On Self-Help Lists, GOD-Help Lists, and How I Succeeded Despite Math

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

For those who are reading this for the “How I Succeeded Despite Math” part, skip to “Real Life Math Story,” below. 


Recently, I viewed a number of  good “self-help” videos on strategies to overcome self-defeating thinking, one of my perennial New Year’s resolutions. It was easy to get caught up in presentation after presentation on the myriad ways and means to get a (mental) grip and get going.

A prominent feature of many such self-help features is list-making. Categories include gratitude, goal, and commitment lists that individuals use to help them not only overcome “stinking thinking” (and habits) but also fine-tune personal mission statements and even craft successful careers. Many who create and reference such lists attest to their significance as self-improvement agents.

You might call such personal inventories “power lists”. They help practitioners gain confidence and clarity while overcoming lies, mis-perceptions, and frustration. With the leftover energy and mental space there is then room for more creativity.


I viewed one such video recently where the presenter recommended looking at yourself in the mirror while making a series of statements starting with “I am proud that you…………”.*  “I am proud of taking the first step to transform my life for the better,” for example. “I am proud of going back to school despite my anxiety over college math,” for another–one of mine, actually, in days past. For an encouraging story of how this resolved in unexpected ways, see “Real Life Math Story,” below.

In a world that tends to take pride only in team or personal “bests” (despite what I hope is a soon-to-disappear fad to award medals for “leasts,” e.g., “participation”) and in a world that tends to equate self-pride with narcissism, it is an encouraging practice to note, if just to oneself, certain accomplishments that require one’s best efforts.

It can be a real boost to personal morale to take a minute to pat yourself on the back from time to time for a job well done even if no one else saw or recognized it–or if they did, they offered only criticism. I think here of single moms who do the extraordinary work of two people for little people who require all that we have to give and then some. Twenty-four/seven.

In a world full of accolades tainted by politics, power, and privilege, some of the greatest achievements frequently pass unnoticed. Yet, great they are and worthy to be acclaimed if just to encourage and motivate oneself to hang in there and/or accomplish more.

So I decided to take the motivational speaker’s suggestion. I looked myself square in the mirror and began a “I am proud….” list.

The bad news–but at the same time the good news–was that my focus immediately shifted.


Instead of completing my very first self-help sentence, “I am proud that you are getting better at overcoming the temptation to frequently put yourself down,” I automatically switched to another kind of list that I have been practicing for a long time, now, and with greater frequency.

You might say I suddenly switched to a “gratitude list”–for how God has helped me to stop focusing on failure–whether real or perceived.

Even as I was finishing the statement, this Scripture came to mind:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, NIV).

Next, a kind of “follow-up comment” came to mind from epistle-writer James regarding the real accuser of the brethren, as in Satan, who likes to insert anything (sometimes even people) into our lives to rob us of joy, confidence, faith, and hope via more condemnation:

Submit yourselves, then, to God,” wrote James, chapter 4, verse 7. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

(Note: this is not to be confused with deserved guilt that provides a different kind of opportunity to better oneself.)

So I was once again reminded that using not only the awareness of the Romans’ verse but also the “resistance weapon,” as it were, of the James’ verse is what fast-forwards efforts to the elimination of any joy-stealer, confidence-buster, faith-depleter, and hope-crusher, aka any idea that comes from the one who does NOT have our best interests, let alone our success, in his mind.

Indeed, Jesus, Who was without any bad habits, let alone sin, but yet Who was still tempted by the Accuser, used the Word of God, as it existed in His day, to defeat Satan.***

From practice over time overcoming self-condemnation using God’s “help lists,” I immediately, then, launched into my second “I am proud of…..” statement which also automatically switched to ” I am grateful for…” followed by Scripture back-up and explanation.

In other words, although I blew the self-help exercise, I reinforced the God-help exercise.

For me, the far greater importance of this realization is explained in yet another verse:

The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning (first principle) of wisdom (to know the All Holy), 
And the knowledge (in the highest sense) of the Holy One is understanding .(discernment, truth…the object of knowledge). **

In other words: revering God=wisdom=truth. And, here is another one of those Scriptures that springs to mind even as I type this: (and) you will know the truth and the truth will make you free (John 8:32, NASB).

