“What you feel only matters to you. It’s what you do to the people you say you love, that’s what matters. It’s the only thing that counts.”
This line has been bouncing around my head for the last six months. It’s a quote from a romantic comedy from several years ago.
While the movie is not particularly profound, I can’t help but notice that the line itself is. If you’re like me, you get lost in what you feel, and then it fuels and anchors your actions. It plays out in relationships and in marriage. One might think, “I don’t feel happy.” Or, “What about my needs?”
Are our feelings the main thing? Can our feelings be trusted to lead our actions?
It also plays out in our spirituality. “I feel so unworthy.” Or, “I’m feeling like I can’t draw near to God.” Those feelings may be real. In fact, they may even be true. But the question is, are our feelings the main thing? Can our feelings be trusted to lead our actions?
King David battled deeply with his emotions. He often felt abandoned and forgotten. But what we see with David is worth our attention. He acknowledges his feelings. They are real and legitimate. But he doesn’t use his emotions to drive his feelings. We see him use his emotions to chart his course of action.
Look at Psalm 13. In verse 1, David feels forgotten. More than that, he feels that God is hiding his face from him. But as we see him move through the Psalm, he concludes it differently from what his emotions might have led him to do. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” It’s not that his emotions are bad or even sinful. Rather, he takes his feelings and foists upon them what he knows he should do. He puts his trust in God’s unfailing love. He lets his actions guide the swirling storm of his emotions.
This bolsters us. I struggle constantly by letting my feelings guide my actions. In particular, my generation is submerged in the reality that our feelings, above all else, are the insight into reality and determine what we should do next. But what if we flipped that notion on its head?
Our emotions are good and God-given, so they should definitely earn a listen. But it shouldn’t stop there. Our wills are as important as our emotions when it comes to serving God, who both feels and acts. Similarly, acknowledging that we don’t always feel like doing the right thing should not end the discussion. The great C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” This is true with our neighbor, with our spouses, with our families and co-workers, and with our God.
David didn’t feel loved. But he acted as if he was. He put his faith in God’s unfailing love, and let that guide him into faithful prayer and action. When you don’t feel it, listen closely, and then do it anyway.
It would be incredible in a world saturated with the credibility of emotion if God’s people listened to and felt our emotions, and then acted in light of our emotions without being controlled by them. If you don’t feel like you love God well, love him anyway. If you don’t feel connected to your spouse, pursue her anyway. If you don’t feel appreciated at work, wear yourself out any way. Ultimately, we serve a God who did not just feel the distance of our sin and the bind that we put ourselves in – he acted in spite of it.
Romans 13:14 reads, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” The call for us is to feel and think, but also to act, even when it doesn’t feel true.