Friday, January 12, 2018

'Free of Me' by Sharon Hodde Miller


We live in a culture that's all about self, becoming the best "me" I can be instead of becoming like Jesus. This me-centered message affects every area of our lives--our friendships, our marriages, even our faith--and it breaks each one in different ways. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we never quite break free of insecurity. 
In this book, Sharon Hodde Miller invites us into a bigger, Jesus-centered vision--one that restores our freedom and inspires us to live for more. She helps readers 
- identify the secret source of insecurity 
- understand how self-focus sabotages seven areas of our lives
- learn four practical steps for focusing on God and others
- experience freedom from the burden of self-focus 
Anyone yearning for a purpose bigger than "project me" will cherish this paradigm-shifting message of true fulfillment.

What a great and timely message to begin a new year! I love to challenge myself with thought-provoking non-fiction books between my beloved fictions, and this one is a real gem.

The author bravely lays bare her own struggle with self-absorption, which she didn't even register until the pain and misery of following the siren call overwhelmed her. Indeed, it's an unusual subject to highlight because rather than being urged to renounce it, our society coerces us to fall into its trap, thinking we're doing ourselves a favour. Miller trusts that we can all relate to some extent, and explains how self-focus is our default setting, and therefore a tough pattern to shake.

She reveals a sneaky variety which appears to be completely unselfish and others-directed. However, when a reputation for kindness, charity or altruism suits the image we wish to project, then it can be really still about us! I wonder how many people can say, 'Ouch.'

But identifying the problem is only half the solution. Next, she describes how many of society's attempted 'cures' are in fact leading us further along the insidious spiral. It's easy to mistake the restlessness and dissatisfaction of self-absorption with low self-esteem. Then we try to fix it up by giving ourselves pats on the back and self-affirmations. We might turn to social media and see these boosting attempts going on everywhere. But Miller argues that they are all counter-productive, and what we really need is self-forgetfulness.

She points out how easy it is to make specific facets of our lives all about us, including our families, possessions, appearances, friendships, reputations, callings, and even God himself. It's sobering to read how something as wholesome as parenthood, or a ministry or calling can become all about the individual, to the extent that they keep craving affirmation to keep their egos from crumbling. As Sharon Hodde Miller puts it, 'Calling can become about you, and when it does, it will shrivel your soul like a flower scorched by the sun.' It's hard to deny that we live in an era when people don't even realise that they're trying to build their platforms more than their character.

The best part is that she doesn't just lay out the problem, but offers sound and workable solutions. I think the nitty-gritty of this book is the last part, which encourages us in the crusade to keep our focus off ourselves and our life impact. She recommends four different ways to nip it in the bud, which are Praise, People, Purpose and Passion. Now, although I sometimes find using alliteration to make points comes across a bit forced and strained, not in this case :) Miller is certain that remembering and practising them helped her enormously, and they're convincing enough for me too. Because I'm sure so many of those gloomy moments are tied up with all this sort of tricky business.

As I say, a good book to start the year with.

Thanks to Baker Books and NetGalley for my review copy


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