Citing yesterday’s post, it all starts here: by “turning”–or “returning”–to God (“favoring,” as the word is defined), because He, then, “favors” us. In this case, He favors us with truth–and wisdom regarding how to employ it–a real boost to joy, confidence, faith, and hope.

So although I failed one exercise, I was excited to see that I had “passed” another, that is to say, I more quickly remembered the Source of the knowledge that I need.

I guess you might say, though, I am proud of myself for improving my memory! But of greater importance to me is what I am remembering. Read on.


As one becomes more familiar with the Word of God one realizes that the verses are more than just helpful thinking or handy aphorisms.

They actually have power.

Which is likely why the Bible, of all religious texts, receives chronic opposition and is usually banned outright when despots take power. But that’s another post.

We see this in the power of God’s Word to end Satan’s temptation of Jesus. But consider, also, the following list of just three more of the “powers” inherent in God’ Word, courtesy of the King James version:

Hebrews 4:12For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Read: want help getting at the root of a problem? Getting past confusion? Cognitive dissonance? Normalcy bias?)

Romans 10:17So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Read: want to know how to increase your faith in not only yourself but also in God–the original power source, literally, in all its manifestations and dimensions?)

2 Timothy 3:16All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness… (Read: want to know where to find the ways and means to conquer even the most stubborn strongholds of bad habit and sin, confusion and frustration? Want to meet the REAL God sans spin? To know the original meaning of love?)

But my favorite in light of the subject of helping oneself, whether mentally, physically, psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually, is this:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philppians 4:13, NKJV)

Repeat that item on the list of powerful words inspired by God daily, at will, and see what powerful changes might be wrought not just for a new year, but for a new eternity.


As much as I  appreciate and do employ some of the suggestions of self-help experts who are the world’s cheerleaders, if you will, I have come to seek out God’s help more and more as these “end of the Church age”  days becomes darker and more dangerous. I am spending more and more time listing His Words, as it were, in my mind and heart not only for their inherent wisdom but also for their inherent power.

Power that even our arch-enemy knows–and heeds.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of the God-help plan by making a list of His power-filled Words, here is a good place to start:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16, NASB).


Just by way of an encouraging anecdote for those who think there are certain insurmountable events, people, or circumstances that you believe do–or would–make it impossible for you to accomplish what you really believe is your destiny/calling/purpose to accomplish, here’s my story about the “m” word. Here’s how I made it through both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE ONE COLLEGE MATH CLASS.

So you see, ladies and gentlemen, there IS a God…

As noted above, I am one of those who “hates math.” Well, I hate the (geometry) that my graduate-student high school math teacher “taught,” which wasn’t teaching so much as running at warp-speed ahead of the class at large with about five gifted math students.

When one or more of the rest of us of the unwashed masses raised a hand in total confusion over some new theorem or postulate (that word still sounds like a symptom of some disgusting disease to me) whatever she was scratching furiously on the blackboard, she waved us off with, “Oh, just pay better attention; you’ll get it.”



After awhile, I scrounged around and found myself a tutor and barely made it through the rest of the year. I found the dimensions of geometry interesting because I love metaphor, but not the particulars. And I had absolutely loved algebra…letters inferring numbers was elegant…like poetry, almost…

But back to geometry.

When the year in Miss Mathgenius’ class ground to its painful conclusion (me, barely passing), THAT, I told myself, was the end of math for Phyllis.

Then I get this all-inclusive scholarship for college. I started in one major and changed to another after a year–NEITHER OF WHICH INCLUDED MATH IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM IN THE TITLES OF THE REQUIRED CLASSES. Yet, I had to include some college math in my total coursework to finish.



I quit after three years, just before having to officially declare a major and take, you guessed it, math. Goodbye, all-expenses paid, full-ride scholarship.


Sad. I know.

