Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Eat, Pray, Love"

It is that time again....another book review post here at save the phillips family.
Quit your groaning. I am sure that cute pictures of Isaac and Evelyn will resume on Thursday. Besides I eventually will have to tell you about the experience of entering E's room to find her standing in her crib....the crib whose mattress had yet to be lowered all the way.

For now, I am going to attempt to be studious, thoughtful, and engage in the literary world. Tomorrow we can discuss how Isaac has renounced all forms of Pull-Ups based solely on the fact he does not care for any characters available in this line of diapers.

Over the Christmas holidays I sat myself down and read "Eat, Love, Pray" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had seen Oprah praising this book, had passed it many times while browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble (by "browsing" I mean craning my neck to get a good look at the displays while stationed by the train table), and actually received it during a mean game of Dirty Santa (however tossed it back in the pile since I already owned it. Tobe's grandpa actually received it in the end, which makes me giggle just a little every time I think of him reading such a girl-centered book.).

My initial review is this: I loved it and I hated it.

Seriously, I might as well go ahead and hire a nanny because publications around the country are going to be knocking on my door to do book reviews like that for them and someone will have to tend to the children while I write such deep sentiments on the written word.

"I loved it."

The premise of the book is that Elizabeth Gilbert decides to devote a year of her life (after experiencing a painful divorce and coming out of a crippling depression) to finding pleasure, experiencing complete devotion, and then establishing a workable balance between these two things. Her writing style is quite conversational, witty, humorous, and poignant....all at the same time. The book is divided into three mini-books and then also divided into 108 tales (based on the 108 beads of the japa mala....an Indian tradition that inspired the rosary). The set-up of the book is quite easy for one to pick it up, read a few pages, and then go off to change a diaper or push "Repeat Play" on the Baby Einstein video (not that I would ever do such a thing).

I loved the quintessential idea of finding oneself, of pushing past comfortable limits to know one's inner core. I believe such a quest is essential in reaching the high levels of thinking that many never attain. I believe understanding the true working of one's inner being is the key to contentment and happiness. I enjoyed reading an unconventional explanation of faith and who God is to Elizabeth. It challenged my own faith and beliefs, pushing me past the typical ideas I sometimes hold when it comes to spirituality.

"I hated it"

It is this idea of "finding oneself" that also caused me to hate this book. As I watched Elizabeth Gilbert speak of her journeys on Oprah (she has done two episodes to date on this book), I could almost hear the collective sigh of women across the country who desired such "freedom" for their own lives, instantly deciding that their place in life is not "me-centered" and thus they are not being true to themselves. This is where the book can become a misleading guide for the discontented woman (or man) who believes she deserves the chance to drop everything (children, spouse, job, responsibilities) and find "true" happiness. All she is going to find in the end with such romantic ambitions, fueled by very little other than a sense of entitlement to happiness, is the same discontented woman living in the same rut.

Read in the wrong spirit, "Eat, Pray, Love" will only fuel the Oprah notion that every woman deserves to put themselves first, others second, and find what they deem to represent true happiness despite the cost to others. I love to watch a good episode of Oprah, but I honestly believe that her philosophy for women is quite far from that which God has laid out in scripture . I do not think the Proverbs 31 lady ever ditched the children and the hubs (and the weaving of fine linen) to whole-heartedly pursue making only herself happy.

"I loved it" (again)

I say all of that, again to say that I believe going on a quest to find the inner workings of your soul is of utmost importance to reaching the higher level of thinking, to feeling complete with your inadequacies, to understand contentment. That quest can be defined within whatever limits life places on you and the quest is a life-long journey. It is not one answer found in one location at one specific time.
My personal quest began at 18 when I decided at that point I need change. I knew life existed outside the city limits of my small town and I greatly desired to know what that life was. So I moved to the big town of Abilene, Texas (It had a mall, thus if felt big to me at the time). And I found a little piece of myself by learning how to be independent.

I spent four years in college, determined to gain an education with a GPA my father (who was paying for said education) could be proud of. And I found another little piece of myself by learning how to be disciplined.

After those four years, I was approached with the opportunity to spend a summer in Africa. I vividly remembering telling my parents, "I am not asking for your permission to go. I am simply going." I was a feisty 21 year old (and I imagine one day one of my children will say something equally as brazen to me...Lord, help me.) I had come to Kenya to spread the message of "God loves you." to children who lived amongst the garbage, who were abused in every sense of the word on a daily basis, and who knew nothing of unconditional love. Immediately I doubted the foundation of my faith and the message I had come to share. And while spending five weeks living in one of the largest slums of the world, amidst poverty and suffering I still cannot adequately express in words; the person I believed myself to be was completely broken into pieces. It was there that I found cynicism in mankind, myself, and my God.

After a long year, I returned to Africa because I knew that portion of my journey had not been completed. This time I stayed for over two months, working with the same children and struggling with the same questions. Days before I was set to return home, I finally understood the message God had been attempting to relay to me the entire time. Such sentiments would stretch this post much too long, but in the end I found another little piece of myself through tested faith.

Then I married a wonderful man and I found another piece of myself through learned partnership (which happens to be an ongoing process).

Four years later a doctor placed a puffy baby boy into my arms after 26 hours of long labor and I found another piece of myself in motherhood.

And my journey continues.

In conclusion, I recommend reading "Eat, Pray, Love" but read it through the eyes of your own life's journey. The majority of us cannot run off to Italy to eat pasta for four months nor live under the care of a guru in India. Rather we experience life through the normal routines of work, family, and play. It is through such routines I believe the Lord can stretch us, mold us, and teach us who we truly are in the very center of our being.


summer said...

Great thoughts, Lynley. Thanks for sharing. (Would love to hear more about what God taught you through your time in Africa.)

Amy said...

THanks for opining about this book. I have been interested in reading it. You really should consider writing essays on your own version finding your true self on this journey called life. I was also interested in reading about your lessons learned in Africa.

Though I was definitely disappointed at the time when you chose to go out of state to college, I later learned to understand and respect your need to experience the world outside the bubble of Searcy. In case you were wondering:)

Elizabeth said...

I felt the same way about this book. I loved it and hated it. I saw the Oprah with Elizabeth Gilbert and I remembering seeing all those women on the show referring to the book as "the Bible." That is really scary to me. I think it is an interesting read as a memoir, as one person's journey, but should not be used as a book about how to live your life. No one could ever replicate what she did and get the same life lessons from it. I think she is a very smart person and a talented writer, but not the "guru" that Oprah makes her out to be. You said it so well in your post. I couldn't agree more.

I too would love to hear more about Africa. A future post perhaps?

By the way, we always eat pizza on Friday nights too! We call it "Pizza and Movie Night." I will think of you next time I'm making pizza dough. : )