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Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, is all the rage. In
fact, its been all the rage for years now. Millions of copies sold. A fragrance
line. A movie. All this, from a book that is spiritual journey, travelogue, and
one woman’s quest to find true love. I’m not going to add my opinion to the
list of reviews of both book and movie (although I recommend her.meneutics’
recent book club discussion, which prompted this post). But I would like to
weigh in on one question raised by EPL: Does the pursuit of spirituality
inevitably translate into “navel-gazing” and self-centered exploration? Is it selfish to follow God?
Well, at least at first, maybe it is.
I know for me, as a high school student who had just been
hospitalized for an eating disorder, the reason I initially turned to God is
because I wanted God’s help. I needed
God’s help, in a way I never had before. And there are still times where my
relationship with Jesus is really all about me, my needs, my wants.
And yet I hope that along the way, a faith that began as
mostly about me has grown into something that extends outwards. I hope it has
become a faith that even, sometimes, translates into self-sacrifice, care for
others in spite of what it will cost me, love for those I would once have found
unlovable, blessing others out of the blessings I have received.
Years ago, I read a piece by Bernard of Clairvaux in Richard
Foster’s Devotional Classics that talked about stages of love for God. The
benefits me, for the good feelings it brings, for the answers to prayer and the
promises and the hope. The next stage (and actually there are two stages here
but I don’t fully understand/remember how they differ from one another) is love
of God for God’s sake, because of who God is, regardless of how that benefits
me. The final stage is love of self for God’s sake, a perfection of love that
Clairvaux considered unlikely before the final resurrection.
All that is to say, the movement from loving God for the
sake of what-God-will-do-for-me, to loving God because of who God is, is a
necessary part of spiritual growth. We start with our eyes on ourselves and our
needs. By God’s grace, we move towards the needs of the rest of the world,
trusting in the goodness of God beyond our personal benefit.
So is it selfish to follow God? Only if we aren’t growing up, from self-love to self-giving love.