Free from Self = Free to be Myself

I’ve been blogging in my head for weeks.

Funny how the posts never show up here when I do it that way.

The other day I finished reading another Eugene Peterson non-fiction book, Traveling Light. It’s his articulate-as-usual commentary on the book of Galatians. And (no surprise to me now) it’s excellent.

While there are gems throughout the book, the final chapter struck me hard and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the ideas since. So much of faith is mystery, and the deeper I walk with Jesus the greater is the mystery. Yet it is not a confusing, messy mystery but a source of awe and a deep assurance that everything works together. For good. It’s the kind of feeling that comes from so deep inside that I can’t quite pinpoint it, but rises up like the excitement of anticipating a trip to Europe or eating a dark chocolate truffle. It makes me smile because even though I have and will experience times of doubt, ultimately I know it’s true.

But I’m not ready to write about the last chapter’s topic yet. It’s too late to start that. So I’ll quote instead from the chapter called “Free to Give.” In it, Peterson explains how freedom from self is true freedom: freedom to be more truly ourselves (seems a contradiction, but it’s not).

“He who sows to his own flesh” is the person absorbed in himself, in herself. This way of life is encouraged by greedy advertisers, self-indulgent celebrities and self-help psychologists. Obsession with self necessarily pushes others to the sidelines and assigns them the rule of validating my self-esteem. “How do I look? How am I doing?” It is not, though, by using people but by serving them that we increase our freedom. An admiring audience is a necessary adjunct to the person who “sows to his own flesh” since there is so little to be gleaned from such meager acreage. A person all wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.

(Man, I love this guy’s prose!)

Selfishness often disguises itself with the designation “self-sufficiency.” It is laudable, is it not, to feel good about oneself and take care of oneself? And if I am forever meddling in someone else’s life, I am probably in danger of encouraging dependency and sloth, robbing them of the delights of taking charge of their own lives. Henry Fairlie sees through the deception. He rightly discerns that for most people taking care of the self first is a “denial of one’s need for community with others, which is in fact a form of selfishness, since it is always accompanied by a refusal of one’s obligation of community with others. The steps from a reasonable self-concern to an utter selfishness are short and swift. Most of the prescriptions for ‘self-actualization’ today are rationalizations for an aggressive self-centeredness and, in some of their forms, for violent aggression by one’s self against other selves that get in the way. If it is not aggression it is manipulation and the end is always the same; always striking or maneuvering to take first place.”

It’s hard to stop quoting this man. After this section (which is aptly titled “Manacles to the Spirit”) he presents an opposite approach which I cannot quote now but perhaps I will take up this post again tomorrow.


One Response

  1. Wow, great stuff!

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