I am finally reading (listening to) Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. I have to admit, I’m enjoying it. Her prose is crisp and clean, and there’s the advantage that Gilbert herself narrates the audiobook. And I am struck by how similar her search has been, in some ways, to my own over these past many months. I’m not talking about the travel to exotic places. (Canada is wonderful, but it is neither Italy nor Indonesia.) I’m referring more to the kind of quest Gilbert makes and the question that prompts the exploration.
She asks: can you be, at the same time, fully devoted to God and fully alive to a world of pleasure and delight? The book I am writing is similarly on the subject of desire, although my question sounds more like this: are we allowed to want if we’re surrendered to Christ? But it’s not the answer to these questions that I want to tackle here.
As the book opens, Gilbert talks about the marriage she wants to end and the baby does not want to bear. And eventually one night, sobbing on the bathroom floor in exactly the same way as she had for the previous forty something consecutive nights, she prays for wisdom.
Show me what to do, she pleads the heavens.
The wisdom she eventually gains advises her to leave her husband and the life they’ve been building together for the past eight years. She does, and when the seemingly interminable and messy divorce is complete, Gilbert leaves for a yearlong journey around the world.
In one anecdote from Italy (the first part of the journey, eat, is about the pleasures she finds in Rome), she brings home a pair of perfect brown farm eggs and seven slender stalks of asparagus. She arranges them on a plate with two slices of pink salmon and several black olives: aesthetics on a plate.
Amidst her sheer joy in this simple pleasure of lunch, the voice in her head (her ex-husband’s) asks snidely, So you gutted our marriage for this? Eggs and asparagus, olives and salmon?
And see, I have a lot of trouble with this. Please, I don’t want pretend as if I’m allowed to arbitrate everyone else’s life and decisions. We all know that we can’t do that because there are simply too many things we don’t see or know.
But I want to say something that I believe firmly about calling.
What God calls each of us to do is nurture, not only our relationship with Him, but our relationship with others. Honoring our relational commitments is a primary part of our calling. We are each daughters, friends, some of us wives and mothers. The temptation today is to forget that these relationships, not our possessions or accomplishment or career, constitute the whole of our life. Calling can be as simple as loving the people you call family.
The unsung heroes today are the lovers.
Here’s an excerpt from something my friend, Wendy, has written:
“Three days before Christmas the results from Micah's evaluation came in. She is, what the school board and psychologists call, "Learning Disabled".
I have told myself, from the beginning of all this, that I don't care if she has a learning disability. She is Micah. Full of love and the desire to know people, full of the belief that everyone wants to be loved and that she can love them.
One hot summer afternoon while Micah, her sisters and their friends took refuge in the cool basement I overheard them discussing what their talents were.
"What about me? What's my talent?" Micah pipes in. She is the youngest of seven so she knows she has to work hard at being heard.
"Your talent is that you are cute,” our neighbour Mackenzie tells her.
"That's a pathetic talent," Micah asserts. "Any kid can do that."
"Ok, so what's your talent?"
After a pause Micah cheers "My talent is that I looove Love!"
A brilliant talent indeed.”
And what Wendy says here is something that Jesus has said. Love each other. Do this well. In fact, Jesus said that entire scope of God’s commands could be reduced to just two.
Love God. Love others. And please, please, don’t go on about your love for God when you have failed to love those in plain view.
Your calling, my calling, is to love. And love is not sentimentality boxed up. It’s hard work. In marriage, there’s quite a bit of sticking out nights where you sob on the bathroom floor wondering whether the two of you will make it. As a parent, there are many, many days where you wish for peace and quiet, and it eludes you.
There are so many relationships that are messy, exhausting, unfulfilling, and far too much work for so little return.
You will be tempted to leave for Italy and get fat on homemade pasta and truffles.
And I want simply to say: stay. Keep your commitments, honor your I do’s, care for your parents as they age, love your children by giving them your time and attention.
For it’s to this also that you have been called.
Pray. Love. Eat. I think I prefer it in that order.