What If I Can’t Find My Passion?

How do I find my passion?

I typed that question into Google my first-year in graduate school. I asked my professors. I asked my peers. They say, it should be what excites you in the morning. They say, you should go to bed thinking about it. They say, it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life. They say, they say. But I don’t.

There was one thing that I always thought was my passion. It’s what I told my parents I wanted to do when I was a child. It’s what I Googled about doing as I debated over my life decision my first year in graduate school. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I imagined myself writing fictional sagas or novels, like J. K. Rowling or Jane Austen.

However, with Asian parents, writing wasn’t the most supported career option. Plus, I do like math, problem-solving, and pursuing research projects. But, I don’t think about equations and optimization before I go to bed. I don’t wake up with new ideas on mathematical proofs. In fact, I can’t imagine myself being okay with only working on mathematical models for the rest of my life.

This dilemma tortured me for a good part of my first year. After all, what is life if I don’t get to work on what I love? What if I get a PhD in something that’s not my passion?

The truth is, no matter how much our “passion” excites us, no matter how much we think we love our work, no matter how much we want work to fulfill us . . . we always end up asking ourselves the question like the teacher of Ecclesiastes: what are we toiling for? Is this meaningful (Ecclesiastes 2:20-23)? Even King Solomon, with all his wisdom and success, could not find meaning in the workings of his hands.

Work—or status, relationships, hobbies—is not where we are supposed to find meaning. Meaning only comes through our relationship with God. Our pursuit of passion, or anything else, will never satisfy us. However, we can find enjoyment and satisfaction in our work. Yet, as King Solomon observed, “the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

 

Finding Joy in Toiling

For me, my passion crisis didn’t go away overnight, but I did continue with my PhD. I took the required classes, completed the requirements, and worked on finding my thesis topic. For the longest time, I worked at it because it was work.

Yet as I shifted my focus from my personal obsessions, my attitude towards my research also started to change. I began to see more potential paths and applications of mathematical models. Instead of algorithm development, I was more interested in their application to solve real-world problems.

The research area I finally chose was healthcare. It was the field my advisor had always wanted me to pursue, but I had been against it. Thinking about the growth of cancer or analyzing the effects of chemotherapy on patient mortality seemed very gruesome to me. Yet as I worked and learned about the area, I realized that my seemingly boring days of running computer simulations can fuel discoveries and implement changes that improve the lives of patients.

My work isn’t about me and my pursuit of passion; the implications of my work can help the decisions people make about their health, and that is where I find my joy. God has always placed me in the right place. Yet before, I did not have the eyes to see. As I shifted my focus outside of myself to God, I realized that He has gifted me with something that I not only enjoy, but also can use to help and benefit others.

The true purpose of work is not to satisfy us, but for us to be stewards of what God has given us in this world. In our obsessive search for our single passion, we are often blinded to what God has prepared for us. As C.S. Lewis said,

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. [. . .] Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.

To discover our passion, we must let go of our vision of “passion” and open ourselves to what God might have planned for us.

 

Renewing Our Vision of Passion

The act of letting go transforms our heart and mind in a way that enables us to see more than we did before. As I learned to let go of my idols, God showed me that there is more freedom when my focus is on Him. The way I previously envisioned passion was misguided and simplistic. Life and dreams are a lot more complex and filled with many more possibilities than I can imagine. And when God is the author of my life, it liberates me to trust and follow His voice even more than my own heart.

As I learned to trust and follow His guidance, I found that God cares about my childish dreams, too. When I’m ready, He may guide me back to them in the most unexpected ways. For example, God invited me to write for Him through a campus Christian magazine. It’s not the fictional novels I imagined, but reflections on His love and provision. And here I am today, writing to you all. The way life and dreams unfold is usually not how I first imagine, but it always makes more sense than my version.

My first-year self never found the passion, but I learned that there is so much more to the story. Through the process, I’ve found freedom, rest, and the enjoyment of work. Who knows where writing or research projects will lead. The journey is still continuing, but I trust that He will always be there to guide and show me the way. After all, it is God who weaves the little things we do into a saga much greater and more epic than anything we can imagine.

What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?

What does a godly dating relationship look like? While the Bible has a lot of wisdom and guidance for God-honoring marriages, it doesn’t provide step-by-step instructions for how to achieve one. Sometimes this can leave us feeling frustrated and abandoned—but our God has promised never to leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is a patient teacher, and He has a good plan for you and me, regardless of our relationship status.

