the midst of that parable, "1Alhen he came to himself ••• 11 That is a great moment,
a decisive moment, in any person's life when he stops blaming his parents, or his
times, or any set of circumstances and acknowledges responsibility for his choices
and the shape of his life.

11 It 1s not what happens to a person; it's the person to whom it happens" so
goes an old saying. Well, it's both - but our danger ·is that we shall take
refuge under the cover of what happens to us, without accept responsibility for
the response of the person to whom it happens.

I feel this little book is very close to a gospel truth when it declares, "You
are free when you accept the responsibility for your choices".

COMPASSION FOR OURSELVES Second, beyond responsibil'ity for ourselves, we need
a measure of compassion for ourselves. To quote::.

"Part of the person is pushing himself down, but another
part 'is crying out that that's not where he belongs. It's
a question of having some compassion for yourself".

I don't think that I've ever heard 'it put just that way. Taken by itself, it
could be a rather dangerous doctrine •••• leading to self-pity •••• but building on a
foundation of responsibility for oneself, then "compassion" for oneself makes a
certain sense.

"Compassion" is a favor'ite word in the Christian vocabulary, but we generally
use it with reference to others ••••• compassion for the dovnn-trodden, the suffering,

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the sinner. But might there not be a place for a kind of compassion for oneself?
Wrote the questioner in this book,

"I can think of hundreds of times I've wanted to be wise and
thoughtful and mature and gracious and all those lovely things
and ended up acting like a brat!"

To which the author responds,

"But that's just what everybody does. Why don't you think about
the times you were wise and kind? Why remember and dwell on de-
feats instead of victories?"

A good question. So often we put ourselves down for failures and defeats of the
past, as though that 1-fere all 1ve ever had been, or ever could be.

One is reminded of that Gospel scene where Jesus first encountered Simon
Peter, the big fisherman, and called him to discipleship. Luke records Peter's
response as "depart from me, 16rd, for I am a sinful man •••• 11 But Jesus refused
to depart. And that kind of decisive encounter has happened again and again in
the course of the centuries. We are at first shamed by Jesus, because His
perfection seems to expose all of our imperfections. But sometimes He gets across
to us the message that every person is made in the image of God, that there is
something good in us, worth working on, and that with His help there can be more
growth and more goodness.

If we had parents whose love was wise, there were times when they corrected
us and disciplined us for our follies and our failures, but they also had a way
of letting us know of their love and their confidence in us. How much we owe to
parents if they could keep us from seeing ourselves simply as "not o. K. persons",
bp.t instead could lead us to a glimpse of ourselves as 11 0. K. persons". Or
teachers, or friends.

What our parents or partners or close friends have done for some of us are
all a hint of the saving, steadying prnver of Jesus Christ. He does not gloss over
our sins, and indeed insists that we be honest and repentant, but he keeps in-
sisting that there is something much more to us than our faults, that there is
also something uniquely good and promising in each of us, and He gives "power to
become the children of God".

These words from a recent article by Charles A. Shock in "The Christian Home"
support what we are saying in th'is regard:

"Made in God 1 s 'image, then, means an outlook of 1 I'm OK and
you're OK 1 • It means that·we are children of God's universe;
we have a right to be here! It means accepting the reality
that we are accepted by God, even when we judge ourselves to
be unacceptable. It means being set free to love, to hope,
to expect delightful surprises, and to celebrate the marvelous,
priceless gift of life".

Come to think of it, there is a beautiful way in which a person can have "compassion
for oneself".

A FREEDOM THAT CQI\iES ~VITH PROPER SELF-REGARD Finally, there is a k'ind of summary
theme to this book. It is that

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