“A dream without suffering is little more than a fantasy. Risk involves bleeding.” Dan Allender
Here is how I became passionate about counseling: I rented an office in downtown Colorado Springs for $290 a month. It was a quaint little place, with some old house charm. But the landlord was a retired lawyer turned packrat who never cleaned the place. I didn’t know this until I moved in and opened a closet only to be buried in about fifty of his old coats.
He had an office in the building. And towers of fast food cups on his desk – a months worth stuck one inside the other, each representing a different days fast food lunch trip. I always knew the meal was good when a burp echoed down the hallway and into my counseling sessions.
The bathroom toilets were worse than when I lived in a house of five guys after college. And clearly the place had not been vacuumed for months if not a year. Fall leaves hugged the corners even though it was August. Never rent an office space sight unseen. Pictures can look really good.
So I struck a deal with the guy. I would clean the office common area for another $50 off rent. Truthfully, I desperately needed that cut in rent more than a clean office. As a recent counseling graduate, I had no clients and no money. I had a job at an outdoor gear store and my wife worked at a running store. We were retail rats living in a very small $500 a month apartment to make it. We were poor.
Thus I started a Saturday morning ritual of listening to podcasts and scrubbing toilets and cleaning floors at my office building. It was humbling. And it was so good for my heart to feel like I was serving my clients, even cleaning the toilets for them.
My first counseling couch I found next to a dumpster at an apartment complex while visiting friends in Denver. Seriously. Yes, it was clean. Think so clean and intact you wonder why they threw it out, not musty old sagging thing from the 80’s. And it was free which mattered a great deal. So we hoisted it on top of the Subaru. I added to this a couple $60 retro olive green wing back chairs and a $5 filing cabinet, all scavenged from Craigslist, and I had an office. $20 in business cards later and I had a full fledged business.
And no clients. I spent my time calling pastors and counselors and doing business networking groups and building a website and selling backpacks to people who could afford gear. Being barely above the poverty line myself, I only lusted after gear,
Oh, and I spent a lot of time being afraid. Or trying to fight it. I remember the nights laying wide awake at 2 AM, my heart tormented with anxiety. Am I going to pull this off? Is this counseling gig really going to work? Those were the nights I was either going to find an open bar or get on my knees and pray. Thank God I was desperate enough to pray. My life was like this for a few years.
If it isn’t clear, let me make it so. I suffered a lot to build my counseling practice. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. This is how I became passionate for the craft. This is how my heart for what I do has grown so strong. I suffered.
Let me go out on a limb and guess this is not the story you were expecting or wanting. Me neither. Had you asked me before this about my passion for counseling, I might have told you about a few books I read that meant a lot. Or some healing experiences of my own in counseling. And certainly these experiences have informed my passion. But the suffering is what really made it a part of me.
There’s this old story of a Jewish rabbi who told his students that reading the Torah can put the word on our hearts. A student asked him, “I thought God put the word in our heart.” “Oh no,” replied the rabbi, “he puts them on our hearts and so that, when our hearts get broken, the words fall in.” That was my story. All the books and training and mentoring only got me ready to finally have my heart broken enough to really love and appreciate the work and the people I met with.
The word Passion comes from the Greek word, paskho, which means “to suffer.” The very idea of passion has at its root the idea of suffering. This is why we call enactments of Jesus crucifixion Passion Plays. You may know this already. To be passionate about anything is to suffer.
We don’t think of passion like this. I never did. I always thought of passion more as an endorphin laden experience of excitement. A burst of energy. A momentary rush of love or lust or anger or joy. Granted, passionate people do embody these kinds of emotions. Get somebody talking about their passions and you will feel their excitement.
But passion is not a moment. Passion is a journey. It always has a story to it. And its always a story of suffering. Suffering helps set our passions deep in our bones.
Want to become passionate about something? Go do it. And keep doing it. Do it past the point of suffering. Do it long enough for the desire to fade some and the urge to quit to take its place. And right about then, keep going. You’ll notice something, a shift, subtle at first. You will find that what fuels you is no longer inspiration or endorphins or cheap shallow emotion. But resolve. A commitment. That’s when you know you’ve become passionate.