When the feelings aren’t there

Today I learned something about love. My pastor started his sermon in a predictable way. Love is more than a feeling. It’s about doing good for another. Yes, yes, I know that, pastor. He read the parable of the Good Samaritan – that man who did not pass by the beat-up, nearly dead guy on the side of the road. The religious people before him had continued to walk by. But the Samaritan stopped and took care of him. Yes, yes, I know that story, pastor. In this story Jesus implied that active love is the truest, most significant love. Yes, pastor. I got that.

The lesson started to really capture my attention when he said, We have less control of our feelings of love than the doing of love for others. That made sense. I met many guys before I met my husband, but only Jason connected with me deeply. I have met many people but only a few have become best friends, and I am not sure exactly how I came to care about those close friends the most. But my feelings are strongest for them.

The pastor said that the breakdown in relationships we witness in our society is not about the feelings being messed up. It’s an action problem. It’s a disorder in the way we act toward one another.

His advice? To repair the feelings, repair the love. Work on the action part and the feelings will follow.

I’ve heard that kind of message before. I’ve been told to pray for the people who give me a hard time. If I do not like a guy, eventually my consistent prayer for him will change my feelings. But for some reason, the way the pastor worded his message struck a chord with me today. Often choosing to act out of love requires you to act in opposition to how you feel. It’s hard to act in love toward a person you feel unconnected to, or bitter toward. But that’s the only way to get the feeling. Sacrificial acts that you perform can enlarge the love in your life.

He said this advice also works for the people you do not yet know well. Do good for your acquaintances, and eventually they will likely become your close friendships.

The pastor’s message took a specifically theological turn when he referenced John 3:16 and said that experiencing God’s love for us ought to enlarge our hearts so we have a greater capacity to love, kind of like that image of the Grinch’s heart in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Sharing a story with us, the pastor admitted that often he has driven by a certain homeless man with a sign on the side of the road, and on one particular day the man was in an especially desperate situation. He was naked and urinating on himself. From a heart of love, the pastor felt pity for the man. But what can I do? he thought. Pity with no action. That’s kind of like those religious men in the Bible who passed by the beat-up man and did nothing to help. They probably felt bad for the man. But what can I do?

Jesus calls us to love with our actions. Even if the feelings aren’t there, do it. Those feelings will come later.


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