The virtue for December at Saint John’s School is “enthusiasm.” If there was a top ten list for virtues, I doubt enthusiasm would appear on anyone’s list. Nevertheless, I think it is important and I am not alone in my sentiment. Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying, “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm.” And Ivern Ball said, “Knowledge is power, but enthusiasm pulls the switch.”
Some find it surprising that we need to teach students from pre-k through 8th grade to be enthusiastic. Some say, “Don’t they have enough energy already?” For the most part, children have plenty of energy. But, there is a difference between childhood energy and enthusiasm. The root of enthusiasm is a combination of Greek words that translate literally to the “God inside.” (“En” for in and “thusi” [theo] for God). There’s a spirit inside each one of us and enthusiasm is what brings the God/Spirit out. We all have God inside. Focusing on this December virtue teaches how to bring it out.
The end of the year brings a particular focus to spreadsheets, budgets, pledge drives, and the like. Because of it, I find my enthusiasm waning. Being a Priest-in-charge is not easy; the work never stops And we’ve come a long way since I joined the Saint John’s family three and half years ago. But, that “long way” has taken its toll, in particular on my enthusiasm. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Other church and school leaders may be finding their enthusiasm on the decline too.
Negativity is the enemy of enthusiasm. There is a term for it – “emotional business management” (EBM). According to author and business consultant Suzanne Evans, EBM is about the ups and downs of business. As entrepreneurs know, there are good months and bad months. The EBM of a bad month, however, weighs heavier on the heart than the EBM for a good month. This applies to pastoral ministry, too. We’ve had good months and bad months and the bad ones can bring church leaders down more than the good ones energize us. The first thing negative EBM affects is enthusiasm. Additionally, things are not going well in the world and there are negative thoughts and forecasting regarding the future of the Church in America. Even our own Bishop preached on this a couple of Sundays ago. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of negative EBM to go around.
Treating enthusiasm as a virtue is a way to counteract negative EBM. Here is a virtuosic plan of action for enthusiasm. Think and then list what you are thankful for, what you are proud of yourself for, and then how you will feel once a task or goal is completed. Write another list of all the things, moments, and people that make you happy. Write how you would feel inside if everything in your life would be just as you want it, then concentrate on this feeling and try to hold it as long as possible. Come back to this feeling and read your lists every time you feel sad or discouraged. This will help tremendously.
Jesus was enthusiastic about his mission. The negative EBM he encountered was tremendous. Yet, he never let that trouble him or slow him down. Did Jesus make a list of all the things he was thankful for? Perhaps. And if he did, I bet you are on his list. Now that is something to be enthusiastic about.