Have you ever met someone you’d define as passionate? Someone who walks into the room and suddenly everything feels a bit brighter and a lot more exciting—a person so full of life, that just being near them makes you feel more alive? Caught in the grip of intense desire, even the thought of complacency or apathy is banished and they are driven in the direction of their desire.
I don’t know if you noticed that I used the words passion and desire inter-changeably in the last paragraph, but I did. And honestly, it feels like a cheap trade-off to me. Can a big word like passion really be synonym-ed with so small a word as desire? Is true passion really nothing more than a feeling? Because we all know how quickly feelings can change and how tightly they’re tied to circumstance. Surely real passion is bigger than that?
I wanted to be a teacher from a young age. But my teaching dream was never set in an ‘ordinary’ classroom. The classroom of my dreams was at Black Forest Academy in Germany. That was the place my three greatest passions – Jesus, teaching, and travel – intersected.
I was excited to begin my teaching degree, but as my formal education wound down, I realized that getting a paycheck in an ‘ordinary’ classroom was a more practical start to my teaching career than being a missionary in Germany. It felt like a trade-off, but one I was prepared to make. Until recruiters from England came to the University. I was excited at the possibility of being able to teach overseas and still get a paycheck so I jumped at the opportunity.
My first day at school in England quickly alerted me to the fact, that, what seemed exciting from the safety of my living room, was terrifying in reality. I spent the first moments of my new career swallowing the product of a nervous stomach and choking back anxious tears.
I was being led to my annex classroom by the school caretaker, when I saw two strawberry blond women hurrying down the pathway towards me. Their animation immediately captured my attention and I captured theirs. The second they saw me, they picked up their pace to close the gap between us. That was the moment my fear changed from just plain scared-out-of-my-wits, to fear mixed with excitement and the rush of feeling alive.
In a flurry of words and smiles and hugs, I was welcomed by them and enveloped in their presence. They peppered me with questions and comments. They spoke quickly and on top of each other in the heavy accent of Northern Ireland, and I barely understood a word they said.
While I couldn’t make out the specifics of what they were communicating, I did understand their hearts. I might not have been closer to knowing how I’d survive my first day of teaching, but I also knew, that no matter how it turned out, I was going to experience the ride of my life. I was caught in the grip of these passionate, coffee-drinking, chocolate-loving women, and they were going to take me places I couldn’t have dreamed of going.
You know where we were headed? Into the hardest teaching year I could have imagined. The school I’d arrived at was in upheaval and nothing came easy, except maybe the tears. And the laughter.
Most days after school, we’d wander into each other’s classrooms, divide up what chocolate we could scrounge up in the staffroom or dig out of our desk drawers, and sit down together. Then we’d spend minutes (sometimes hours) laughing or crying as we processed the day’s events.
At the beginning, I wasn’t always sure what they were saying, but every day I marveled that they had embraced a young, naïve, inexperienced outsider, who had nothing to bring to the table. They lived that year beside me, teaching me the meaning of their words and how to read their smiles. As time went by, I was able to interpret even subtle eye-movements and discrete gestures from across a crowded hallway.
I started that year chasing the place where my passions intersected because I was looking for some easy fun. Instead, I ran smack dab into the brick wall of hard times. But it was the difficulties that refined me. It was the troubles that changed my passions for places into people, from outcomes to processes. That was the year I began to learn that pain is the price of being alive.
Passion is much more than simple desire. In fact, the word passion comes from the Latin, ‘pati’ which means to suffer. This word was first used to describe the suffering of Jesus Christ who is the heart of true passion. He was driven by a desire so strong, He was willing to endure pain and loss.
Jesus’ passion was to make God known. To shine the light of life into the darkness of sin and death. To bridge the gap that existed between God and us, and to invite all who would receive Him, into the very family of God.
This was His passion and lived it by welcoming a group of naïve and inexperienced men into His circle of friendship. He lived beside them. He helped them understand what He was saying and showed them who He was. He sat with them, cried with them, laughed with them, talked with them. He shared food with them. Jesus opened Himself up to a group of people who had nothing to bring to the table and showed them the extent of His passion by allowing it to lead Him to the cross where He suffered and died.
I wonder if those men first started following Jesus because they were chasing a feeling? Were they pulled in by the rush of excitement or the thrill of feeling alive that they experienced in Jesus’ presence? Did they dream about the possibility of leaving ordinary lives for lives of power or prestige? A quick read through the Gospels shows us that these men had no idea the what kind of ride they were on.
I can speculate on what I don’t know. But I can stake my life on what I do know. Whatever their reasons for being caught up in the passion of Jesus, His passion refined theirs. Ultimately, it became theirs. Passion carried all but one of them to suffering and death. They lived and they learned that the price of life was pain.
Whatever your passion, I bet it can be traced back to life—to wanting to feel and be more alive. Jesus’ passion was to show us that the path to abundant life can only be found in God, and it leads through His Passionate suffering.
We are made to crave life. So, pursue your passions! Be driven by what makes you feel alive! Don’t waste your time chasing empty or temporary substitutes. Find life in the One who defines Passion, and really live.
Find the One worth dying for and you’ll find something worth living for.