Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Diligent Joy

I seem to be writing a lot of book reviews lately. It's not by design-I just happened to have had a bunch of my holds at the library become available all at once, and so I have been spending a lot of time with my nose in a book. It's actually rather nice, kind of a nostalgic thing, as I grew up with my nose semi-permanently cemented in a book for many years. As a matter of fact, sometimes my parents would punish me by forbidding me to spend time in my room reading. How many parents can say that, eh?

I'm still working on my economics post, but in the meantime I just had to get this one out. I find that when I am in a writing frame of mind, I need to get a story or post on the page (whether that be paper or online) before it dies in my head.

I just finished eat pray love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I highly recommend it, especially for any girl who has ever suffered with issues of self-worth, identity, or meaning. Which is basically all of us. I don't know what it is about the female side of the human race, but we seem to have cornered the market on self-loathing and depression. Not that guys don't have these issues as well-I know that men have serious egos that need to be constantly reassured-but women seem to universally struggle with our own sense of self and worth.

Liz Gilbert, while not a Christian, has a wonderful perspective on spirituality. I am in no way a universalist, and hold very tightly to my conviction that Jesus Christ is indeed the only way to God, but I find that even in the writings of those who I don't agree with, I can find truth. In many of Liz's stories, I can see how Christ is wooing her to Himself, even though she doesn't quite recognize Him yet.

I see a lot of myself in Liz. She worries, she overanalyzes, her mind goes nonstop. Prayer and meditation is a huge struggle, as physical and mental distractions keep her from achieving anything hear a zen state. But through her journeys she begins to accept herself. In one story, she shares how she had determined to live in silence, to be "the quiet girl" because she was too talkative, only to be assigned the duty of greeting and hosting new arrivals to the Ashram she was staying at. She realizes that she is her bubbly self for a reason, that she has a service she can give to others. And through her service she finds peace, to the point that people leaving the place remark to her how they perceived her as a quiet, calming spiritual person.

One of these days, I will be perceived as a quiet, calming, spiritual person.

Another big theme of the book was healthy relationships. A few times during my reading I was struck by something that Liz experienced or a comment she made, and I heard God saying, "yep, that was for you." I choked up a little when Liz was writing about when she was in India and her friend told her:
If you clear out all that space in your mind that you're using right now to obsess about this guy, you'll leave a vacuum there, an open spot-a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in-God will rush in-and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed.

I knew in reading that passage that God was telling me to let Him overwhelm me with His love, which is more fulfilling than any earthly relationship could ever be.

Not that I have ever obsessed about anyone. Ever.

Liz also comments on how she has approached men and relationships and the realization that she comes to regarding her perception of men. She says,
I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and then I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been the victim of my own optimism.

I've done the same thing and felt the same way as her. One of the biggest things I have learned about guys and relationships is that you're not going to change anyone just because you love them, and you can't expect people to be more than they are. Too often we create the perfect version of someone in our head and then expect the person to live up to that expectation. Then we are disappointed when they turn out to be a weak, flawed, wonderfully broken human being. We don't give them the grace to simply be themselves, quirks and failings and all. We do this in friendships and courtships, with our pastors and our parents, with politicians and even to ourselves. If we could just accept that we are all broken and live together through the process of becoming better versions of ourselves, knowing that this is a process that takes a lot of time and blood and sweat and tears, how much more joy we could have.

Liz's book gave me my new mantra: Diligent Joy. How true it is that Joy is not something easy to come by. It requires diligent pursuit to attain, and diligent nurture to maintain. As I pray through this Lenten season, I'm grateful to be reminded of that.

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