My sweet daughter has someone she needs to forgive.
She knows she has to do it, but hurt is digging in deep.
The other day, she asked me, "If I forgive, but I don't want to and I don't feel it, does it count?"
I told her it absolutely counted, if she was doing it because she wanted to be obedient to God. I told her that sometimes—maybe most of the time—you do forgiveness first and feel it later. Sometimes a lot later.
When we're walking in faith and trying to become more like Jesus, we have to do what we don't want to do. We can't count on our feelings to motivate or guide us, because they can't always be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 (CSB) is mince-no-words clear about the dependability of the source of our feelings: "The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick—who can understand it?"
Does this mean our feelings are always wrong? Does this mean we should always deny or disregard them? Of course not. God, the perfect Creator Who makes no mistakes, designed us with feelings in all their complexity.
But there is some truth to the advice, "Fake it till you feel it." Sometimes, we have to act in right ways before our emotions catch up.
I struggle with finding a balance here, because I never want my children to think they have to put on a certain persona in order to be loved by God. But I also try to teach them what I'm still learning myself: obedience to God cannot be based on what I feel, which changes. It has to be based on Who He is, which does not.
Here are five areas of our lives that sometimes call for the doing before the feeling kicks in.
Love. First on the list because everything else worth doing or feeling grows out of it. God is big on love in action: "Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions" (1 John 3:18 NLT).
Real love is a choice we have to make every day, many times throughout the day. Love often does before or in spite of how it feels.
Forgive. If we love at all, sooner or later (usually sooner), we're going to have to forgive. Anytime we're close enough to someone to love them, we're also close enough to hurt them and to be hurt by them. And this hurt requires forgiveness.
God minces no words in His Word about the priority of forgiving: "if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). But because feelings of hurt and betrayal are so often tied to what needs forgiving—and because these are such powerful, lingering emotions—they're often what we feel. Forgiveness, then, has to be done in spite of these and in the midst of them.
When my daughter asked me about this, I told her, "Forgiveness has to look like something. Sometimes, you do it first and feel it later." I encouraged her to pray and ask God what forgiveness would look like in the particular situation she was facing. Would it look like praying God's blessing on this person? Would it look like being willing to talk to this person? Would it look like getting a mental grip on negative thoughts about this person and deliberately rerouting her mind away from those thoughts? Whatever forgiveness might look like, I counseled her to do it without waiting for her feelings to prompt it. (I know...easy for me to say.)
Worship. I went through a season in my life when I did not want to worship God in the assembly; I did not want to worship Him in the gathered body of Christ at my longtime local church home. I'd been part of the worship leading team for a long time, but some changes beyond my control left me feeling hurt and resentful. I carried that hurt and resentment into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and clutched it to me. I withheld from God the praise and honor He was still entirely worthy of. Finally, I sensed Him gently but firmly asking me, "Elizabeth. Will you worship me no matter what?"
Once I decided the answer was "yes," I still had to fight emotion that did not miraculously go away overnight. Praise was still a sacrifice. I had to set aside my self-centered feelings (which I knew God still cared very much about) and reorient my thoughts and actions toward the Object and Subject of my worship.
Pray. Prayer is simply talking to God...which is great, except that sometimes, I don't particularly want to talk to Him. Those "sometimes" include but are not limited to: when I don't like what I think He's trying to tell me; when I'm angry at Him (yes, I'm that kind of Christian); when I'm just worn out. If you're thinking these look suspiciously like ALL THE TIMES, you're right. All the more reason I have to force myself to pray anyway. This is where the prayer P.A.T.H. I follow (praise God, admit my sin, thank God, and ask for help) is so useful; it shows me a way to go to God that isn't dependent on my feelings. Often, I start in rote ritual along this path—saying the words and thinking the thoughts in robotic or resigned fashion—but find that my heart and emotions have joined the journey by about the halfway point.
Rejoice with those who rejoice. I really hope I'm not the only person in the world who struggles here. There's no way for this not to be ugly, so I'll just say it: a lot of times when something good happens to someone else—especially when it's a "something good" I wish would happen to me—I don't feel particularly happy for that person, and I most definitely don't feel like celebrating with them. (I told you this was ugly.) Jealousy and envy are what I feel, but what I need to do is say, "I'm so happy for you!!!" and send congratulatory messages and balloon emojis. Not to put on some fake act, but to live beyond myself, to do right for right's sake, to put others first.
Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, said, "My feelings do not affect God's facts." I'm so thankful for this. I need God to be steady and unchanging and sure and constant. And the fact is that God tells us to love, forgive, worship, pray, and rejoice with others whether we always feel like it or not.
The beauty, though, is that when we sacrifice our desires—or lack thereof—to Him and choose to do obedience, we usually find the truest feeling of all: the joy of Abba's favor.
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I'm so honored and grateful that this post was featured by Aimee Imbeau on the Grace & Truth link party. This post may also have been shared at some of these link parties.