Feelings, decisions and actions are connected: we can choose to love
Christianity asserts that we are holistic beings – that our bodies, minds, and spirits are interlocked and interwoven and cannot be separated.
In terms of the mind, we are both intellectual and emotional beings. We have the capacity for ordered thought processes and we also feel deeply. The two are connected – as anyone that has ever taken a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) knows. Feelings affect our thoughts and changing thought patterns can change our feelings.
Now, we cannot always help how we feel. Feelings happen to us. Sometimes they are rational feelings, where there is an underlying cause or trigger, and sometimes we cannot discern an obvious cause. The feelings are just there. I have to tread very carefully, because I am fully aware that many of us deal with debilitating feelings, and I am not, for a second, suggesting that there is an easy solution. I too once struggled with anxiety, suffered panic attacks, and had to deal with a long period of depression. It was horrendous and I have the deepest empathy for those that also struggle with their mental health. I merely, for the sake of this article, want to make it clear that our thoughts and feelings coexist and are consciously or unconsciously connected.
Why is this important? Well, I sometimes wonder if we label some things as feelings when they are in fact also decisions and behaviours. Take love, for example. We often think of love as a feeling. The late and wonderful “Queen of Disco”, Donna Summer, sang to us, "Oooh, I feel love, I feel love, I feel love …" But love is not just a feeling!
Jesus, after washing his disciples' feet, and being betrayed, commanded his disciples to love one another. He didn't say, "Feel love for one another." Love is a verb. It is a doing word. We can choose to love even if we do not feel like loving. And we can think of other feelings in the same way too, such as doubt.
This week I was asked if I ever doubt my faith. Well, technically, as I will explain, faith and doubt coexist, but what they are asking me is whether I doubt my belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and whether I wonder if my trust in God is misplaced. And the answer is, yes, absolutely!
I am not blindly following my Saviour and I engage in serious rational thought and discussion about my beliefs. I question my beliefs on an almost daily basis. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Do they work out in practice? Do they make a difference to my life and to the lives of others? Do they affect how I live my life? And so on … It is not wrong to question one's faith. And so, yes, I sometimes have doubts. I sometimes feel unsure. And yet, I rationally choose to have faith and place my trust in Christ. It is a decision that I continually make.
And those thought decisions affect my actions and the way I behave. But more than that, they affect what I experience too.
Choosing to believe; choosing to have faith; choosing to trust in God’s love and forgiveness opens the door for me to experience that love and forgiveness. I feel it. Now, you could argue that I am feeling those things as a direct result of my thought processes, but it is somehow more than that. I experience and receive so much more than I give.
For the tiny amount of faith I have in God, I receive a superabundance of blessings – including a deep sense of joy and inner peace. This, I understand, is what Jesus calls, "life in all its fullness". Despite its bumps and wobbles, pains and difficulties, life is wonderfully full.
It all begins with a choice. Last week, at the Cathedral, a whole bunch of adults publicly proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ in a special ceremony. They made a decision. The Bishop did not ask them, “Do you feel like turning to Christ?” He asked them, "Do you turn to Christ?" To which they answered, "I turn to Christ." And over the next two Sundays, at St Mark’s we are blessing and having a thanksgiving for a baby and a toddler. The parents and sponsors will make a public declaration to follow Christ and raise the children within our loving church family until the day when the children may also choose to follow Christ.
This week, if you are having doubts, remember that you are in good company. Jesus’s disciples themselves had serious doubts, yet they chose to follow Him. Christians throughout the millennia have had doubts and yet their faith has led to God doing marvellous and wonderful things in the world. Love is a verb and so is faith.
And so, today may you have faith in the One who gives us life in all its fullness, and may you receive from God the abundant blessings of his love.
• Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm