Fiction as self-help: In His Steps

Originally published in 1897, In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon has an underlying storyline that is just as timely today as it was when written. Oh sure, some of the old-fashioned-ness is gone… but the question of “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?) remains. And yes, WWJD may have been a fad in the 1990’s but people were asking the question long before then.

You will notice the book (in the accompanying photo) is creased, cracked, and basically falling apart. That’s because I’ve read it at least a dozen times. I am not afraid or embarrassed to say it is my favorite fiction book of all time.

I must stop here and say: I am a gentle Christian. I won’t preach and I don’t broadcast from rooftops. I do my level best not to judge or condemn people. I believe that Jesus was a person of peace and love. (And truthfully, I struggle with all the junk that surrounds most religion. I call myself a Christian because it conveys my beliefs in a way that most people understand.) I consider faith to be a private matter and for that reason, won’t say more about it. I know you understand.  All that to say, it is a Christian book but is very gentle, like me! 🙂

From a self-help standpoint, it makes you think about what it means to be ethical and authentic. It asks:

Are you willing to step out and “do the right thing” when it interferes with your money, livelihood,  hobbies, relationships and/or life?

If you’re like me, you try. Day in and day out, you try. You smile, you tip, you let others go before you, you open doors… you do stuff. But what if you’re in a hurry yourself? What if it’s your last quarter? What if it’s inconvenient?

That is when the question is most important to answer, especially if your desire is to be the best person you can be… to family, friends, animals, the environment… and yes, strangers.

Our protagonist, Reverend Henry Maxwell, is presented with an opportunity to stretch and test his ethical boundaries and (also) his faith. He invites others on his journey — some join him, others decline. And that is the basis of our story. You will learn that each decision changed not only the person making it but others around them, as well.

You’ll have to remember that times have changed since the book was written. In our 24/7 anything-goes society, some of the concerns voiced are no longer issues. I notice this even over the last 25 years. For instance, my husband and I watch Murder She Wrote with our dinner and invariably, there is a blackmail plot or storyline about a character who fears their “secret” (an illegitimate child, their sexual orientation, or handicap, for example) will get out. These days, most people just don’t care. As it should be!

So, if you would like a wee kick in the hiney to get you thinking about what makes you tick (way deep down) look no further. There will be no homework or exercises or check-in’s… but there will moments when you sit back, close the book and ask yourself, “What would I do?” It’s also just a wonderful read.

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