I’ll be the first to admit that my track record with relationships isn’t stellar—I’m currently single, and I’ve experienced my share of heartache. But even though my failed relationships were painful at the time, looking back, I can see how God was and is still using each one to grow me into maturity.

Here’s a series of lessons I’ve learned that have helped me more clearly define the characteristics of a godly relationship. May each one encourage and challenge you, whether you’re currently in a relationship or not.

 

1. A Godly Relationship Is Clear About Its Purpose

How do you know you’re in a relationship? That’s not a trick question! Sometimes it’s genuinely hard to tell! Are you just casually dating, or seriously and prayerfully considering whether this person is “marriage material”?

Dating should be fun and exciting, but it also represents a holy purpose and a potential covenant union. The last half of Ephesians 5 is full of imagery of the global church as the bride of Christ. Jesus’ sacrificial love should be the blueprint for our dating and marriage relationships, and that love does not take commitment lightly (Ephesians 5:21-33).

One of my most painful relationships was due almost entirely to its lack of clarity. A young man and I were slowly meandering from “really good friends” to something more concrete, but the process seemed to be taking forever. I was so eager to move forward, and he seemed to be dragging his feet. At the time, I was frustrated, but too afraid to invite a clear conversation.

One day I was venting this frustration to my mom. I was shocked when she gently suggested that perhaps he wasn’t ready to date with the same intentionality. I felt hurt by her words and refused to talk to him about it. As a result, the relationship staggered on a few more months before ending with a messy mutual parting.

In this instance, our lack of definition was crippling and ended up prolonging the pain of this relationship. Out of respect for yourself and the other person, don’t take a dating commitment lightly or assume you’re on the same page. Invite a clear, open conversation about where you are at and what your purpose is.

 

2. A Godly Relationship Heeds the Wisdom of Others

When you’re getting to know someone you’re interested in, you’re usually pretty oblivious to everything else. I know how that feels! It’s such an exciting time, and if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to skip ahead and start imagining a future together. But doing so is like racing through this new relationship with horse blinders on—everything that is peripheral is blocked out. One of the most valuable things you can do, especially in a newer relationship, is to seek out the godly counsel of people who are older, wiser, and who love you very much.

For me, this is first and foremost my parents. They’re generally good judges of character, but more importantly, they know my character intimately. For you, this may look like an older sibling, aunt or uncle, or a mentor from church. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a loving, mature believer give their honest opinion of your current or potential relationship.

One of my own blind date experiences from college ended after a few meetings, one of which occurred while my parents were visiting in town. I invited Mr. Blind Date to ice cream with my parents just for fun, and the evening was more than a little awkward. Weeks later, when we had clearly broken things off, my mom remarked, “Oh yes, I could tell right away he wasn’t a good fit for you.” Her comment surprised me, and I immediately regretted not asking her sooner. Her perspective was much clearer than mine at the time, as a mom’s usually is.

So, search for wisdom. What do those people who love you the most think is healthy and unhealthy about the relationship? Where would they caution you? Where would they encourage you? Proverbs 15:31 (NLT) says, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.” And in my case, you can avoid a lot of relationship pain!

 

3. A Godly Relationship Invites Hard Conversations

It started right before summer. I was suddenly seeing this guy in our group of friends a lot more often. He was funny, charming, and kind. We started texting just as the school year was ending, and we parted ways with the promise to keep in touch. I was flattered by his attention and enjoyed keeping up with him, but secretly my feelings were mostly of friendship, not romance.

We kept up the conversation for weeks, and he even drove all the way out to my parents’ home to visit. Afterwards, I felt mostly guilt and confusion. He was a wonderful person, but I didn’t want to be more than friends. There were a few more weeks of summer left, and I agonized over what to do. Should I wait to say anything until we were both back on campus? Begin to text him less often? Ignore my feelings and carry on as normal?

In the end, I knew silence on my part would be leading him on. Although it would have been much better to converse in person, the distance made it impossible. I drafted an it’s-not-you-it’s-me message and sent it off. Immediately, my heart felt a million times lighter. I regretted any hurt I had caused him, but I knew that opening this tough conversation was the right thing to do. He responded graciously and had a few questions for me, but in the end, I felt the resolution was peaceful.

