Throughout the fellows program, I have grown in numerous ways, but perhaps most pronounced would be my development in the ways of self-forgetfulness. A unique trait, and oft overlooked, it has paved the way forward into deeper contentment. Additionally, in the eyes of C.S. Lewis, this was a central element of humility, and I have found his assessment entirely correct. Instead of forcing yourself into a constricting moralism, you simply release your grip of yourself. I’ve found humility to be less about groveling and abasement, and more about divesting yourself of the role of judge and appraiser.
I’ve become far better at celebrating the abundance in my own life and it the lives of others through the practice, as difficult and unnatural as it has been, of self-forgetfulness. The other eight fellows have been fantastic examples in this regard, helping me to see value in each situation, each person, and pointing out things that I would have overlooked simply because I didn’t see them as worthy of mention. Because of their excellence in this, I’ve made a concerted effort to pay greater attention to details of every sort. People become far more interesting when you allow them to be. And I had been cheating myself out of the very intimacy I craved because I was demanding it without being responsible for the self-discipline and inner-transformation it requires, both to give myself freely to another, and to receive whatever response is given in return. It is hard to develop resilience and be prepared for any reaction, however unfavorable, but it is good. A note in my phone reads thus: “NOTICE AND COMPLIMENT”. Since I’ve felt so noticed, appreciated, and truly known, particularly by the fellows, it has become exhilarating to respond to them and everyone else in the same way. I look forward to discovering new things about them and am eager to speak it aloud.
Competition, though unfortunately still a common recourse, has lost the dominance it once had. When focused on myself, I have no choice but to connect every encounter, every conversation, to myself, and then leverage it for my benefit. As it happens, this creates a destabilizing restlessness that eclipses everything short of fervent praise for my accomplishments, meaning I’ll miss endless pieces of quality conversation that would undoubtedly enrich me. I couldn’t overhear anything without immediately processing it to see if it posed a threat to my standing, or if it would make achieving my goals, reaching my ends, more difficult. If so, I would be sent into a panic. If you have done this too, you know the exhaustion.
Discovering strength in social settings has come only through the rejection of my ego; truly, a death to the part of myself that insists on manipulation and self-promotion. It’s grueling to let it rule, and it’s antithetical to freedom. And the path to freedom is not easy. It takes more courage than I ever imagined to willfully forget about yourself, and then accept the possibility of everyone else forgetting you as well. That thought scares me more than almost anything in the world. So I’ve struggled with sweat and tears to make myself unforgettable. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. It’s a full-time job and more.
Though being utterly forgotten and abandoned by earthly companions is likely improbable and absurd for most, it raises an interesting question: were it so, would you trust the Master to break your fall and catch you? That degree of faith is required to be fully free of the despotism of self-absorption. That’s right, despotism. Though we endlessly look out for our own interests, presumably to better our situation, in the present and future, we are cruel to ourselves in how we pressure and constrict all inner-activity, funneling it through the narrow filter of selfishness. So much is lost: joy, peace, contentment, curiosity, empathy, etc. And we lose the delight of God.
There are enough task-masters out there to make me feel worthless and depressed as it is. I do not need to join them. To escape, you simply walk away. As Tim Keller has said, “Stop the game.” Don’t participate in the madness anymore. This is hard, I confess; perhaps even a lifelong endeavor. In grand terms, this process has been the lesson of refusing to justify myself. Keller, in describing the human ego, couldn’t have described my situation more accurately. He says the human ego is naturally empty, painful, busy and fragile.
That being so, I’m always trying to make up for something, to defend myself. The question and response that Keller offers is this: “’What am I doing in this courtroom?’ Court is adjourned.”
Furthermore, “the verdict was given before the performance.” So I can finally rest. I know who I am. I can accept being ignored or overlooked; it doesn’t crush me when I expected to be mentioned or invited or praised but wasn’t. I can join in the celebration of another and not wish to be in their place or steal their moment. I can even compliment others for things that they do better than me, things they will always do better than me, and not grow frustrated because I can’t match them.
When I think of – and meditate on and rehearse and preach to myself – the truth of the Gospel, there is no more room for self-pity, shame, distressed calculation or bitter conniving. Just rest, joy and a more authentic me.