In Pursuit of Passion

Everywhere I turn, I see my generation as a collective, passionate people. We are passionate about photography. About music. About the perfect brew. Passionate about Uganda and sustainable agriculture and travel. Passionate about Red vs. Blue and the Blackhawks and skinny blue jeans.

But most of all, it seems, we are passionate about passion itself.

Growing up, us Millennials—the moniker given to my generation—feasted on a diet saturated in encouragement to “discover our true passions.” Whenever we asked “What should I do with my life?” our teachers and parents often advised us to “follow your passion” wherever that may lead. (1)

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this Millennial-specific career advice working itself out in two distinct ways. On one hand, there is no shortage of twenty-somethings espousing unusually strong passions for everything and anything, from the grandiose to the mundane. People in this group tend to be the creative, artist-type. The entrepreneurs, using and exaggerating their passions to serve as a selling point for their wares, a raison d’être for their business and being.

Take, for example, the photographer—an entrepreneurial enterprise with which I am well-acquainted. Visit the website of any young photographer and their “About Me” paragraph will read like a script: “I bought my first camera when I was seven and have been passionate about taking pictures ever since.” Or the indie coffee shop owner that claims “coffee preparation is my passion.” Or the not-for-profit director who claims to be part of a “group of passionate and determined creative problem-solvers who want to make a difference.” (2)

In all of these endeavors, it’s not so much the end goal that matters but being able to boast a sense of passion while getting there. In many ways, passion has become a generational code-word to validate our pursuits—the profitable and not-so-profitable, the purposeful and not-so-purposeful. Because we were challenged to “pursue our passions,” admitting to doing anything less admits failure. And so we’ve forced ourselves to become passionate about everything, not because we ABSOLUTELY love these things and certainly not because they are worthy of our passions but because a claim to passion allows us to claim some measure of success—at least by the Millennial’s definition.

Then there is a second group in my generation who heard the same advice to “follow your passion” but have yet to find their passion. While the first group consists of creative entrepreneurs, this group is made up of the philosophers and academics, those who realize passion should follow value rather than define value. Of course, this approach makes passion a hard-to-find commodity. While their peers are out finding passions in fake mustaches and Instagram, this second group is waiting for passion to find them.

And wait we do. We wait while working at jobs beneath our level of education. We wait while floating from overseas teaching gigs to yearlong mission trips. And even some of us simply sit and wait. In all of these situations, the goal is to delay commitment to any one career that may—but very likely may not—be our passion. We’d rather fail by “doing nothing” than fail by pursuing something less-than our passion.

GUILTY AS CHARGED
I must confess that, in true Millennial form, I’m a guilty member of both groups. On my good days, I can muster enough energy to pronounce myself passionate about many things—photography, farming, blogging and good design. What’s more, I’m lucky enough to be pursuing each of these “passions” with little holding me back.

And then there are my bad days. Days when my passion still seems “out there” and “waiting to be discovered.” Days when I wake up waiting for that reason to get out of bed in the morning, for that “calling” and “purpose” to use its mighty force to pull me to my feet.

And on the on the rare, in-between days, I’m able to see both approaches to life for what they are: the first approach is an offensive one based in self-validation and not a little bit of vainglory; the second approach a defensive one based in fear.

And on those days, in a right frame of mind, I realize that neither approach lies in tandem with the message of the Gospel I claim to believe.

CHRIST’S PASSION 
This doesn’t mean that the pursuit of passion goes to the wayside in the Gospel story (Millennials don’t have it all wrong). What this does mean, I think, is that when pursuing the life of a Christian, instead of asking ourselves “What is my passion?” we should ask the question, “What is Christ’s passion?”

The entire last week of Christ’s life is dubbed in Catholic circles “Christ’s Passion.” (3) Perhaps it’s a bit juvenile of me to play with words like this, but I fancy the suggestion that Christ’s passion—His gets-strongly-excited-about-can’t stop-thinking-about-wakes-up-to-talk-about passion—is the same as His Passion—His death-on-a-cross-for-the-redemption-of-mankind passion.

I imagine that if believers—especially us Millenials—started aligning our passions with Christ’s Passion, we’d discover incredible freedom in our own pursuit of passion.

For those of us seeking to legitimize ourselves and our pursuits by claiming them as “our passions,” a change of focus toward Christ’s passion gives us all the validation we could ever need—Christ’s death on the cross in our stead is justification enough for all that we are and all that we do.

For those of us still waiting to discover our passion before we commit to what only may be the “right” or “wrong” endeavor, Christ’s passion lets us know that there is grace enough to cover all our doubts.

So, as it turns out, teachers, parents, and pastors were right to teach my generation to pursue passion. What they failed to teach—or we failed to learn—is that it’s not our passion we should pursue, but Christ’s.

And in Christ’s Passion there is no failure.

FOOTNOTES

  1. This September 2008 article from the Harvard Business Review reports the steady growth of the phrase “follow your passion” as standard career advice during the 1990s—precisely when my generation came of age.
  2. Direct quotations from actual websites.
  3. Truth be told, it wasn’t until after the 13th century, that the word word “passion” referred to anything but to Christ’s death on a cross. Whats more, it would take another 300 years for the meaning of “passion” to expand to its current, nuanced meanings. This article from Slate Magazine explains how the word “passion” evolved to its current Catholic and non-Catholic meanings.

