Loving when you don't feel like it

November 6th, 2019

One simple phrase explains why we don’t eat a healthier diet, we skip the gym, we refuse to forgive, we resist apologizing, we avoid admitting when we’re wrong, and we don’t ask for directions when we’re lost.

“I don’t feel like it.”

We know better. Studies have shown, experts have agreed, the Bible teaches, and common sense tells us what would make for a fit body, a tranquil mind, and harmonious relationships. And yet, to paraphrase Paul, we don’t do the very thing we keep telling ourselves we want to do. Or, at least, the thing we ought to do.

The reverse is true, too. I do in fact eat the fourth giant cookie, blurt out something snarky when I’m offended, or binge watch five episodes of “The Blacklist” instead of starting an overdue project. You want know why? “I feel like it.” And, yes, I know better. At least Paul knew how I feel afterward. There’s some comfort in that. (Romans 7:15)

It’s almost as if we are of two minds. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we are. As the writer Mark Manson puts it, human consciousness is like a car with two passengers: the Thinking Brain and the Feeling Brain.

The Thinking Brain is orderly and sensible. It sees the big picture, considers consequences, and plans for the long term. So, the Thinking Brains is a little slow and ponderous. Not the Feeling Brain: It reacts at the speed of light to what’s right in front of it. There is no tomorrow. That can be pretty irrational, even chaotic.

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And as it turns out, both of these passengers think that they should be in the driver’s seat.

Ancient philosophers and the Ancient Church experienced what can happen when you let the Feeling Brain get behind the wheel; think Caligula or Nero. So, they favored issuing a driver’s license to the Thinking Brain and stuffing the Feeling Brain kicking and screaming into a toddler car seat.

There are Christian spiritualities to this day that insist that we should know the rules and whip our emotions into line. Maybe you’ve seen this bumper sticker: "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." Another bumper sticker complements it: "When all else fails, read the instructions."

Swell. There’s just one problem: Sometimes you just don’t feel like doing what the instructions say. And that’s actually a huge problem because, as psychologists have learned, the Feeling Brain is always—always—going to drive the car.

Now, I’m not a follow-the-instructions kind of guy. I’m a follow-Jesus kind of guy. You know, a walk the way of love, follow-the-example-Jesus-set kind of guy. But I have to tell you, this doesn’t really get me off the hook because, well, sometimes I don’t feel like it.

I mean, get a load of this. Jesus says, “Love your enemy.” Do I really have to go any further? Well, I will anyway. Turn the other cheek, he says. Give the shirt off your back and your last dime to every beggar you meet. Don’t even protect your stuff from thieves. (Luke 6:20-31)

Gee, Jesus, that sounds awfully saintly. All very loving. But when somebody spits in my eye, bullies my kid, swipes my iPad, or talks trash about me behind my back, I don’t feel like it.

But Jesus knows this about me. And you. And pretty much everybody. He’s asking a lot. He’s asking us to grow into the image of God—into our true selves. He’s asking us to make our lives the way of love.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to get there all at once or even to do it all on our own. Here’s what he suggests: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Do loving things even when your heart’s not in it. As the philosopher and psychologist William James said somewhere, our feelings have a way of catching up with our actions.

So, try doing what Jesus does and love no matter what. Expect to fall flat on your face, but count on Jesus to pick you up, dust you off, and hold you by the elbow as you limp along for the next few miles.

Sometimes the greatest love we give is the love we give when we don’t feel like it.

Loving When You Don't Feel Like It originally appeared on Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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