I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed. — Robert H. Schuller
You are going to do great things in your life. I am so passionate about Christians finding an identity rooted in God’s love, because I know that’s ultimately the only way they will fulfill their destiny. Confusion about identity is the main reason why Christians give up on the great callings God places on them. They compare themselves to the accomplishments of others. They think, I haven’t earned an education or I don’t have any business experience. As a pastor I had to learn very quickly that if I wanted to succeed in ministry I couldn’t compare myself to other pastors or their churches or their budgets. I had to just be me, and that would be the most successful version of me.
When our identity is rooted in being the beloved, we can do whatever we want without feeling pressure from society. We are free to pursue a big vision despite our critics. We become people in love with possibility and don’t worry as much about failure, because failure has nothing to do with belonging. When we are focused on being God’s beloved, we simply desire to do what God wants. If He calls us to do nothing for a season, that’s okay.
This freedom evaporates when we think we are not worthy of love and belonging and need to prove ourselves. If we remain constantly rooted in the idea that we are what we do, we will simply do too much and will burn out. In other words, we get emotional energy when we stop worrying about being amazing, perfect, impressive, or relevant and just decide to do the awesome thing God wants from us. When this happens, we are able to focus our energy on that one thing rather than a bunch of things at the same time. We go from victory to victory and get encouraged along the way. We don’t allow setbacks to destroy us and instead gain a new resilience.
If the first component to having a vibrant energetic life is identity, the second is passion — that is, having a big dream or desire and really going for it with all your heart. I’m interjecting it here because my concern about letting go of what you do as part of your identity can feel like I’m saying, “Just give up.” I’m not. The only thing I want you to give up is being overwhelmed, cluttered, exhausted with proving yourself to others, and people pleasing. Boundaries, self-respect, and loads of spiritual energy are required for you to do the great things God has called you to. In fact, in a Christian worldview, desire is at the heart of your faith.
Many Christians lack passion. They experience setbacks that cause them to give up on their dreams. After too many failures they think they are a failure and find themselves struggling with depression. Or, at best, the nagging feeling that they settled. This, too, is rooted in shame and the idea that “I am what I do.” If you are in that place, it might be that your self-talk is, “I am a failure.” Perhaps it’s time you let go of that and with abandon just start dreaming again. Having a big dream or desire, living every day with passion and zeal, is central to the Christian walk.
As children, we dreamed all the time. We had big ideas and goals, and we didn’t allow anyone to sway us. One week we wanted to be an astronaut, the next we wanted to be a ninja. We didn’t care what the pay was. As children, we were full of energy, life, and passion because we hadn’t lost a sense of wonder. As children, we saw the world as a boundless canvas of opportunity and did not limit our thinking.
We start life so full of energy, but after enough loneliness, rejection, and suffering, we take a more realistic view of the world. This is where our spirituality finds itself in mortal danger, because in a Christian worldview our desire is our spirituality. After all, Jesus said,
Unless you… become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 18:3
Perhaps you thought Christianity was all about being morose and boring and following a bunch of rules and rites. Perhaps you thought being a spiritual person meant getting rid of passion altogether. Not so. Your soul is made to desire.
Every human being is made in the image of God and brings a bit of His power into this world. Being born is a crazy affair. We enter the world with no rules or boundaries, naked and covered in blood, screaming. No baby comes into the hospital room saying, “Father, Mother, so nice to meet you. When you get a second, I desire something.” In fact, a newborn baby expresses raw spirit, fire, and passion. Whether aflame or barely flickering, that same passion remains in our hearts, and it is this passion that has fueled some of the greatest good and evil in the world.
Perhaps to be born again means to regain some of this fire we had as children. Perhaps we are meant to clean off the many barnacles of societal taboos and pressures placed on us by the world. Christianity teaches us to focus our passion on what is good. It certainly doesn’t teach us to get rid of it. The greatest women and men who have made a difference in history have been passionate people. Simply look to leaders such as Dorothy Day, Dr. King, or Billy Graham to see very clearly those who dream and live with passion. The big difference is their passion doesn’t result in destructive behavior. Rather, it’s totally devoted to God’s call.
