by Lee Ann Pomrenke
We know when we have it, and we know when we don’t. And we know it’s not something we can muster up when it just isn’t there.
During the cold, long nights of winter, after the excitement of Christmas and Epiphany has passed, our lack of passion can be all too obvious. We all go through times when we are stuck in a rut, merely going along with the status quo, possibly wanting to make a difference, but with no idea where to start or motivation to think about it.
Other times we’re not looking for anything in particular, but somehow something chooses us. Stumbling into passion that way feels like “eureka!” Suddenly we find the spark inside us all along, now freed to change the world.
Have your gifts chosen you?
Maybe the moment and your gifts have come together to stir up your passion. Or you and those you love have been seeking out new passions, new ways to make a difference, or movements that truly move you. In any event, consider the biblical story of Esther, a Jewish woman who lived in Persia long ago.
The first queen angered the king by refusing to show up when he called her. The king’s advisers suggested he have the most beautiful virgins from the entire kingdom brought to him to choose another, more biddable queen.
Esther was among the young women called to the palace, and her cousin and foster father, Mordecai, instructed her to keep her Jewish identity secret. Esther was taken into the harem, and we are told she blended in well, always taking the advice of those in charge. She pleased the king, and he made her the new queen.
Then there came a threat to the Jews in the empire. Was Esther starting to feel restless, maybe ready for a change, perhaps looking for a cause to champion? Probably not – but her identity and the moment came together to spark her passion.
The king’s closest adviser, Haman, resented Mordecai and began to plot against all the Jews of Persia. Mordecai told Queen Esther of the threat, but she refused his plea. No one could approach the king without being summoned; she told him, not even the queen. Even to try could mean her death.
But Mordecai told her, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:13-14).
The Jewish people were facing a mortal threat, and as Mordecai pointed out, Esther was in a unique position to persuade the king to have mercy on her people. And so she did – putting her clever twist into the tale.
Esther changed from a docile follower of everybody’s advice to a passionate advocate for her people. In the story, the change came from one conversation with her foster father, Mordecai. But we don’t often become instantly passionate about something. First, we have to give ourselves some space to see how it goes, whom it connects us to, and how we feel about it. We have to trust our instincts and recognize our natural strengths and weaknesses. But the voices of people we trust – as Esther trusted Mordecai – can also play a major role.
Self-interest or selfishness?
When a community organizer first talked to me about self-interest, it sounded selfish. But it is the opposite: Knowing how I am affected by and therefore personally invested in something is not just about me. When we can identify how an issue affects us directly, it is easier to stay committed to the cause if that becomes inconvenient or worse. Also, telling our stories is the most genuine, non-threatening way to share our passion.
Would Esther have stood up to the king if Mordecai had not reminded her that Haman’s plan to murder the Jews of Persia meant that her own life was in danger anyway? His words reminded her that although she was not the only one who could act for God’s justice, there was a lot hanging on her actions. Plus, Esther was in a unique position. No one else had access to the king that she had.
When we consider the causes we will pour ourselves into, taking inventory of our situation first adds to our effectiveness. Just as Esther considered what she, and only she, could do to save her people, we can consider our power and access as well.
Our self-interest may begin with people and places we can name, but the passions that are most worth pursuing have a greater impact as well. Esther gathered her courage and spoke up for the sake of the Jewish people scattered across all the provinces her king ruled, and thus she became an instrument of God’s action. Then she discovered that she was not alone; all the Jewish people throughout the kingdom rose to defend themselves against Haman’s evil plan.
Timing is everything
The question “What if . . . for such a time as this?” is so powerful precisely because it is a question. We don’t know until we act what our effect might be, but we do know that action is urgent.
Timing is the domain of the Holy Spirit, who blows where she will, spinning us around like a spiral of leaves on a windy day. When the spirit of change in its disguise as restlessness starts blowing through us and then through entire groups of people until we can hear each other being moved, the Holy Spirit has arrived. The time has come to act – and we’ll find we are not alone. We were made for such a time as this.
Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star. Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands, and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. –ELW, page 21.
1. About what issues are you most passionate? Where is your self-interest in this issue?
2. Can you point to the Holy Spirit moving you to act on this passion through either self-interest, relationships, or timing? How does your passion affect others?
3. Sometimes, what we are most passionate about doesn’t pay the bills. Yet, there are always ways to act on that passion, even at unrelated work, school, or time at home. How might you work your passion into everyday life?
Lee Ann M. Pomrenke is an ELCA pastor, mother and author. She currently works as an editor for Luther Seminary’s digital properties: Faith+Lead, Working Preacher and Enter the Bible and the host of Faith+Lead’s Book Hub events. Her first book is Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God (Church Publishing, Inc, 2020). She lives in NW Ohio with her husband and two daughters.
This article first appeared in the January 2018 issue of Cafe (boldcafe.org).