The word passion is derived from the Latin passio and the Greek pathema, both of which mean suffering or enduring. Today this meaning is most closely associated with what Jesus Christ went thru in the last hours of His earthly life.
Modern usage of the word passion is more commonly connected to other definitions… ardent affection, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept, and of course sexual desire. It is the first two definitions that have been on my mind lately, especially as they are connected to the Latin & Greek terminology.
The question that I have been pondering is this: Is anyone truly passionate about anything anymore?? It seems to me that most of us have subjects that pique our interest, activities that we enjoy, & stuff that we get involved in for one reason or another…but are we really passionate about any of it?? Nelson Mandela once said that “there is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”, yet that is exactly what most of us do…we play small and settle.
This train of thought began, in part, with a conversation I had with The Owl. We were lamenting the lost art of customer service. We are both old enough (especially him) to remember the days when one could go into a clothing, music, shoe, electronics, or any other kind of store and find genuinely helpful salespeople, the kind of folks who had been doing the gig for a long time and really knew their stuff. They were passionate about their work and cared about doing it the right way. Oh sure they wanted to make a sale and earn extra cash, but it seemed to be understood that the two things weren’t mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, back then it felt like everyone knew that being honest, respectful, knowledgeable, & diligent is what would clinch the sale. I am sure that kind of service is available today, but it is certainly rarer than it used to be. Such jobs are looked down upon now. They are viewed as stepping stones to something better. Few employees are passionate about the products they produce/sell or the companies for which they work. It’s just a job, a necessary evil to be able to pay bills & put food on the table.
But this lack of passion isn’t just reserved for the 40 hours/week that we are on the job. It permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We are overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are so many choices at our fingertips that we go from one thing to another, like a bumblebee gathering nectar & pollen, darting from flower to flower, never staying in one place or focused on one thing for too long. We are always in a hurry and have such a diminished attention span that we don’t take time to embrace excellence or let our passion ripen. We have developed faster & cheaper ways to do just about everything, but quality suffers because craftsmanship has become all too uncommon.
Watch a ball game. Go to a concert. Check out a museum. Read a book. Go see a theater production. What do all of those things have in common?? Passion. Excellence. Hard work. Effort. One doesn’t make it to the NFL or NBA, get a book published, become part of an orchestra, or star in a play, movie, or television show without all of those things. Certainly natural talent plays a part, but the finished products that you & I enjoy are the result of a lot of blood, sweat, & tears and countless hours of training & preparation. Yet the people that do those things at a high level make up a fractional percentage of the population. Most of the rest of us just try to get thru our day with as little stress as possible and without putting forth any more effort than necessary. And when we are forced to work hard we usually don’t feel good about it because we really don’t enjoy what we are doing. We feel obligated to serve on the committee. Parents feel like they have to involve their kids in every extracurricular activity available. Folks begrudgingly volunteer for the hot dog sale, book drive, or brainstorming meeting. We show up because we like the people and believe in the organization & its mission, but also because we’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to do, we don’t want anyone to dislike or be disappointed in us, and simply because we don’t know how to say no even when that is exactly what we would prefer to do. I’m not saying these are horrible reasons to be involved in something or that anyone has bad intentions. I am only suggesting that those reasons/excuses don’t mean a person is passionate about their involvement and in the long run it shows. Most everyone has a job and atleast one hobby…but in my experience few people nowadays have a true passion. On the rare occasion that those things intersect it is obvious and the outcome is beautiful. Harriet Tubman observed that “every great dream begins with a dreamer”. Perhaps that is part of the issue. We have become far too pragmatic. We play it safe. We don’t take chances. To call someone a dreamer is at best dismissive and possibly even an insult.
Sadly this issue infiltrates our churches and the spiritual realm. Sunday mornings are oftentimes just a social outing where we get to drink coffee and hang out with friends. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with good coffee or great fellowship, but how can we say we have a relationship with a God & Savior that we only interact with a couple of hours per week and even that time lacks passion?? The meme you are seeing on the left is something that I ran across a few weeks ago and it’s been gnawing at me ever since. Those words are probably responsible for this discourse as much or more than my conversation with The Owl. None of us want to spend eternity in Hell so we seek salvation, but salvation should be as much about living our earthly lives in relationship with God as it is spending eternity with Him. We rob ourselves of years of joy by continuing to wallow in sin and paying lip service to God, playing “church” on Sunday but doing whatever feels good or seems cool & hip the other 6 ½ days of the week. God tells us in Revelation that “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The third chapter of 2 Timothy talks about “having a form of godliness but denying its power”, which I believe is a perfect definition of religion in America.
Part of the reason why we lack devotion is because we prefer to avoid suffering, thus the two meanings of passion concurrently overlap and diverge. Not only do we not have the dedication to put in the work required to attain excellence, we are uncomfortable with the idea of suffering, whatever that may entail. It is much easier to just dip our toe in the water than to dive in and fully immerse ourselves.
I do not say these things to pass judgement. I am as guilty as anyone for lacking passion in my life. Neither do I offer solutions because a) I’m not that smart and b) I’m not sure there is one pithy, one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. These are just things that I have observed, and the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.
2 thoughts on “Passion Diminished”
Great post Sam. I think you are right on in your assessment of most people, ourselves included. I have heard dynamic preaching on being passionate for God, read books, even met some apparently passionate Christians, but little of it has rubbed off on me. I can readily see the difference between a passionate believer and me when I glimpse what they are doing with their time and money – very few outside interests or hobbies, not wrapped up in home improvements, just getting out there and mixing with sinners every day, sharing the gospel and food and time and whatever else they can give. They exhibit a genuine love for people they don’t even know. My conclusion is that this passion is not acquired by books or sermons, but only by seeking it from God – asking, seeking, knocking, and refusing to stop until He opens the door and gives us what we are pleading for. There is a Scripture that says God works in us both to WILL and to ACT according to His good purpose, and so I think the “will” (or desire) to live as God wants comes from Him, but He only gives it to those He chooses or those who earnestly plead and seek it. In my case I often chase after other interests before realizing over and over again that there is no passion in any of them either. Every pursuit ends in disappointment, I never discover the passion I’d like to have… for anything! And so I think the only passion worth having is a passion for God and the things of God, and it will only come when all other interests – like dead branches – get pruned off until only one thing remains. I guess that’s what Jesus meant when He said that anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be His disciple. Because to be passionate about God means nothing else matters.