After sixty–three years of living—and sharing fifty of those years with the one person I desire above all others—I have come to this conclusion: Life is a series of choices we make that lead us closer to the true desires of our heart . . . or further from them.
Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken speaks to the implications of choice. When faced with divergent roads in life we must choose one or the other; we cannot travel both simultaneously. Hidden in every choice are both a beginning and an ending; the road taken is the beginning of new adventures, the one not taken will remain a mystery. What matters is how we travel on the road we choose. If we live our lives fully engaged, without regret, filled with wide–eyed passion for the wonders offered along the road, it will make all the difference.
Fire and Ice is another poem by Frost that speaks to the repercussions of choice.
Some say the world will end in fire.
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
How do you want to live? How would you prefer to die? Will you follow your heart’s desire, believing when your life comes to a close you’ll be consumed in flames of glory? Or will you live a life of fear, shying away from passion, rehearsing regrets, bemoaning betrayals, and clinging to failures so tightly that you pass from this life to the next with a heart as cold as ice?
I think I know enough about human nature to say everyone would choose the former over the later—if only we were aware of the implications hidden in each passing decision. But we’re not. We let daily routine lull us to sleep and make choices based on expediency, numbing great portions of our hearts along the way. Far too often, we shy away from passion. We choose resentments of the past, safety in the present, or fear of the future, rather than chase after our heart’s truest desire.
How then do we awaken our hearts? How do we engage life more fully? Is it possible to fan the flame of passion in the present; and in so doing, find ourselves in ages hence looking back over our lives and saying along with Frost, the road we chose has made all the difference?
Here are four things I’ve discovered that help me fan the flame of passion. I share them with the hope they might encourage another traveler, weary in heart and longing to rekindle a passion for life.
Release the Past if it holds Your Heart Hostage
None get a pass. Life deals a share of disappointments to everyone; some are dealt more than others. How we handle disappointment is a key to unlocking passion. I’ve heard it said, “Disappointments will make us bitter or make us better; it’s ours to choose.” In his book, Dream Big, Bob Goff distinguishes between what he calls “limiting beliefs” and “launching beliefs,” suggesting we all have a mix of both.
Limiting beliefs are the mental and emotional constructs we’ve adopted in response to disappointments in the past. Perhaps these beliefs and behaviors helped us cope with grief in the past but now they hold us hostage and prevent us from engaging life more fully. Goff says, “limiting beliefs come in all shapes and sizes . . . but they have one unifying characteristic—they hold us back. They are the invisible ghost whispering that we’ll never make it, that we can’t accomplish our ambitions, that we missed our chance.” They are the voices in our heads that say, “We’re not smart enough, attractive enough, good enough, talented enough.” If we look underneath our addictions and compulsive behaviors we’ll discover an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with a limiting belief. If a heart fully engaged in life is our goal, we must do the hard work of identifying the source of our limiting beliefs and break our relationship with them.
Launching beliefs are the opposite; rather than holding us hostage, these beliefs help build the confidence and the courage we need to engage life more deeply. They are rooted in positive memories and the formative experiences we had with people who believed in us, acted in benevolent ways towards us, and spoke words of blessing over us. If the list of people who blessed us is small and their words of blessing faint, we can turn our attention to the Bible and let the words of God remold our launching beliefs. According to scripture, we are the apple of God’s eye; children of the Most High King; the Bride of Christ whom God dances over; we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works; we are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in us.
Building our future on healthy launching beliefs will help us reframe and release the negative beliefs that hold us hostage.
Discern Your Heart’s True Desires
We must be brutally honest with our heart and distinguish between our truest desires and the pseudo desires we’ve impaled ourselves on in the past. The enemy of our soul does not want us to experience the life God has dreamed up for us—a life filled with meaning and purpose—a life of infinite joy, freedom, and abundance.
God has designed each of us to experience eternal life; a life lived in God’s presence, here and now, where we discover the way of love. The enemy of heaven hates it when people discover God’s way of self–giving love and will go to any lengths to have us choose something less, something that separates us from our heart.
In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes, “When we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.” He goes on to say that, “We are half–hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Finding and naming our heart’s true desires will stoke the flame of passion. Equally important is the work of discerning and naming the pseudo passions we’ve settled for in the past.
Don’t be Afraid to Chase After Passion
In a book called Desire, the author John Eldridge says, “Many Christians are wary about getting in touch with their desires, not because they want to settle for less, but because they fear that they will discover some dark hunger lurking in their hearts.” Eldridge warns his reader, “the father of lies takes many people out of the battle . . . by keeping them in the shallows of their desire, tossing them a bone of pleasure, and thus convincing them that they are satisfied.” However, dare we move from that place and hunger for a more passionate life, the enemy of our soul will change his strategy and, as Eldridge puts it, “threaten us from going into the deep waters by telling us that our core desires are evil.”
Certainly, history reveals the human heart has a bent towards rebellion and sin. The heart is easily tempted and led astray. But the core of our heart is not fundamentally evil. We are created in the image of God. The creation narrative is clear about one fundamental truth; the human soul is created in love, by love, and for love. At the core of our being we are good; as a matter of fact, God said, “we are very good.”
We can be encouraged to chase after the deep and true passions of the heart by reminding ourselves of the promise found in the new covenant, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26 NIV). Reflecting on this promise, Eldridge says, “For those who have been born of the Spirit and become new creatures in Christ, sin is no longer the truest thing about us. Since the coming of Christ, everything has changed. The joy of the new covenant is the transformation of our deepest being. As Christians, we have a new heart, and that means nothing less than this: our core desires are good . . . We don’t need to fear recovering our desire because our desire is from God and for God.”
Spend Time with Passionate People
Passionate people beget passion. If the flame of your heart is burning dim befriend people who personify passion. Their energy and their vision might inspire yours. When I spend time with passionate people, rather than live vicariously through them, they inspire me to speak a little louder, walk a little taller, and take risk when I might have otherwise played it safe. I’m certain that’s one reason I surround myself with passionate people; but one friend in particular stands out above all others.
Whenever I spend time with my friend Mark I go home more determined to engage life more fully. Mark lives life on the EDGE. Metaphorically speaking, Mark is a mountain climber. Everyday he climbs the highest mountain he can find and goes straight for the EDGE of the cliff. Little time is spent looking at the ravine below; rather, he gazes across the canyon in search of the next highest peak and begins plotting a path across the cavern to get at it.
Mark’s insatiable thirst for a life packed with meaning led him and a band of friends to create Waterstep, a non–profit organization that provides innovative solutions for the water crisis that haunts our planet. Over 700 million people live without access to safe water and 6000 children die every day from waterborne illnesses. The thought that thousands of children die everyday from curable disease keeps my friend Mark up at night. He knew something could and had to be done. His passion poured out like water in a desert and inspired a movement. Today, Waterstep is present in over 20 countries around the world and they work diligently to find new areas that need clean water and new solutions to meet the need.
Spending time with friends like Mark, or learning about organizations like Waterstep, inspire me to be more engaged in life and discover my own mountains to climb.
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.