In Defense Of Dispassion

Dear Christian: I have important news for you — news you might not be hearing from your preacher or positivity-laced Christian radio station.  

It’s ok not to be enthusiastic.  

Growing up, the measure of devotion my leaders used was a thermometer of passion. My youth pastors would praise students for being “on fire for Jesus” if they maintained a frenetic level of hand-raising, smile-spinning, cliche-repeating enthusiasm. Summer camp was an exercise in sleep depravation, emotional exposure, and tears. Always with the tears.  

In the late 1990s, I had an editor named Larry who presented the opposite approach. Larry never showed passion, never got worked up, never lost his cool. Imagine a veteran journalist with a world-wise face that reveals nothing but too many long nights and cigarettes. His neck tie is loose and his shirt sleeves are wadded around his elbows. I remember watching him answer the phone one afternoon. His desk was in the middle of the newsroom. He was standing next to it mimicking batting stances of various Texas Rangers, and debating the team’s chances with a copy editor. When the phone rang he picked it up, asked two questions, hung up, and then shouted across the room, “Matt! Three-alarm fire at Collins and Division.” Then he went back to his imaginary batting practice.  

A three-alarm fire is a big deal. But Larry didn’t panic. He knew what to do and he trusted his reporter. If he had been a football coach, Larry would have embraced the old-school approach to touchdown celebrations: “Act like you’ve been there before.”  

But here’s the thing: Larry was not apathetic. Larry loved his work and was darn good at it. His muted manner was not a reflection of failing fervor.  

Passion is a good thing. A fire in your belly is a good thing. And enthusiastic expressions of faith can be very healthy. But spiritual maturity is not measured by the endurance of your happiness tizzy. And some passions are deeper than the sentimentality we seem to encourage at church. No martyr ever braved the flames because of an ecstatic experience. Instead, they said soberly, “Our God can save us, and if not, we are willing to die." 

I am grateful for impassioned worship and fiery young voices. And I’m glad for the passion and positivity of many young leaders in the church. They are making invaluable contributions to important discussions from missional community to racial reconciliation. But please, dear Christian, don’t feel pressure to feign enthusiasm. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to reserve judgement. It’s ok not to be enthusiastic. Even in the face of a three-alarm fire.