One of my regular habits is checking, by internet or by telephone, the balances on my financial accounts. Depending on the service, a pleasant voice guides me through fairly clear prompts and gives me the results I want. As one of our comedians used to ask, “Is this a great country or what?”

This prompted me to ask in what condition are my cultural, emotional, relationship and spiritual balances? What is the “internet” for this kind of information?

Honest self-examination is the first step. The key word is “honest.” Too often we play the game that Jesus confronted, “How do you expect to take a toothpick from your neighbor’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (That’s my translation of the sermon on the mountain quote.) Vicious criticism is not helpful; yet many of us turn that toward others and use much gentler methods for ourselves. I can’t change any concept, idea or problem that I’m not willing to admit. That’s the place to start. Sometimes that’s not enough.

Honest friendship is a wonderful gift. Of course, I have to trust my friend with an accurate description of my need and then be willing to accept his reflection of what I’ve said. A really good friend will express the truth but without critical judgment. That feedback can be very helpful to balance what I can’t see in myself as easily.

Small groups are often very helpful in the human growth process. Many times when leading personal therapy groups I have heard people acknowledge what they felt like being in a caring church was like. Not all church groups do well at keeping confidences, but they do beat living in loneliness and pain.

Personal prayer times also help us to learn about ourselves. The greatest gift the living Christ promised to His followers when He ascended into heaven was the Holy Spirit. By description, the Advocate (another name for the Spirit) is defined as “one called alongside to help.” Seeing the spiritual nature of an issue can be the most liberating experience in one’s life.

Finally, reading good self-help books can bring insights into our hearts and minds. The best-selling book of all time is the Bible. A modern translation like the American Standard, the New King James, or paraphrased works like the Living Bible or The Message are good places to start. Classes in Biblical understanding can also be very helpful.

The suggestions here are: be honest with yourself, listen to caring friends you respect, confess your needs to God and listen to His answers internally or in the pages of His book and those who have written to explain His love. It can’t hurt, and you might be surprised how much it helps.

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as the president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is a Canton resident.

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