Let me pose three very different scenarios, all of which have at least one thing in common with each other:
1. There is a husband who has been married for about 15 years. For some time ago, he and his wife settled into a comfortable routine. While they occasionally have a night out or share a good laugh, his eye has started to wander. He no longer thinks of his wife as beautiful and alluring; instead she is something more than a friend but something less than satisfying. He doesn’t know when it happened, but the spark is gone and their marriage no longer holds any excitement for him, so he feels justified in finding other opportunities that bring about the same excitement that he used to feel so often.
2. There is a baseball player who has been in the big leagues for some time, always a journeyman. He plays his position well but has never been an all star. The game he once loved has become a job for him; he no longer gets excited about putting on his glove and cleats and instead views playing ball the same way anyone in a middle management at a company might view it. He goes out and does his thing, but really lives for the days off. But even on those, he spends half his time dreading going back to his “job” the next day.
3. There is a child who likes some kinds of food very much. Grilled cheese? Check. Chicken strips? Bring it on. Pizza? You betcha. But this child does not like vegetables. She is old enough to have learned about the food pyramid and understands that she should eat her broccoli and asparagus but still doesn’t want to. So every night, it’s a battle of the wills between her and her daddy to see which one will break first. Usually it’s him.
Now what do these three people have in common? On the surface, it’s that they all are bored with something: marriage, work, food – whatever. There is no excitement in those things, even if there once was. But look deeper, and you’ll see that the other thing they have in common is that they have all at one point begun to believe the myth of passion.
The myth of passion is that it is sheer emotion; it comes on you and then leaves, and when it does the only thing you can do is sit there and wait for it to hit you again. If it doesn’t, it’s not your fault – you just don’t like that thing any more. Or you never did. You don’t like your marriage because you fell out of love. You don’t like your job because it’s not exciting any more. You don’t like being healthy because it’s not as much fun as being unhealthy. And if you believe the myth of passion, that it cannot be intentionally cultivated, then you’re pretty much stuck. The two choices for you are to either suck it up and stick it out, or to escape into something else – another relationship, job or lifestyle that to you seems to hold more of that excitement.
And so the cycle goes.
But this is a myth. Passion is not something that just hits you like a sudden stomach attack from food poisoning. It can be fueled and cultivated if some intentionality is brought to bear in each of those situations and a host of others.
Buying into the myth of passion is the easy way out. It takes no effort; it certainly takes no faith. All it takes is a good set of legs that can carry us far, far away from that which we deem as being boring or mundane. But cultivating passion requires much of us whether in exercise, marriage, or work. Paul described this kind of intentionality to his protege Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6 as “fanning into flame the gift of God.” Now in that context, the gift of God Paul is describing is Timothy’s pastoral ministry and his call to preach the Word. But notice that this is a command to Timothy; it’s something he takes an active role in.
Paul didn’t tell his son in the faith to “wait around until that little spark inside you grows to be big.” Instead, Paul knew that it would take intentionality in order to see what God had planted inside Timothy to grow. Anyone whose ever built a fire knows this is true.
I’ve built a few fires in our fire pit in the backyard myself, and I’m slowly getting better at it. What I’ve learned is that it takes work to get one going. I’m not the Survivor Man so I don’t built fires with the fillings from my teeth and a piece of flint; I use a lighter and newspaper. But even so, you’ve got to do some stuff to get a flame going.
The point is that our tendency in life, whenever things get monotonous and routine is to look for the easy way out. We don’t want to bring any intentionality to fan that passion into flame; we’d rather find a flame that’s already going and simply move ourselves over next to it. So we leave our marriages. We look for a church that’s more exciting. We abandon our friendships. We escape, and we do so quickly.
If the myth of passion is that it can’t be changed, cultivated or grown, the truth of passion is that it is fueled by action, and that action is driven by faith. We believe certain things to be true about the nature of life and all these elements inside it. We believe marriage is a mirror of the gospel. We believe we are to show forth God’s parenthood in the way we raise our sons and daughters. We believe work is the way God is showing His common grace to the world. We believe our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs, if they really are beliefs, require action, so that action is pushed out into the common, everyday areas of life.
And slowly, but surely, as faith drives that action, we see a small spark and a little bit of smoke start to come from that bundle of twigs…