Looking back, I only wish I had brought up this tough conversation earlier. And maybe I should have made the drive to have it in person! A hard conversation doesn’t need to be about ending the relationship; it can be anything that’s causing you anxiety. A hard conversation is probably something you’re tempted to discuss with other people instead of with your significant other. The voice of Proverbs again reminds us to choose truth, honesty, and wisdom (Proverbs 19:1, 8, 9, 22). Even for difficult conversations, truth spoken in love always wins.

 

Each of these lessons represents a time in my life that was unpleasant to walk through. They were slightly awkward, slightly exciting, slightly terrifying seasons of my life. That pretty much defines dating, right?

The good news is, God is with us through it all, and He can use every season and every relationship for His glory. So clarify your dating purpose, ask for wisdom from those around you, and don’t be afraid of difficult conversations.

There’s a million other lessons to be learned about what godly relationships look like—but I’ll leave a few for you to figure out!

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a 3-part series on Relationships. Check out the other two articles, “Should I Stay Single?” and “Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?” for more perspectives.

Abandoned But Not Forgotten

Cover Image from Bethany Christian Services

Written By Ryan Zies, USA

 

What if… someone didn’t care about you anymore?

What if someone left you?

What if someone disowned you?

What if your mother who gave birth to you disappeared from your life without a trace?

Abandoned.

I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled with this word. It’s a word that stands out boldly on one of my birth documents. The word “abandoned” is defined as, “Left without needed protection, care, or support. ​Left by the owner, no longer held or thought of​.”

 

Image from Bethany Christian Services

 

All of this is true in my story, but I think the part I’ve had to wrestle with the most is where it says, “No longer held or thought of”. . . No longer thought of? OUCH! That itself leaves a wound.

Can you imagine, a mother who carries a baby for nine months, delivers the baby through a Ceasarean-section, and then never thinks of the baby again? I find it hard to believe that my birth mother has never thought of me since November 13, 1984. In fact, I believe wholeheartedly that she has thought of me, and the decision she made.

Nevertheless, my story begins with “abandonment.” It is part of my story, but it is not where it ends. Being left in a clinic outside Seoul, South Korea on November 13, 1984, is just a detail in the overall story that God had laid out before I could even breathe.

 

Ryan Zeis’ original birth certificate (Image from Ryan Zies)

 

The Hard Choice for Life

In Seoul, South Korea, at the time, abortion was culturally acceptable. There were over 500,000 abortions and just over 650,000 actual births. This meant every time a child was conceived, the child only had a 57 per cent chance of actually being born. I survived the 43 per cent abortion rate.

On November 13, 1984, my birth mother gave birth in a clinic outside of Seoul. She abandoned me onsite, leaving no trace or record of who she was. My official hospital paperwork says, “After the natural mother gave birth to the baby at the above-mentioned clinic (Dongin Clinic in Songnae-don, Kangdon-gu, Seoul City), she covered her tracks. The clinic tried to get in contact with the natural parents, but she left in vain.”

I was placed for adoption.

 

A Long Journey Home

But before all of this—before me—on the other side of the world, in a nearly all-Caucasian, small suburban town outside of Chicago, God was already crafting the details of my story.

Jeff and Sally, high school sweethearts and married at the ages of 18 and 20, found themselves for years trying to have children, but unsuccessful. Only after Sally overheard a co-worker talk about adoption, did they find Bethany Christian Services in Chicago, Illinois. Even with hope dwindling and family members advising against adopting a baby from another race, they persevered through and decided to adopt. While they were applying and submitting their adoption paperwork, on the other side of the world, I was conceived. God knew I was going to be Jeff and Sally’s child, and was aligning the steps for it to happen.

On February 14, 1985 (Valentine’s Day), I flew from Seoul, South Korea to Chicago, Illinois, at just three months old. The processes were simpler back then. The adoption agencies, Bethany Christian Services and Holt International, placed me and other babies on a plane in South Korea with two bracelets—one with hospital information and the other with the adoptive parents’ names on it. We then flew the almost 13-hour flight to Chicago only attended to and fed by co-traveling businessmen and flight attendants.

When the plane landed in Chicago, my mother and four other mothers boarded the plane to find the baby with a matching identification bracelet, and meet their children for the first time.

My mom always says I’m the greatest Valentine’s gift she has ever received. Every year she still writes me a card and sends a gift to celebrate my “Homecoming Day.” My adoption story is truly an amazing and beautiful story, but it points to a bigger story—a story of even greater love, purpose and forethought.

