Self Indulgent? Not Necessarily

Even before I saw Eat. Pray. Love. with Julia Roberts this past weekend, I knew I wouldn't agree with the premise of the movie.

Of course I didn't see the movie with Julia Roberts. The movie just included Julia Roberts as the main character.

But, being the ever fair and open-minded movie watcher that I am, I thought I'd give it a shot. I made that decision despite reading several reviews that touted the author of the book by the same title as being self-centered, self-indulgent, and selfish. I already knew something of Elizabeth Gilbert's year-long search for  her identity in the countries of Italy, India, and Indonesia. I had also already duly noted the fact that all three of Ms. Gilbert's chosen destinations begin with the letter "I," as in "I want to end our marriage; I don't want to be married any more; I want to travel the world; I want to leave behind my commitments and relationships; and I need to find out who I am."

If you're just looking for a good chick flick with some snazzy clothing, beautiful scenery, a love interest or two, and, well, Julia Roberts, then this is the movie for you. Unfortunately you'll have had about all you can handle of all the above halfway through the movie. That's right. The movie was somewhere around an two hours and twenty minutes long according to my watch. A little extensive for following one woman around the world while she eats pasta, prays to her guru, and pouts over men. I was ready to call it quits after our visit to India, but I knew we had a stop to make in Indonesia before I could dump my empty popcorn box and head to the ladies' room.

Still, there was something about Ms. Gilbert's quest for meaning and identity that resonated with me. Who among us hasn't awakened in the middle of the night wondering where we misplaced ourselves? Who hasn't felt that they lost at least a portion of their identity in the building of their marriage and the raising of their children? And who hasn't looked at their piles of laundry, their busy calendar, the same old food in the refrigerator, and their older model car and wondered if this was all there was to life?

Some may call Ms. Gilbert's pursuit of fulfillment as self-indulgent and selfish, but I consider it universal. While I normally value and even agree with many of the movie reviews I find on, say, Focus on the Family's Plugged In Online, I take a different viewpoint than many of my fellow conservative Christians on this one.

For instance, while Plugged In's reviewer says:

And I could never truly understand her {Ms. Gilbert's}
reason for feeling utterly despondent—apart 
from the fact that she was usually looking 
for her own personal fulfillment and no one else's. 

I can certainly understand why the movie's central character was miserable. She was running on empty, for pete's sake.

And while the same reviewer notes:

In this film, it seems that pursuing your 
own happiness and "completion" is tantamount 
to godliness. 

I think it's a little unrealistic and even unfair to hold a God-less woman (not god-less, mind you. she worshiped some god of her own making, but not the true God, by a long shot) to a biblical standard of godliness. I repeat: She's running on empty for pete's sake.

I believe with all my heart that God created us with a deep and eternal need to know our Maker, to have an intimate relationship with Him, to find our identity in Him, and to receive all the good stuff of life from Him. I believe the Bible indicates that it is that very soul hunger that drives us to Him. Without a hunger for Him, we would never fall down on our knees in desperation, cry out to Him in frustration, turn our backs on this world system in indignation, or thrill in Him with jubilation. It is the very same hunger and passionate desire for "something more" that Ms. Gilbert explored so thirstily that has driven many a Christian to find their God.

I also believe that our effectiveness in this world hinges, absolutely hinges, on our souls being satisfied, not the other way around. When I have found satisfaction for my hungry soul I have everything (and more) that I need to give to others, serve sacrificially, and love profusely. Until my soul is satisfied I will try to give, try to serve and try to love, only to find frustration and resentment blocking those channels and eventually shutting them, no me, down. And that is why people--Christians and non-Christians alike--end up chasing rainbows in places like Italy, India, Indonesia, Iowa and Indiana. They're running on empty, for pete's sake. Indeed they need to eat, pray, and love. Or something akin to that anyhow.

Unfortunately, while Ms. Gilbert did begin her search by crying out to God, she quickly turned to her own devices and the more socially acceptable religious rites of this world to proceed with her journey to self-actualization. What began as a natural, normal, and even God-ordained hunger for something more, soon turned into a silly, fruitless, and extensive journey to nowhere...well, not exactly nowhere...she did get to see the "I" countries. But you rarely, no never, despite Ms. Gilbert's assertion to the contrary, find God in "I". (The main character wraps up her journey by claiming that she found God within, shaped in the form of herself. This statement gives me indigestion and indignation.)

So my final take-away from this movie is "don't be afraid to go on a search for meaning and significance and joy and peace and fulfillment and all that other stuff that fits so nicely in the deepest recesses of our souls. Those are good things to look for and we're all created with a yearning for them. But know where to look. It's not in Italy or India or Indonesia, though you can certainly find what you're looking for in those places as well as in others. But make sure you turn to the One True God. Cry out to Him. And then, unlike Ms. Gilbert, give Him time to answer before you traipse off to a foreign country in search of some lousy substitute. 

Instead of eating pasta, eat the Bread of Life. Instead of praying to a guru, talk and listen to your Father in heaven. And instead of loving yet another man, fall head over heels in love with Jesus, the lover of your soul. Then you'll really have something worth writing a book about.