Follow your passion, do what you love, joy is the intersection of that Venn diagram meme where what you’re good at intersects with all the other things you do and why you do them.
It seems right, good and worthy. Surely if you love writing, working with animals, plumbing, art, medicine, being with children, or whatever it is that fills you with joy, that means that’s what God wants you to do, right? Why else would you love it, be good at it and feel so fulfilled by it? So it should be your passion, right? It’s using the talents God’s given you, earning more to give back to Him, glorifying him by learning and practice. It’s a way of expressing your love for God, of worshipping Him, isn’t it?
There’s even Biblical support for the idea. Jesus said so in the parable of the talents. One servant was given 5 talents, another three and the third got one talent. The master told them to use them wisely and give them back, with the earnings when he returned from his trip. The only one who failed was the servant with a single talent, who had buried the talent, ignored it and didn’t increase his master’s wealth. The master was very pleased with the two who doubled the amount they’d been given, but Jesus said that those who don’t use what they’ve been given will be cast into the outer darkness. That sounds serious, and we’d better hurry up and find our passion in case that happens to us!
There is some truth to this – God does give us gifts and talents, aptitudes and abilities for us to use for His glory and for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. But we need to be careful in the way we understand both the idea of using our talents, and what the world expects from us when it talks about pursuing our passion.
In the understanding of the world, a passion is something that you love to do, that you are made to do, that gives you a feeling of fulfillment and joy and wonder when you do whatever it is that is your “passion.” In this sense, a passion is a good, productive and hopefully lucrative activity. Writing, music, being a doctor, a teacher, a mechanic, a carpenter, an entrepreneur, a social worker, an actor can all be the passion that we pursue and they are all are good and worthy things to be doing. Doing things that improve the world, that benefit people, that can support you and your family, that make the world a better place because you are doing this.
But the world also means that you have to make “your passion” the centre and central fact of your life. It’s what we are to live for, it’s what we are to do and it is to be all we think about: putting in 80 hour work weeks, all-nighters, skipping meals, dates, coffee with friends, time with family, church and rest to do what we love.
The Church defines passion as something that gets between you and God, and when I’ve heard it talked about and read what the Fathers have to say, I think of things like alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling and sexual immorality, violence and hatred and anger. Things that grip people and things they can’t control, behaviours and activities and emotions that enslave us, that take over our lives and hurt or destroy not only us, but the people around us and our relationship with God. Not productive things, not beneficial activities, but things that drain the bank account and leave the world less and poorer because of the pain and the damage they inflict. I don’t think about writing, about my neighbour’s programming skills, about my son’s medical training, about my daughter’s art or my husband’s carpentry or Steve Jobs talking to university graduates about doing what they love when the Fathers talk about the passions.
Yet, when we think about how the world wants us to behave around our “good” passion, the passion that is to put food on our tables, clothes on our back, make the world a better place and fill our souls, it’s not that different from the passions of drug abuse, adultery or gambling. We ignore our families in favour of getting the best marks in the anatomy exam, or in doing our residency or in making the connections that will ensure our progress in the art we’ve chosen to make. We ignore our health in favour of our skipping lunch, dinner or snacks to finish fixing this one problem. We skip church and morning and evening prayer because we’re in the middle of this part of the job and can’t leave it just now. Our good, worthy and God given gift is supposed to take over our lives, to be the focus and centre of our existence. The gifts God gave us become an idol in our hearts, displacing the One who gave us those gifts, the people we love and the balance God intended our lives to have.
Jesus, St. Paul and the Fathers were all very clear: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. God is to be our passion. And if our passion isn’t for God, for the loving and merciful and unfathomably wise Father who created us, who gave us our gifts, our family and our friends, then we damage our physical, emotional and spiritual health. We damage our families and our friends. We endanger our very souls. We leave the world a poorer place because we haven’t put God where He needs to be: in the centre of our lives, so that the rest of that life has the balance it needs to truly make ourselves and our lives an unceasing prayer to God.
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