Don’t find your passion—find your lover

what skills are needed to get to the future?

Graduation is in the air, and David Brooks’ excellent article about the wrong-headed speeches he’s heard this graduation season is a great jumping-off point for a very important conversation.  Brooks makes the important observation that today’s generation is entering a world of unemployment and an unprecedented convergence of challenges on several fronts.  But, as Brooks notes, “College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.”  In other words, having been raised in an educational zoo, today’s students are released into the “jungle” that is the real world.  What skills are needed to navigate this transition?

The preponderance of graduation speeches all follow the same flow according to Brooks:  “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.”  Of course the problem is that this mantra doesn’t work for anyone… Christian, or not so much.  This is because the hyper-individualism that built the American dream is presently running on fumes, as the middle-class disappears, prisons overflow, human trafficking continues nearly unchecked, soil erodes, water tables decline, and on and on and on it goes.  It’s not that there aren’t heart warming success stories here and there; but our commitment to follow our dreams and passions, and each of us following our own inner drummer hasn’t exactly gotten us closer to shalom.  There are other options: 

What if we follow our Lover, rather than our Passion?

In the book I’ve recently written, I share that I enjoy buffets because they’re all about me and my tastes.  The problem, though, is that I never eat my veggies at buffets.  Our consumerist world tries to convince us that life is buffet, and that we can customize our dream life through vocation, geography, trophy spouse (or idealized singleness), adventurous travel, etc. When we build our own lives, though, we’ll avoid the broccoli (or whatever it is that isn’t your thing – confession, commitment, servanthood, vulnerability, caring for the poor, using your spiritual gift).  We think we’re building the best life, but it’s actually far from best, because we don’t know ‘the best’ – God does (see Ephesians 2).  I didn’t know I’d enjoy teaching the Bible until I reluctantly said yes to a request that I teach a high school Sunday class.  I might not be doing what I do today had I not said yes, but in NO WAY was teaching a passion, or ambition, or desire, or even a tug.  It wasn’t on my radar – but it was on God’s.  That’s why it’s more important to find your lover than your passion.   Find your lover, and you’ll find your passion!

What if we march with the rest of the band rather than follow our inner drummer?

Brooks says, “The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.”  Sacred commitments is language you don’t hear often in the NY Times, but it’s the perfect phrase.  One’s twenties is a time of making sacred commitments. When I began to discover my calling as a Bible teacher, I remember having a sense that various fruits of my life were ripening at the same time: Bible teacher, conductor, composer, athlete/coach.  There was this dawning realization that I couldn’t pursue excellence in them all, that I needed to settle down.  That settling extended to the realm of relationships as I married, and has eventually extended to a commitment to place and community as well.  The sooner we learn to make commitments: relationship/skills and gifts community – the richer our life becomes.

What if we seek, not to find ourselves, but to lose ourselves in something greater than our survival or enjoying our appetites? 

Brooks: “The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration.  It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred.”  The lives that are “out in front” beckoning me to live on a higher plane lived recklessly.  Not stupidly – they were acting with wisdom and bold conviction.  They were reckless in the sense that they put their lives on the line.  They shot the moon.  Whether they made headlines or lived anonymously, they lived beyond themselves.  Jesus said a lot about this, and it was His way of saying that we are at our best when we’re aligned with His agenda, rather than pursuing our own.

Graduations will soon be over, but every year I revisit these themes and find the challenge of each new generation to be a challenge not only for them but for me.  Congrats to grads!  And my you find reality, intimacy, and joy with the Lover of your soul – because that’s the foundation.

7 thoughts on “Don’t find your passion—find your lover

  1. I agree with your general sentiment but I have some concerns about what I hear as the constant pounding against “individualism” and “appetites”. For one thing, they are separate. Being an individual, making decisions for myself, listening to my inner call, even making compromises or sacrifices to care for myself doesn’t necessarily equal appeasing my appetite. I think there are some of us, both inside and outside the church, who actually should start to pay a lot more attention to our own needs, our own longings, the voice inside of us, and drown out some of the so-called voices of authority in our midst.
    Further, I think you hit on my next point yourself, you have a new-found love of teaching, the important word being “love”. Sometimes I feel an over-emphasis on self-sacrifice within the evangelical church, to the point where people can miss their calling because to pursue it would feel too good. Many times the very thing we love most is also the thing that causes us to make the biggest personal sacrifices, the act that puts us on the margins. If we didn’t love it, believe in it, if it didn’t make us glow, why would we have the passion to carry on. God sometimes calls us to suffering, but in that suffering we find the most joy. God didn’t create us for a live of misery. God loves us.
    And lastly, and this is a huge concern for me, I am continually troubled by the way we sometimes push young people into commitments they are not ready for. In fact within our church I see the marriage commitment idealized, perhaps even idolized, to the point where young women (20’s thru early 30’s) feeling incomplete without a ring on their finger and young men getting hitched early because they believe that’s what they are supposed to do even if they aren’t really ready for it. I see other folks committing to vocations they aren’t meant for, only to find themselves miserable. I value commitment, deeply. I think we, as a society, need to be better about earnestly considering and then honoring our commitments. But I don’t think the commitment is the point. The commitment is a means to preserving and honoring love, not the other way around.

  2. Thank you for this, Richard. I agree completely. We live in such a narcissistic culture, it makes me literally sick to my stomach at times. A self-focused life is a deception which will not lead to happiness. How many examples do we need of those who have tried it and regretted it when they came to the end? It has helped me enormously to observe the contrast of other cultures who are much more family and community oriented. We Americans need to learn to stop living like islands. Keep getting the word out. Very refreshing!

  3. Bang on. Thank you for addressing to youth that not every dream and passion is from the Lord, even if seen to help people. Few Biblical characters had the dream of doing what they did when the Lord called them to do it, in order that they know it is God’s to do.

  4. Richard,

    This reminds me of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It was a favorite at my college. Thanks.


  5. profound post, richard. thank you. i will be mulling over following my Lover, not my passions. your post reminded me of one of rich mullins’ songs (“Maker of noses”):

    well they said, “boy, you just follow your heart”
    but my heart just led me into my chest
    they said “follow your nose”
    but the direction changed every time i went and turned my head
    and they said, “boy, you just follow your dreams”
    but my dreams are only misty notions
    but the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
    and the Giver of dreams, He’s the One i have chosen
    and i will follow Him.

  6. RD
    As usual you both challenge and enlighten. But I have to side with Lisa on some of her pushback…in my life it always seems like it is God working within my desires and interests and yes, even my passions 🙂 sometimes as He molds me into a disciple. We pray for His direction and we can trust where He leads us, right? I tackle the same notion but arrive at a different place here: Check it out and let me know what you think.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.