I’m startled by how many American Christians will criticize another believer as being too emotional, as if being emotional were ungodly or somehow a bad thing. Yes, emotions can cloud our reason and cause us to be unwise at times. That’s certainly not prudent. But you also can’t be like Jesus without being at least a little emotional. When Jesus preached against religious hypocrisy, He was emotional. When He saw His friend Lazarus dead in a tomb, He was emotional. When He turned over the moneychangers’ tables, when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, when He gave His life on the Cross for His friends, He was emotional. Isn’t the crucifixion called The Passion?
Being emotional and passionate is a good thing; it’s the very definition of being spiritual.
But it’s only good to the point that those emotions and passions are mastered. Mastered doesn’t mean “turned down.” It means your emotions are focused and trained, like a laser. You are passionate about helping others. You are passionate in your prayer. You are passionate in your love for your children or your friends. Your emotion is an inner fire directed toward fighting what you are afraid of, toward generosity, and toward spiritual growth.
The axiom is true that “Emotions make great slaves but terrible masters.” The Catholic priest and theologian Ronald Rolheiser used the analogy of Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin to explain that point. Janis Joplin was passionate, on fire for life and music. She made some amazing art. She put on incredible shows. Everywhere she went she brought energy and power. She was a broken soul, though. Her brokenness drew people and she had thousands of fans, but this only exacerbated her problem. She needed real love and friendship but in the end hurt many of those around her and destroyed herself because of her out-of-control passion. She burned for burning’s sake and, like an explosion, died at the young age of twenty-seven. There’s something admirable about Janis Joplin; like many passionate people, she was attractive if destructive. Not someone to emulate, but still endearing. Yet like many bright flames, she burned out quickly.
It’s hard not to wonder what might have happened if Janis had met Jesus and trusted her life to Him.
Janis Joplin and Mother Teresa had the same fire and passion for life. They were bold, courageous, and very emotional. The difference is Janis Joplin allowed her emotions to control her and destroy her life. Mother Teresa, however, controlled and focused those emotions to give life to others. Few alive had more passion than she, but those emotions were a blessing and not a curse.
Mother Teresa was an Albanian nun, petite in stature, who answered a call from God to go to India and serve. She began teaching at a Catholic school for young, affluent religious kids while watching other children — unwanted children — dying alone in the streets. As she watched this happen day after day, it ate away at her. Pulled by the spirit of God, she left her prestigious role at the school to simply be present with those who were dying. Like Janis Joplin, Mother Teresa was a fireball, but fearless, focused, and a follower of Jesus.
Once, during an interview, she sat holding a young child who was in pain, dying. This little girl urinated on herself and on Teresa. In disgust, the reporter turned to the cameraman and, thinking Mother Teresa wouldn’t hear, whispered, “Ugh, I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”
Mother Teresa did hear it. She yelled at the reporter, “Neither would I!”
You can see it, can’t you — the dramatic scene of a Westerner disgusted by human suffering and uninterested in helping? In contrast, because of her desire to never let anyone die alone, Teresa changed the world.
We’ve all had moments where we really let loose. Maybe with a group of friends or at a wedding, we do something absolutely unlike our normal behavior. We jump into a pool fully clothed or make our first attempt to give a breakdancing circle a try. These moments — when we just stop caring and do something really fun, where we let go of our reputations and live boldly, even for a moment — are often when we feel the most life and joy.
We’re always struggling with both the desire to fit in and the desire to be unique. We want to be an example, and yet we don’t want to be uncomfortable. We want to do something crazy, but we don’t want to be socially awkward. We all feel this way, but following Jesus means you need at least a small touch of crazy.
You are not what you do, so why are you worried about failing? You are not what you do, so do something great!
Excerpted with permission from You Are Beloved by Bobby Schuller, copyright Robert V. Schuller.
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You Are Beloved! Success doesn’t make you more loved by God. And, failure has nothing to do with belonging. How do those facts change your willingness to let loose and change the world? Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily