by Timothy Keller
One of the joys of my holiday reading was this relatively short book by Tim Keller. He addresses the very relevant issue of low self-esteem, saying that the real issue is our ego which needs to be controlled, not allowed to control us.
The natural condition of the human ego is empty, painful, busy and fragile. The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. We therefore get no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.
We also sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can’t be hurt! It is the ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine! It is my ego that hurts.
He concludes that 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 an answer.
He uses Paul as an example of someone who learnt how to control his ego and therefore deal with self-esteem issues.
“His sins and his identity are not connected. He refuses to play that game. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity. He will not make a connection. Neither does he see an accomplishment and congratulate himself. He sees all kinds of sins in himself – and all kinds of accomplishments too – but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity. So, although he knows himself to be the chief of sinners, that fact is not going to stop him from doing the things that he is called to do.”
“His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. He is talking about humility – although I hate using the word ‘humility’ because this is nothing like our idea of humility. Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself any more.”
We have to get to the point where we stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with ourselves. In fact, we stop thinking about ourselves. This is “The freedom of self-forgetfulness” in the title of the book. The ego is just like our toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.
When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change.
He concludes that the only way to achieve this freedom is through the gospel of Jesus. It is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance. In Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict.
The verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.
An excellent little book, full of encouragement and I found it helpful and challenging at so many levels. I am trying to forget about myself more, keep my ego in check!
Buy The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness from Amazon
Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton. He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.