I’ll wax rhapsodic in a later post about the glories of Camille Greip’s Letters to Zell. Suffice it to say that it’s a brilliant exploration of those caught in the trappings of a princess life and one who has chosen a different path. At this early point in the book, the princesses are equally hacked at and jealous of Zell (Rapunzel) for leaving the life of the court to work on a Unicorn preserve. As one princess wrote in her first letter to Zell: “All of this drama to manage a unicorn preserve? I thought that sort of rural charity work was only for indulgent royalty out West.” (Camille Griep, Letters to Zell, p.1).
On the one hand, the princesses fully feel the confines of the proverbial gilded cage, while on the other hand they feel a responsibility to their family, friends, and castle staff to measure up and fit in. There are the horns of a dilemma that has responsibility on one hand and selfish freedom on the other hand.
The princesses struggle with Zell’s independence and departure:
We’re princesses, damn it. Our job is to become queens. Our job is to wear pretty dresses and have even complexions and carry on inane conversations with other queens and wear crowns and capes and furs and ride sidesaddle and be demure at dinner. Our job is to love all of these things more than anything else. Our job is to churn out progeny and hand them over to nurser maids. Our job is to enjoy bread pudding when we really want chocolate mousse. Our job is to forget what we want and do what’s expected.
I don’t understand how you just quit that job, how you pulled on a set of riding breeches, tossed your circlets in a saddlebag, and rode off into the sunset.
– Camille Griep, Letters to Zell, p.30
Of course, Ms. Griep doesn’t leave it that simple, but if you were to summarize, that seems to be their core dilemma. Equally obvious is that the apparent answer is to be free, realize our true self and potential, and hang the rest. We are given that same advice professionally – pursue your passion. Do what you enjoy and you will succeed. While alluring, this answer has never fully satisfied me. I know how utterly selfish I can be. How willing I am to let others lose, or worse still, beat them, so that I can have my selfish desires. There must be some other way where we’re neither stifled by layer upon layer of convention and expectations weighing us down and just chucking it all by living the free bohemian life with no restraints on seeking our selfish desires.
Also, there are practical matters. My passion may be reading books and drinking coffee. I may pursue this (for awhile) but given that no one is going to pay me to do this, it may lead to a difficult success. I’m not saying sell out, I’m just saying you may want to do something you can love and develop a passion for even if it’s not your highest and most natural desire. It’s a bit complicated and it’s complicated for the princesses.
However, I think this is a false dichotomy put before us – fit in and remain within your (admittedly golden) handcuffs of expectations or live free and without restraint pursuing your heart’s desire. (Note – in no way am I claiming that the author would be led to the same conclusions.) I think instead that we are called to passionately pursue our joy in God, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is where our duty and responsibility are married to our heart’s desire. When we pursue that passion, held to obedience through our desire, then we more realistically adjudicate between mere conventions of the world, all of the pressures of friends, family and fitting in and true moral obligations. We measure and refine all of the pressures and pulls of our life against the crucible of whether they help us to pursue our passion for our joy in Christ. If they hinder it, chuck them to the side (the pressures, not the people). In other words, all pf this advice to selfishly pursue our heart’s desire is, I believe, spot on, as long as glorifying God and enjoying him forever is our desire. All other desires will leave us empty.
Of course, this isn’t a new line of thinking on my part. From Augustine reminding us that “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” to Jonathan Edward’s “God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion” to C.S. Lewis: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” and John Piper after him, this line of thought has been expressed through the ages. Equally clear, is its origins are with God’s own word: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – Psalm 37:4
Within the restraints of loving others as we love ourselves, we are to passionately pursue our pleasure, our joy, and our whole satisfaction in God and hang the consequences of convention, our society or the disapproval of others. Yes, listen to others wisdom, yes, make sure we aren’t simply being selfish, but once we are clear, go into afterburner mode and pursue pleasure in God. Don’t let all the misplaced guilt or pressures keep you from that pursuit.
[Banner photos courtesy of Camille Griep’s Facebook page]