On Our Bookshelf: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

This short little book, written by Timothy Keller, has become a favorite recommendation of mine the last few years. Although it is only three chapters and can be read in about 45 minutes, it is packed with profound truth for everyone. It is what I believe to be a sermon offering a cure for the emptiness, pain, busyness and fragility of our own egos—ourselves in essence. 

Keller challenges the notion low self-esteem is the blame for much of society’s ills although he asserts we are all injured in this area. His solution is taken from the Apostle Paul and is most-definitely counter-cultural. In a society that has an inflated sense of self, we are frequently told the answer is in ourselves and we can know all things and be all things—in-fact we should know better and be better and our significance will grow as we inflate ourselves. This mindset has in my humble opinion produced a great deal of futile striving and as a result it’s nearly impossible to be content AND accept pain and/or setbacks. Have you ever noticed how frustrated people are these days? This idea has also produced a growing epidemic of narcissism. 

Keller writes in the first chapter, “The ego often hurts. That is because it has something incredibly wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself—it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated.” And so we enlist all of our resources to promote and attend to ourselves. The book highlights the exhausting and painful way we go about self-building from comparing to boasting. 

The book isn’t in any way a human put-down! His motive is in-fact to build us up but in a way that does not perpetuate our unhappiness (including the many ways we try to treat our unhappiness).  

Chapter two highlights Paul’s way of thinking. He no longer worries about how other’s judge him (whether he is somebody or not somebody). In fact, he does not even judge himself! This is not about denying our guilt or our shortcomings and it isn’t about putting others down in order to build oneself up. 

Keller writes about gospel-humility meaning “I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.” I love the point Keller seems to make that self-hating and self-loving are both ineffective and probably destructive attempts to soothe the self. 

As you are reading this you might feel this sounds too idealistic—even unreachable. I would encourage you to read the book because it is none of that. Chapter three helps us begin this process of coming to know our value without the distortions of our own self-condemning OR self-inflating. It is certainly rooted in a life-changing, life-saving Gospel Truth. 

The message pulls our focus from how we measure up or how well we perform and provides a different and liberating reason to live. Enjoy! 

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