When I was younger, my family spent a lot of time on Jekyll Island.
One of the stories I remember hearing in those days was about a man named Harry Slicer. He had been a successful businessman who decided that he would leave the corporate life and move to the coast. He sold his business and acquired a shrimp boat, happily trading his three-piece-suit for overalls and a pair of rubber boots.
One day the news came that Slicer and his boat had been lost in a terrible storm, and his body was never found. As time went on, however, rumors began to surface: Harry Slicer was not dead, but alive and well, and working on the Alaska pipeline. Or, Harry Slicer had made his way to South America and was mining for gold.
There were several variations, but all involved some new life that Slicer had created for himself, and the whole thing sounded wild and romantic. Who doesn’t dream from time to time of just chucking everything and starting over?
There is something inside the human heart that longs for life to be different. So people pack up and move, like Harry Slicer, figuring “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,” as the song goes. Or they boot out the old spouse and get a new one, assuming the other person is the obstacle to happiness. This impulse is also what fuels the never-ending stream of self-help books and videos, all promising that we can re-invent ourselves.
The problem is not one of geography or careers or life partners, as though a new setting and a new job and a new sidekick will fix things. And while the promoters of self-help materials have correctly diagnosed what needs to be fixed, their prescription is flawed.
If a really reliable self-help manual existed, would there be any continuing demand for new ones?
Our longing for a new life is genuine, but we stubbornly fail to acknowledge that we cannot make the real and lasting change in ourselves that we need.
The good news, however, is that there is One who freely offers us that new life. As Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold! all things are made new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
When you’re truly ready for change, don’t follow Harry Slicer; follow Jesus Christ.
THE REV. ED REES IS THE PASTOR OF ST. ANDREW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.