September 29, 2017

When Passion is Impossible to Sustain

Gary Thomas — 

I’ve been enjoying Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and one thought in particular stuck out at me that is so relevant for marriage. Duckworth writes primarily about work and vocation in her book, but apply this thought in relational terms and you’ll see what I mean:

“What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime. It is therefore imperative that you identify your work as both personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the well-being of others.”

Think about this in these terms: Passion without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime. An infatuation with no greater end than our own delight is like soap bubbles, fog, and a sunset—fascinating and ephemeral at the same time.

My own marriage has deepened to the same extent that Lisa and I have purposed to help others. We both know our marriage isn’t simply about ourselves anymore (it never really was), and we continue to grow in respect and appreciation for each other as we each seek to extend ourselves on behalf of others. It’s natural that you feel more affection toward, and more respect for, someone who is doing unselfish things. And when we offer ourselves to God, He empowers us with His Holy Spirit so that we can do more through Him than we could ever do on our own—all the while drawing our spouse’s respect and admiration in the process.

My book A Lifelong Love has an entire chapter on how important a sense of mission is to a thriving marriage, including how to find that mission. I describe what I call “the magnificent obsession” as being partners who aim to live out, together, Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 to seek first his Kingdom—to focus on accomplishing His work above our own personal agendas. Whether that leads you to dedicate your lives to educating students, coaching young athletes, building a small business, being an active member of the arts community or your local church, your relationship has an ultimate purpose that goes beyond your happiness and seeks to lift up others.

The best relationships have plenty of delight, but delight is sort of like icing—while you may crave it, it only makes you hungrier sooner rather than later if there isn’t something substantive beneath it. Think of “romance” as the icing and “service” as the substance. You don’t have to choose one over the other, of course, but you will eventually lose interest in the icing if you never follow it up with substance.

This line of thought may not sound “romantic” to some of you, but living a life of purpose has given me more romantic feelings for my wife, not less. I don’t know that either of us has ever felt more “in love” than we do now, thirty three years into our marriage. Maybe we’re just getting the normal “empty nester” bump that I’ve read about. But it at least feels directly tied to increased purpose and mission.

So, to increase the passion in your marriage, or even to sustain the passion in your marriage, double down on purpose and mission. If you’re raising children make sure you’re a team raising disciples of Christ. It’s not enough to raise them to be well-educated, well-mannered, and culturally “successful.” Decades from now, if that’s all you’ve done and they end up as selfish consumers who live trivial lives, you’re likely to say “to what purpose did we sacrifice?”

The only thing more fulfilling than doing work that you think matters is raising kids who do work and who live lives that matter. Whether your child grows up to be a police officer, run a post office, own an independent coffee shop, be put in charge of children’s ministries or an entire church, or build a business that employs dozens or thousands of employees, if their faith drives what they do and influences how they do it, the thrill is immense. Just like marriage, parenting must have an ultimate purpose in order for it to satisfy.

Talk about how the two of you can use the resources and influence God has given you to have a new and greater impact on others in His name.  It’s actually one of the best things you can do for your marriage. Sustained passion needs purpose. If you want to build and keep the passion, you’ve got to find and build the purpose.

In other words, as I’ve written before, don’t worry about falling out of love; worry about falling out of purpose.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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7 responses to When Passion is Impossible to Sustain

  1. I’ve been up reading about relationships and maintaining passion going after marriage, and found your blog. I’m very thankful in the way you share your wisdom in this article. I will be looking further into your book. Thank you, Gary!

    God bless you,

  2. Thanks Gary – as always, very well said and very important perspective. My wife and I have been married now 35 years and we have talked for about that long about living on mission together. When we moved into our current home 30 years ago, we felt like God said the neighborhood was going to be our mission field. Since then, we have done all kinds of things with those who live up and down and across the street and throughout our development, to learn what it means to literally live out the mandate “to love your neighbor as yourself.” Our children grew up in this and now have the same mindset–life is not all about us! And ultimately that mission boils down to one word wherever we are at and at all times: LOVE.

  3. Another great post Gary! I’m reading up as much as I can for when I get married this December. Your blog, as well as the church I attend has been very helpful thus far. I’m looking forward to a great marriage in Christ!

  4. This is very timely especially at this time of making a choice of whom to marry.

    God bless you.

  5. Thanks so much Gary for this wonderful encouragement- So very true!! Our world needs to see marriages that thrive not just exist after many years. We are approaching our 30th anniversary and God has been so faithful. God bless you !!

  6. Awesome post Mr. Thomas! For My husband and I, our marriage got very challenging when our purposes in Christ got very cloudy by many outside factors….we made the decision to make some radical changes to strengthen our relationship and I can’t tell you how much it has bettered our relationship with the Lord, redifined our purposes and strengthened our marriage! Great emphasis because a lot of contemporary teachings instruct you to work on the “eros” side of your marriage, but this post reminds us that “without vision we slowly perish”….and so can our marriages too if we don’t lift our visions higher for why we are on earth. Blessings to you!….

    • Thanks, Kelechi. Great testimony. I think every marriage will be tested this way. Eros is a great help to marital affection but eros, on its own, can’t sustain a lifelong love. Purpose gets far too little attention.