|My enthusiastic Irene|
Enthusiasm. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word derives from enthousiazein “be inspired or possessed by a god, be rapt, be in ecstasy,” from entheos “divinely inspired, possessed by a god,” from en “in” + theos “god”
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For most of my life, I have been super-enthusiastic, interested in everything, always learning, flitting like a butterfly in the winds of fresh enthusiasm for God, for gardening, for art, for poetry, for myth and fairy tale, for travel, for writing, for essays, for memoir, for the theatre, for film, for the Holy Spirit, for prayer, for history, for healthy eating and natural healing, for friendship, for people.
I have seen writers who started out with me, write book after book, while I, I was still learning, still reading, still dabbling in fresh enthusiasm, still experimenting with life.
Hemingway, that king of stylists has something to say to writers like me: In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused.
So there is a season for enthusiasm, for going where you have to go (I’ve visited over 30 countries and lived in three continents!), and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see. But there is also a season to take the dull and blunt instrument of your craft, put it on the grindstone, and hammer it into shape.
And for me—I’ve had lots of adventures, done lots of interesting things—and the bucket list of things I want to do before I die now has but one big item: I want to write lovely books and blogs.
And that’s the enthusiasm I am going to nurture.
Yes, there is something of God in enthusiasm. I think I am changing my parenting as I realize that.
I used to watch out for signs of giftedness in my children, and steer them in that direction.
I now realize that for success, and more importantly, to find work which one thoroughly enjoys (and this is one of life’s great gifts), giftedness is secondary to the determination to keep on rowing. To keep on plodding. To put in the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, and count it all joy.
And for that, enthusiasm is more sustaining than will-power or giftedness—for many people, or all, are multi-gifted. Just because you are gifted at something does not mean you should make it your life’s work, as Roy, my husband. realized when he gave up math research, or Irene, when she gave up chess. Go instead with your greatest enthusiasm. Better to fail at something you love doing, than succeed at something that somewhat bores you!
So I am now watching out for what my children express enthusiasm for. Where the spirit of God within them is leading them.
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I have another life-rule. Never, ever, prematurely quench another’s enthusiasm.
I think I have been guilty of quenching some of my children’s enthusiasm, I myself have done so much, experimented with so much, tried so much, that it’s taken me till middle-age to settle down and get seriously focused.
And so I wanted them to get focused early. Irene, my younger one, is like me, a creature of many and varied enthusiasms. She was a brilliant chess player, and I used to say, “No, Irene. Forget the art or the knitting, or the whatever, focus on your chess.” We stressed her too early, and she’s given it up, after having been ranked the second female in the country for her age ground for a number of years.
She is extremely gifted at writing and literary analysis. When she was 12, her teacher said her analysis of texts and her writing was at GCSE level (age 16). So now, when she comes up with ideas and enthusiasms, I tend to say, “Well, wouldn’t it be better to read? To listen to audiobooks?” But I think I am just going to let her follow her bliss, in Joseph Campbell’s phrase, knowing that many and varied experiences enhance one’s writing, making it richer and meatier, the flesh of a free-range animal, rather than a factory-raised one.
There is a season for enthusiasm, and a season to sacrifice the good for the best. For me, I am in the latter season. For my children, I will leave it to them to decide when they should transition from the season of enthusiasm to the season of focus.
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I use enthusiasm as a guide to whether I should do or continue doing something. It is, in fact, an Ignatian method of discernment. See how doing something makes you feel. See how not doing makes you feel. Your heart, your spirit, your body are giving you the answer. Scripture enters the equation, of course, but this is a better, more holistic way than a Scripture verse lottery, basing your actions on a single verse of scripture, against the wisdom of your head, heart, spirit and body.
I have been leading Bible study groups off and on for 11 years now. Perhaps God gave me the opportunity to infect others with my passion for him; to test out my weird and wacky ideas on people, and see what fell flat, and what evoked a response; to learn to put abstract spiritual ideas in concrete, vivid terms, so as to excite and energize people. And all these were useful lessons for blogging.
But, now feel that era is over. The main enthusiasm I feel is for the last item on my bucket list—blogging and writing books—and like Paul, I want to focus on that one enthusiasm. “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.” (Phil 3 13-14).