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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.

7 Practical Ways to Be a Light in Your Workplace

We spend most of our day at work. If we’re going to be good witnesses for Christ, “being a light in our workplace” would be a natural place to start, wouldn’t it?

But sometimes that sounds a lot more feasible on a Sunday after an encouraging sermon, than it does after several days in an exhausting or abrasively unchristian work environment.

So how can we go on displaying good works that would make our coworkers want to turn and glorify God (Matthew 5:16)? While daunting, it’s not impossible. Let’s take a look at seven practical ways we can bring the light of Christ to our workplace!

 

1. Affirm – Tell others that what they do matters

It’s easy to recognize laziness or incompetence in other people that causes more work for us. But how often do we go out of our way to recognize the positive impact of another person’s work?

Did your boss provide you with helpful feedback on a project? Have you noticed any strengths in the trainee you’ve been working with? Do you have a certain coworker you can rely on for clear, organized work?

Let’s learn to pick up on small details that we can recognize and affirm in others in order to encourage and lift them up!

 

2. Admit – Own up when you’ve made a mistake

Especially in our workplace, it can be tempting to cover up our mistakes. But instead of working to advance our own careers, let’s humbly own our mistakes, and work hard to reduce any potential negative impact of them.

By doing this, we have the opportunity to promote Christlike humility (and not ourselves).

 

3. Apologize – Use your shortcomings to point others to Christ

We’ve all had that day when work makes us feel like pulling our hair out. In these moments of feeling overwhelmed by the demands of work or frustration at other’s actions, we’re prone to lose our patience or speak carelessly.

Whether our coworkers thought it significant or not, we can apologize for our short tempers, ask forgiveness where necessary, and most importantly, clarify the kind, gentle and patient character we are called to display.

 

4. Appreciate – Talk about things you are thankful for

Complaining is one of the easiest conversation starters. But we can vocalize our thankfulness instead!

Maybe we have one good friend at work, or an opportunity to get involved in a new project. We can be thankful for the work skills we’re developing that will be useful later in life!

In practice, thankfulness will contribute to a more positive work environment, and it’ll also help us train our minds to count as well as thank God for the blessings we have.

 

5. Assist – Offer your personal time to help a coworker

When five o’clock rolls around, many of us couldn’t be more thrilled to both mentally and physically check out of work.

But it can be really impactful to consider using some of that precious non-work time to serve the people we work with every day. Whether it’s offering to help a coworker move into a new home, or bringing a meal to someone recovering from surgery, let’s show God’s love to our coworkers by serving them with our time whenever we can!

 

6. Accompany – Find creative ways to build relationships

There are plenty of work-friendly and appropriate ways to be more social with our coworkers. Invite them to a sports game, or organize a work-friendly baby shower for a soon-to-be parent! Perhaps a new restaurant nearby could inspire lunch with coworkers.

Making time to socialize with our coworkers creates space to build more than surface deep relationships, which is the best springboard for us to share the gospel with them.

 

7. Advocate – Take prayer for your coworkers seriously

It’s easy to forget that our coworkers have their own personal lives and struggles. We can look around even a small office, and know that plenty are struggling with some combination of infidelity, addiction, family conflict, or depression. It’s often not visible.

So, let’s take prayer for our coworkers seriously. As we pray for God to help them, we can remember that the greatest help they can know is God Himself. In the same spirit that Jesus prayed for those who persecuted Him, let’s look at those around us, and pray diligently that they may come to know God (Luke 23:34).

 

If we think about it, our coworkers are some of the people we have the most opportunity to share the gospel with, or display Christ-like character to. So let’s enter our workplaces with a renewed sense of intentionality to share Jesus’ light in all that we do!

To the Friend I Tried to Evangelize

“Evangelize.” It even sounds like a dirty word, doesn’t it? An act of pushing one’s religion on another. A prideful way to tell someone they’ve got it totally wrong. That their worldview is wrong. That their beliefs are wrong. That they’ve got everything wrong, and I’ve got it right.

That’s what evangelism sounds like to you, I think. And it’s hard to respond with anything that doesn’t sound like worn sentiment. “Oh, but my God is the real one.” “I don’t haughtily push my faith on others—I share it so they can know truth.” You think everyone says that about what they believe.

But my God is different. My God is real, and is worth knowing. Though recently, I’ve learned something valuable about sharing that with you.

You won’t ever take my word for it. And maybe that’s a good thing.

As we talk about faith, you ask if I think it’s just good luck that I was born into a country where the “right” religion is the dominant one.

You ask if I’ve considered the reality that if there truly wasn’t a god, humankind would probably construct one anyway. . . just to feel better about all of the big things we can’t understand. How do I know that’s not what has happened?

You ask hard questions. And I’ve tried to give thoughtful answers. I’ve prayed for wisdom to speak, for God to lead me to answers that will sway you.

But you won’t ever take my word for it, and I’ve finally realized why.

I’ve been thinking about it totally wrong. Words aren’t what you need.

Because I don’t think reasoning and unanswered questions are what’s actually holding you back.

You need to know a God who heals.

You need a reason for all of the pain you’ve been through.

. . . a purpose worth living another day for.

You need to know the all-reaching forgiveness that you’re offered—to believe that nothing you’ve done has made you unworthy of it.

Most of all, you need to be loved—to know true love that is whole, unwavering, and given freely by grace, not based on merit.

My efforts to evangelize by providing you with logical answers can’t do that for you.

So, I’ve got to re-shape my perspective on evangelism. I have to realize that my words won’t win you over. In fact, I have to accept that, until you come to the end of yourself and turn to God, you won’t be able to see my faith as anything but foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).

