While being on paternity leave I managed to sneak in the reading of a few books. I will share about several of them in the next few weeks and months, but the first one I want to write about is Timothy Keller’s little 46 pager The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (kindle version is only $1.99). I want to start with it because I am literally going to read it once a month until Christmas if not longer (he actually has a book on Christmas coming out soon) and I think most anyone could benefit from some time spent with this book.
The book has three little sections: The freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (why one would desire it), the transformed view of self (what life-peace and interactions look like for the Christian who embraces humility, and how to get that transformed view of self (assuming you are still reading and would like to embrace a more relaxed and peaceful you and interact with other with more acceptance,) here’s how.
Keller puts the notion of self-forgetfulness or humility into historical context, “up until the twentieth century, traditional (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all evil in the world.” Today, in a prove your value culture where seemingly everyone wants to be noticed, we see the matter differently (a lot of what is posted on social media being the proof positive). This inversion comes at a cost, “spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find those big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” Keller warns, “trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not the answer.” You see, sometimes you lose the job because the company closes, sometimes your loved ones (or you) get sick, sometimes governments go to war with each other, sometimes mother nature doesn’t co-operate, we aren’t nearly as in control as we may like to think we are and when our identity is rooted in power and self-confidence we will find ourselves with nothing left and nowhere to turn when these things happen. And we know bad things will happen.
We’ve all been in conversations with people who are really only interested in boosting themselves up by talking to us, up in their own eyes, and they hope, in our eyes too. I am as guilty of doing this as the next person (which is part of why a book like this is so valuable to me). People like me desire recognition and worth and we seek it wherever it can be found, often finding it only momentarily. Maybe it’s just me.
Many of us live, according to Keller, as though every day we are on trial and a verdict lasts only a short while (what have you done for me lately? You’re only as good as your last at-bat, etc.). This is how many religions function, and many Christians too. But we shouldn’t if we are reading our bibles well. Christianity recognizes that the verdict is in and thanks to Jesus the verdict, is in our favor. This may lead performance on our part, we may feel free to give away money or time, to shower the marginalized with love and affection because of the stature we find in Christ, but salvation comes not from the actions we may be inspired to perform. As Keller puts it, “because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build my resume. I do not have to do things to look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them.” Isn’t that liberating? As someone as prone to posting “perfect family” Facebook posts as anyone else, I wonder how often I truly enjoy the moment I am in while I am in it.
Competition happens everywhere. We all have rankings in our heads that we care about. None of us benefit from those rankings, regardless of where we place ourselves in them.
I want to be reminded of that, I want to think more about how all of this plays out in my interactions with church-folks, with other pastors, with my wife and kids.
And I want to be reminded monthly, “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, and ‘you are beloved child in whom I am well pleased’. Live out of that.” Because I think it will help me be a better pastor, friend, father, and husband.