In the last couple of months, in graduation speeches across this country, graduates were exhorted to follow their passions, to do that which flowed from the depths of their being. I expect that, as a preacher, I have sometimes urged people to follow their passions (the godly passion, that is). It’s pretty much assumed in our day that we should all live according to our powerful feelings, desires, and visions.
But is this right? Is this enough?
I just read a challenging piece in The High Calling by Stephen Martin, a speechwriter and journalist. In “Don’t Let Your Passions Overwhelm Your Duties,” Martin examines the example of Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “Science is my passion, politics my duty.” Of course, Jefferson devoted much of his life to politics, including such minor tasks as writing the Declaration of Independence and spending eight years as the President of the United States. Talk about living a life guided by duty!
Jefferson suggests a wiser path: don’t get so hung up on our passions that we forget our duties. They include providing for ourselves and families, helping friends, contributing to our communities, and paying heed to God. Sometimes that’s going to mean walking out the door to a job that doesn’t thrill us every moment of the day. And that’s all right.
This sounds almost heretical in our current cultural setting. It sounds, well, so “Downton Abbeyish,” if you know what I mean. If you served in the military, you’ve probably know what it’s like to be motivated by duty. But, for the most part, we just don’t use this sort of language anymore.
Should we? Should we revive a sense of duty? Should we follow Jefferson’s example and choose duty over passion, at least some of the time? Or, in so doing, are we losing ourselves in the process, denying who we really are and what we’re meant to do?