I pray that the day would come soon, friend. I often ask God to work in your life in whatever way is necessary for you to realize that Christ fulfills the deep longing you’ve been wrestling with all your life.

But I can’t will that day into coming any sooner. So, in the meantime, I’ll keep praying, and I’ll start letting my life, instead of my well-intentioned wisdom, be a testimony to you.

You can watch how I work. I hope you see someone who works tirelessly to do a job well, even in a place that doesn’t treat us how it should (Colossians 3:23).

You can watch how I speak. I hope you see someone who considers the impact of her words before she releases them, and carefully avoids ones that give space to envy, spite, anger, or self-righteousness (Matthew 12:36).

You can witness how I treat others—especially the people you know I don’t get along well with. I hope you see a person who speaks to build others up and not tear them down, who chooses unity over words that cause division (Ephesians 4:29).

You can see how I spend my time, and I hope that you see someone who cherishes it as a gift and chooses to use it to serve others in my workplace, community, and social circles (1 Peter 4:10).

But most likely, you won’t always see these things. In fact, you’ll often be the first to see my shortcomings—how I fail to do each of the things above.

But in that, I hope that you notice where I turn when I fall short. I hope that you see I am quick to acknowledge when I’m wrong, and that you’ll witness me struggling against my sinful nature, longing to act and love in a more Christlike manner. Oh, you will certainly see how I am broken, and sinful, but I hope you see just as clearly, that I turn to God to help me be someone better.

I hope you’re able to see me, and know that anything good you see is grace from the perfect God I serve.

Now, my friend, as I seek to evangelize, I won’t focus on convincing you. Instead, I’ll try to live in a way that shows you that life with God is rich and purposeful. And when I speak, I’ll share stories about a life beyond the cynicism and despair so many are focused on. I will continue to share time and conversations and meals, and I will keep praying desperately that you find the hope which will anchor your soul (Hebrews 6:19).

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

When My Job Doesn’t Feel Sexy Anymore

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

 

Her: “So what do you do for a living?”

Me: “Oh. I’m a freelance writer.”

Her, crease darkening her brow as she wonders, “Is this a clever way of saying ‘virtually unemployed’?” : “Okay… So what does that look like?”

Now. Compare this scenario to about six months ago.

Her: “So what do you do for a living?”

Me: “Oh. I’m homeschooling my kids because we’re in Africa. On the side I teach some refugees.”

Her, a glow widening her smile: “Wow! That sounds amazing!”

 

One of these, you see, is decidedly sexier than the other—even with the “homeschooling” part thrown in.

I get it. Most of us have a hierarchy of Job Coolness Factor. I’ve got one, too.

But as much as I joke about it—there’s an identity factor here, too. I’ve dealt with some legitimate fears since returning to the US. It’s tempting to think maybe God got this all wrong. Or maybe I did, electing my own “demotion” from serving as a missionary in Africa. When all this transpired, I admit uttering to another writer, of all people: “I feel like here I am, sharing the Gospel, and God’s handing me a dented paintbox to work with. What am I supposed to do with this?”

(Did you feel it? That flicker of doubt?)

At one point, I figured out a metaphor for what I was wrestling with. It was as if, in Africa, I had been a sous chef, working alongside Him through major banquets and sweaty evenings, finishing with a high five. On the side, I created some tasty pastries. But one day, He tells me, “You’re my new pastry chef. You’ll be working over there.” From where I am now, I can still smell the main course He’s cooking up as I muscle through my new job, rolling out dough and throwing away a few failed dishes.

Yet when I step back, the real message in that metaphor is the alienation I felt; the change in partnership I sensed in my work. Yes, God and I still create together. But I still fight against that feeling of being “benched.” Is this really where you wanted me? I’m tempted to justify where He’s put me with a certain level of achievement—to make it feel significant and meaningful, doggone it.

See, I tend to link my own sense of my work’s significance with my value. It’s hard not to in a culture where we value effectiveness. And that’s how we start building this imaginary hierarchy of service to God. This tendency is linked to three lies we tend to believe as humans, which Henri Nouwen identifies:

  • “I am what I do.”
  • “I am what I have.”
  • “I am what others think of me.”

Each, unfortunately, fly in the face of the verdict Jesus has won for us.

I’m learning that sometimes, my disdain for the commonplace boils down to good ol’ fashioned pride. I’m not sure God shares my American value of usefulness or value or greatness in the same way. Sometimes, He says it’s good to just wash feet.

Sometimes, my idea of “greatness” is simply . . . off.

Perhaps my value should simply lie in being His daughter, rather than my contribution (anybody else hear Martha and Mary tones in there?). The point is, I’m His. I am not what I do. Or who others say I am. Or what I have. So I don’t have to grasp for a higher place in the hierarchy of “Cool Jobs”.

So, the passage I’ve drilled down through lately is this one:

. . . if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body… If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  (1 Corinthians 12:16, 17, 19, ESV)

I thought, “If the whole Body were a sous chef, where would the pastry chef be?” Because this passage isn’t just about gifts. It’s about unique functions in a collective whole. About God’s holy idea of usefulness.

Martin Luther King once said,

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

In my transition, I’m unhitching my identity, still, from my pet lies about what makes me valuable—even when those lies touch on what I do for the Kingdom of God. Or who other people think I am; to do whatever I do for His renown (see Colossians 3:23). I’m learning daily the beauty of Mary’s “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Maturity in the Body of Christ, wherever I am around the world, is just another chance to wash more feet. So here I am, saddling up for a little less sexiness for the Kingdom of God—and hopefully, a little more quiet, trusting faithfulness.