All of the Ted Talks I watched incorporate helping others and all of the presenters’ passions involved service. This is a good thing to see as one who is very wary of how things like “follow your passion” can really look like self-indulgence in actuality – like this “just-do-it” advice for those who want to see the world. I myself am one of those “wanderlust-stricken” souls, but the Nike stance (“just do it!”) on expensive dreams like traipsing about the globe come from a perspective of privilege, not to mention that one reason I’ve been unable to give myself full permission to pine after such adventures is because of my equally strong hope to help and serve others, whether that other is in Africa or my next-door neighbor in America.
Beyond all this, though, all the advice on how to find your passion has proven flimsy to me even still (though admittedly, this essay and this Ted talk have been really helpful). Getting out of my own way is probably a good thing, but even the moments I’ve been able to do so don’t bring me any more clarity. Allowing my inner child to come out of repression and speak more freely hasn’t crystallized much either because, honestly, she’s just as clueless as I am. (There’s a reason this has been a lifelong struggle). We treat “passion” as a feeling (as the woman with the housecleaning business even stated explicitly) but there’s at least one dangerous pitfall to that. John Eldredge puts it starkly in Waking the Dead: “It is your good heart that will get you to do things you shouldn’t be doing.” There are all kinds of reasons for our feelings, and some of them are not helpful ones. Thus, “following your passion,” even if you know what it is, may not be great advice.
So I cannot turn to my heart, which desperately wants to do good for others (in part for selfish reasons like validation of my existence) but is woefully wayward when it comes to how. I cannot turn to my inner child, who is just as all over the place as I am when it comes to passion and commitment. I cannot turn outside of myself to this concept of “flow,” which I cannot reliably access anyway. That stuff doesn’t actually *do* anything, like Shonda Rimes urges the Dartmouth class of 2014 to do. No, I have to turn to Christ.
As it turns out, Christ didn’t exactly say, “follow your passion.” He affirmed the role of desires, in asking people, like blind Bartimaeus what he wanted but He didn’t stop there. After Bartimaeus regains his sight, Jesus instructs him to “go” and Bartimaeus “follows [Jesus] on the way” (Mark 10:42). To the fishermen brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, he says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people” (Matthew 4:19). Jesus instructs a rich man wanting to be “perfect” that he must sell everything and follow Him (Matthew 19:21). Jesus does not seem to be directing people to their “passions,” really, but to Himself. Instead of affirming that old saying that “it’s easier to turn a moving car than a parked one” (for me, all I’ve found is that I’ve run out of gas in the middle of nowhere), Jesus calls us to a specific destination (Himself) even as the road to Him will not be the same for each person.
And Jesus was a passionate guy. Jesus’ journey to the cross and His death is called the passion of Christ. The Gospels are pretty clear that this was not a feeling of desire Jesus had – He was so distressed about it that he begged three times for the Father to take the cup of suffering from Him, having to surrender His will repeatedly. Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane thinking about all that was before Him. Passion now means “a strong feeling of excitement or anger that compels one to action” (though I question how sustainable that action will be if based on a feeling, even a strong one) but it used to meaning “suffering.” Feelings are fleeting but suffering touches us all in some way or another and changes us, leaving some permanent marks. When Jesus calls us to Himself, I wonder if one way to look at this “passion” question is to ask us what we are willing to suffer for. Given the inevitability of suffering, perhaps this, rather than ephemeral emotions, is a better place to start when we want to “follow our passions.”