But the math…

Fast forward about twenty years when, as I was considering finishing my B.A. but still dreading the “m” word, I discovered an opportunity to finish my bachelor’s degree in a program that allowed a student to substitute, say, a computer information system class or a geology class for math (insert, here, sound of angelic choir filling the universe with a triumphant Hallelujah Chorus).

I knew right then and there, there is truly a God. He reigns on high. He gets it about people and math–and math genius’ who are nevertheless bad math teachers.

So I cleared the B.A.

Then I realized that to achieve my next goal of teaching at the college level, I would need a master’s degree.

I had already been teaching in several settings where only a B.A. was required, so I knew I loved the job. It was just………just…….that to get into graduate school, one normally had to take the……..the……….


GRADUATE RECORD EXAM (G.R.E.) that includes……well, you know by now……

I quickly made a list of “daily affirmations” (what self-help experts called the lists back then) such as “I CAN succeed in math,” “I LOVE math,” “GOD invented math so it MUST be good,” “Right?”…”Anybody?…” and practiced them until my brain was raw and my throat, hoarse.

Nevertheless, as the date approached wherein I would have to schedule the test, I still experienced the knot in my stomach, the fear shredding my nerve endings one by one, and the cold, hard, empty feeling inside my psyche where the word “math” is lodged.



I finally had to take a big risk: lay out my entire faith in God and believe that if HE wanted me to have a master’s degree HE would have to do a miracle.

Either I would suddenly acquire math ability, or just maybe there was another program out there that did not include….well, you know.

And here is one of the main reasons I know GOD did want me to teach college classes. For the second time, I “just happened to come across” (many believers will recognize the words in quotation marks as words of Divine Origin) a degree program that not only did NOT require the G.R.E., it did NOT require ANY math classes to complete. At a well-known, fully accredited university, too.

The two-year experience was challenging, of course, and required innumerable papers. But I CAN do papers that involve words, even words about math (as long as there are no postulates and theorems). And I cleared my degree with a 3.96.

(I fully realize there are some of you out there now who may have to resist envy, seriously, at my extraordinarily good fortune of “finding” not one, but two college degree programs from accredited universities with respectable rankings THAT DID NOT REQUIRE MATH to enter or to complete.

But I write about this to encourage you that whatever God has planned for you in the way of education, career, family, relationships, or anything else, HE will help you find a way to accomplish. Remember? “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” That applies to you, too. AND, God is very creative in answering prayers. Keep your mind and heart open, is all, and read the verses.)

Oh. And. Ironically, one of the things that I now teach from time to time is–math, of all things, to help GED candidates and other students preparing for college entrance exams. Granted, I teach only levels one and two (the basics) BUT if I could go back and have a word or five hundred words with my high school geometry teacher, I would tell her there are INNUMERABLE ways to teach math not ONLY to the gifted students, but to those just like I was: better in other subjects but still able to comprehend math IF a teacher is  willing to explore more than one way of presenting the information.

I forgive her, though.

It’s one thing to “do” math; it’s another thing to “do” teaching. Each occupation is a challenging and rewarding career–and skill set–of its own. Just a little footnote for those who still think the derogatory insult, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” has any merit.




I have one more “real life math story” that I tell to every math class I teach by way of more encouragement.

I have a brother with fifteen patents on subjects related to very high-tech stuff I can hardly pronounce let alone understand.

His story is that if it were not for a good teacher HE had while HE prepped for his college placement test, he would NOT have passed the test, thus would not have been able to enter college and enter into a career that is now in the world-class category.

Although I do not comprehend his inventions, I do know they have enabled each of us in our day-to-day lives to employ certain essential technologies that would otherwise not exist. That includes your life, my life and the lives of  doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs, as it were, and, yes, even math teachers’ lives.

I love irony like this.

So you be encouraged, too.


*From Lisa Nichols’ work

**From Proverbs 9:10, NASB, exposition from the Interlinear Bible.

*** See Matthew 4:1-11 for the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

This entry was posted in Commentaries, encouragement in hard times, end times news, end times spiritual survival, most recent posts, spiritual survival, spiritual transformation, survival tools and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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