Yesterday, I finished up Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. I had picked it up at the library the weekend before -- I've downloaded it to my Kindle three or four times, always intending to read it, but I'd turn the Kindle on one day and then it would just disappear, since my rental had expired and the library took it back without notice! I solved that problem by turning off the WiFi, but it's been so long since I turned my Kindle on that when I do turn the WiFi on, all the library books on there I've been meaning to read will instantly disappear. First world problems...
Gone Girl was gripping and intense. It's the story of a couple who end up down on their luck in small-town Missouri, and things fall apart, and quickly. Pretty soon, the wife has disappeared and it looks for all the world like the husband has done it. Things only get eerier from there. By the end, it's downright creepy, but fascinating all the same. I couldn't stop reading, but I'm not sure that I want to see the movie or not. It's a completely original story, and well-written, but it's not for the faint of heart.
There are two major themes that dominate the plot.
The first is the fascination with what happens when we try and mold ourselves into an image that will find the approval of others. The main characters in Gone Girl discuss how desperate they are to win approval, and they do some disturbing things, tell some startling lies, in order to portray a certain persona to shape how other people perceive them. We are wired with a deep need to win the approval of others, and so often we will contort ourselves in order to gain attention, to be liked, to be included. It's easy to let principals slide, to change how we talk and act, in order to gain acceptance into a social circle. I did this for years at school, constantly drawn to find acceptance through whatever it took. It's dangerous to start running this cycle, because pretty soon we're so far down a different path that we have long ago forgotten who we are and are finding our identity in the eyes of others. We end up at a point where we will say and do anything if it means others might admire us. All hope of integrity has faded at this point.
The amazing thing about being a Christian is that we don't have to re-shape ourselves when we come before God. Jesus points this out to us when he discusses the difference in the Pharisee whose prayers are reports about how good he is and the man who cowers in the corner and confesses his unworthiness to God. The second man recognizes the true nature of the relationship, but he has an absolute trust in God that his standing isn't dependent upon earning God's love, but he is welcomed and loved because of what God has done. Unconditional love means we can come before God as we are, and we trust that in Christ we are washed clean, renewed by his love. It's an amazing and unconditional love, and we should give thanks that we don't have to change who we are to receive such love.
The second theme is how hard marriage is. I was unpacking some boxes today and I found the book I wrote to Rachel when we were engaged. Love was so much easier then -- it was idealized and everything was perfect, because our worlds hadn't fully collided then. In Gone Girl, the couple at the center of the story have an ideal life in NYC until it all comes crashing down. Both lose their jobs, then they lose their security blanket, then his mother's health falls apart and they find themselves in small-town Missouri. At this point, when the ideal life has fallen away, their marriage is tested, and they spend their time and energy blaming the other person, wondering when the other person was going to fix themselves so the marriage would be okay. They don't take responsibility for the relationship, they only wait for the other to act. Their marriage is a passive one when problems arise.
In any marriage, it only works when each spouse chooses to put the needs of the relationship above their own needs. It's hard work to do so, but a necessary selflessness, because this is the way the relationship grows -- when spouses choose to water the marriage before serving themselves. It often means giving up what one might want, but in the long-term, a deeper, stronger bond is built. But this necessitates long-term thinking over short-term pleasure, and this is something I always struggle with. I end up thinking about what I want now, forgetting about tomorrow.
Faith is the same way. In order to grow in faith, we have to be willing to take up spiritual disciplines, putting the relationship with God above our own needs, wants and desires, trusting that building the relationship will lead to a greater pleasure than we could have found on our own. When we choose to sacrifice what we want for what is best for our discipleship, we make a choice that will eventually benefit us, but we have to have the imagination to trust God to build us up. Choosing prayer over sleep, Scripture over television, service over party -- this is hard work, and it's not short-term fun, but it shapes us into the kind of people who recognize the emptiness of many pleasures and the true satisfaction that comes only from God.
So Gone Girl is fascinating, and it portrays the ugliness of real life in some very brutal ways. It can teach us, as all books do, about how to grow and how to live in such a way that puts first things first, recognizing the danger of living for the approval for others and how challenging marriage can be.