I’m gonna put my heart and soul into it
teenagers with fewer A-Cs are more likely to self-harm
I was reflecting on the connection between these two statements. The first is the sort of meaningless nonsense parroted out on TV by contestants on shows from baking to dancing, skating to singing, in those twee VT clips before they do their thing. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with putting your heart and soul into something. But I believe that one of the effects of the emotional manipulation of TV is that young people believe you can literally do anything if you put your heart and soul into it.
What tipped the balance for me was when I heard a contestant say it on The Taste, which I wasn’t even watching. What she meant was, I’m going to use a combination of the skills I have spent years learning and honing, and in a high-pressure situation I will do my best to recreate something that tastes really nice to these three people on TV who have a sensationalist script to follow. Heart and soul? How many times have we seen X-Factor contestants put their heart and soul into singing, when really they should have paid a few quid for singing lessons. Or just used their ears.
On TV, it’s amusing. But in real life, it is not. I remember a young person who was convinced they were going to the Brit School when they left school. A hopelessly unrealistic aim as they weren’t studying music or drama, learning an instrument, or singing other than to the radio. But they truly believed they were good enough. Why? Because they’d seen people on the X-Factor. They were completely unaware of the hard work that the vast majority of people put in.
When our culture promises so many short-cuts, and identifies ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ as being solely linked to grades, fame and money, it is not surprising that so many young people feel they’ve failed and come back to earth with a bang. Nothing matches what they’ve seen on TV. Everything else is just living half-life. Which brings us to the second sentence.
Here’s a quote from the novel Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (p80-1):
Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative… We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can’t recall a single thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or a TV show… I literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The second-hand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore.
We must be real with our young people. We mustn’t over-promise to them, and we mustn’t let them believe the hype. Life is about far more than the emotional push of heart and soul. Feeling it and believing it are very convincing in the moment but as hollow as a grave. Life is about hard knocks, beautiful highs and a whole lot of the mundane, and true friends are those who stand with you through all of them.
Jesus makes us realistic. Jesus commends hard work alongside grace. And most of all, service. It is our folly if we allow this same culture of heart.soul.fail to filter in to our worship, to our churches, to our ministry; if our young people aspire to be like the image we portray of ourselves, and not the real people we are underneath, we have failed. If our young people need an emotional high to believe God is present, we have failed.
I’m all for heart and soul, but the heart and soul of discipleship is walking in the dust of our teacher, disciplining our lives around the broken and the hurting, and the hard work of personal change as we feel – truly feel – real life with our creator. There’s no shortcut to that.