 

Jeff and Sally with baby Ryan (Image from Ryan Zies)

 

The Hand That Holds Us All

I’ve come to realize in this life that our God has a destiny and purpose for each of His children. He protected me when I was conceived and growing in the womb.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT)

The story behind my conception and my birth mother’s pregnancy will probably never be known. But what will always be known, is how God had His hand upon my life. He gave my birth mother courage to protect and save my life at a time where she easily could’ve been part of the 43 per cent having abortions. In His sovereignty, she endured nine months of pregnancy, pain, lost hours of sleep, emotional attachment, psychological tear, and physical altercations in order to have me. Given her inability to raise and support me in life, she also made the decision to give me up for adoption.

She gave me up for a better life. She gave me a chance.

Easily, my life story could have been about being left—abandoned—at that clinic in South Korea. But I was left for something greater. I was left to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.Matthew 22:37 sums up our purpose, where Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Seeing how God took a situation full of unmet expectations, sorrow, struggle and pain on all sides, but redeemed it to make it a story of being chosen and belonging, allows me to live with the freedom of knowing that God can use any circumstance to bring life and display His purpose. As I walk through my life now, I remember that I am “uniquely and wonderfully made” for a specific purpose on this earth. Everything I experience is part of that journey, and I trust God will use it for His glory.

For whoever is reading this, please know this truth: This world will try to tell you who you are. You might be tempted to look at your circumstances and experience to figure out what to believe or how to live.

But I want you to know that God sees you. He knows you. You are not alone. He has known you since the beginning of your life. Circumstances will tempt you to take your eyes off the One who holds you in His hand, but when you truly trust your heavenly father, nothing can hold your true identity captive. You are loved. You are cherished. You are His child. He will never leave you. He’s sitting next to you this very moment, and that is who you are.

 

Image from Bethany Christian Services

 

Watch the video on Ryan’s adoption story here

See Ryan’s website, “Destined & Purposeful” , to read more stories of abandonment and adoption!

 

Editor’s Note: Do you have a similar story to Ryan’s? Share with us in the comments section below!

5 Lies to Stop Believing About Yourself

It’s often easy to get caught up in what the world says is important and become distracted from who Christ says we are. To keep from falling into that trap, let’s look to the Bible for some sure antidotes:

  

Lie #1: You are your job

Our jobs can consume a large portion of our identity. But we must remember that while God calls us to work diligently (Colossians 3:23-24), we work to serve the Lord.

Who we are is not defined by the job title we hold, but what Christ has done (Galatians 3:26). So let’s focus on how we can use the work God has given us to glorify Him and walk out our identities as sons and daughters of God.

 

Lie #2: You are your good works  

Our plates are often loaded with all sorts of expectations from our culture, family, and even church about how we should conduct ourselves.

In the midst of trying to honor God with our actions, we can find grace for our shortcomings, and reassurance that the greatest command we have is to love God with all of our heart, understanding, and strength (Mark 12:30). Instead of conforming to the pressure to prove ourselves, we can focus on our relationship with God and know that as He refines us, fruitful works will flow out of our love for Him (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

Lie #3: You are your relationship status

What comes to mind when you think about who you are? Is it the fact that you’re dating or single? Whether you’re a child or a parent?

But our confidence does not come from the people around us. The truly defining relationship, the one that undergirds every other relationship we have, is the one with God: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, emphasis added).

 

Lie #4: You are your personality

Personality tests are fun and can help us better understand our strengths and weaknesses. But we need to be careful that we do not allow these tests to limit the way we see ourselves.

Here’s what God told Moses when he complained about being “slow of speech and tongue”: “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)

God is bigger than our personality! He is the creator of all, and can help us overcome any weakness or challenge He sees fit (2 Corinthians 12:9).

 

Lie #5: You are your past

Sometimes, we unconsciously allow our lives to be defined by our past experiences or choices—and feel like we can’t move on because we’re trapped by our mistakes.

But because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are free from our past. Even if we continue to deal with the consequences, we do so knowing Christ is already victorious—and that He is calling us to an identity defined by the future He has won for us:

. . . I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

 

Whenever we’re tempted to allow these five lies to define how we see ourselves, let’s pray that our identity will be rooted in these truths: We belong to God. We were made in His image. He has redeemed us. He will make us new.