 

New Year’s Resurrection : Part 3 : Personal Connections

(Author’s Note: This post is the third in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. The first and second posts post can be found here and here…)

PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

To make the subject of resurrection and it’s importance in the Christian’s life more personal, I should share some of my own struggles with those same fears of calling and legacy, meaning and purpose.
Immediately following college graduation in 2007, I began work as a graphic designer. My job was a “cushy” one in the sense that it offered great benefits, good pay, and promised to be everything a new graduate could want.
Around this same time, I learned of John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life. Now, I must first admit that I have NOT read the book in its entirety…but I’ve read enough of it to know the book’s central plea to forgo the pursuit of success as the world sees it and, instead, focus on finding your purpose and success by serving in ways that glorify God. Living a God-glorifying life of purpose certainly isn’t something to scoff about, but there are two major hiccups with predominantly be a Christian striving to “not waste your life.”

First, the appeal to “not waste your life” requires it be possible that you can wast your life, even if you have Christ in it.

Secondly, that the Christian life is more about what you do than who you are.

These two lies dominate much of Christian teaching today, especially teaching directed toward young twenty-somethings. In a stage of life marked by discovery, these early years of independence are often under girded by pressure to “finds one’s calling.” The task of finding a calling is wrapped in language of vocation and suggests that what is we do with our time and how we make a living somehow contributes to our value and worth, or lack thereof.

For me, the pressure to discover my “calling” led me down a path of fear— fear that no matter what I did, I was going to end up feeling like I wasted my life. That no matter what job I took, it wouldn’t be big enough, important enough, Kingdom-changing enough to not be considered a waste. That no matter where or how I lived it wouldn’t be enough.

Add to the struggle of trying to discern my calling I was getting really stressed out about the possibility of dying before I had any chance to do anything worthwhile. Even if I did discern my calling, I feared that people would consider my life a waste if I hadn’t fully accomplished that calling before I kicked the can, so to speak.

It’s in this place of fear that Christ’s resurrections speaks loud and clear of freedom and joy. 

You see, if I believe that I have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, I have to believe that I never, ever run out of time. That I have no “deadline” at which point I no longer have a chance to do what it is God has called me to do. The truth is, that our life on earth is just the beginning of a thousand times a thousand years of my life…Yes, we are mortal sinners in flesh, but through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we are truly eternal.

While this mindset could give way to an attitude of laziness, but I think that risk is well worth the gain of complete freedom in the knowledge that our life does not have value because of what we do or don’t do. Our personal worth—and the worth of our life—is not determined by whether or not we accurately discerned God’s calling for our lives and successfully carried it out.

No, the truth of the matter is that Christ’s resurrection allows every believer the freedom and joy to live, knowing that they are enough, by themselves, just as they are.

Why Farming?

When people ask me why I have a sudden interest in farming, I generally give the reply “I dated a farmer and the interest in farming lasted longer than the interest in the farmer.” While I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is true that an attractive boy is what first attracted me to farming.

This farmer was a bona-fide corn and soybean farmer from small-town Indiana. Our romance lasted just a short time, but long enough for me to get a rudimentary crash-course in the realities of the farming lifestyle. For me, meeting someone my own age who was a real farmer—one who owned land and spent days out in the tractor planting and harvesting corn—was a culture shock. Even more penetrating was the realization that seemingly “old-fashioned” ideas of bequeathing the family farm to the first-born son, the consequences of family inheritance feuds, and the ever-increasing cost of land are ongoing realities for hard working American farmers. In short, farming became a real occupation and farmers became real people to me after meeting and dating a farmer.

As I got to know a farmer and about the work he did, it didn’t take long for my ideas about food to change. All of a sudden, I began to wonder if I knew the person who had grown the corn in my corn flakes (highly unlikely, but still a possibility!). I began to consider the logistical gymnastics required for a mango to arrive fresh from the southern hemisphere in the middle of December to the local grocery store. I began to listen for agriculture news and read the “buy local” labels at Whole Foods a little more closely. I’ve never been much of a foodie, but all of a sudden “where food came from” became a BIG idea for me.

Other, small things, also brought my attention increasingly to the world of agriculture. I’ve heard missionaries say that when they received their calling to the field, God places specific locations on their hearts. God then confirms these destinations by little “signs”—the country is mentioned in the news, a story they hear from a friend, a native they suddenly meet. Similarly, the idea of “farmsteading” sprung into everyday normalcy after my initial encounter with a young farmer. For instance, I randomly stumbled on a www.centralvafarms.com and discovered that a house with land in and around Charlottesville, VA (absolutely stunning country, for those who haven’t been…) is actually quite affordable. I read an article in Vogue magazine while waiting for my tires to be changed, of all things, about a young writer-turned-farmer. I learned that the local park district rents garden plots for a mere $25 to residents, all of a sudden making it possible for me to start growing food of my own.

Clearly, agriculture/farming/gardening etc. was top-of-mind as I sought the Lord in giving a vision for life. To some, that may seem I simply grabbed at what was my most immediate and recent fascination. To me, though, the Lord laid these things in my path in His own timing, uniquely aware of their greater significance.

As I’ve meditated and prayed about this entire concept/endeavor, I’ve come to additional understanding and appreciation as to “why farming.” Kristin Kimball writes in her novel The Dirty Life, “I think that in some way, human begins are hard-wired to be agrarians. This is what most people in the history of the world have focused their energy.” It’s this realization, and appreciation for agriculture’s necessity and normalcy in human endeavor, that enchants me as I move forward.