acting, feelings, and reasons

Sunday night, my friend Alece put this up on Twitter and the Facebook:

“You don’t feel your way into an action. You act your way into a feeling.” -@pwilson @crosspoint_tv

I understand that this was a quote from a sermon, and I don’t know the entire context this idea was presented in… however this statement (and this idea in general)  gives me mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I understand that our feelings often are fed by our actions. The more of a certain behavior we practice, the more our feelings shape to fit said behavior. Example: the more I sit on the couch and eat bags of Cheetos, the more my feelings are going to be that I really, really want to do that. (Don’t judge me… they were organic cheeto-type poofs.) So yes, there is truth to the idea that feeling follows action.

But…

There is another, deeper part of me that feels that this idea is somehow dishonest, somehow cheating me out of a whole person experience and settling for a stoic life look. There is a part of me that feels this idea is neglectful to the needs our feelings truly speak to.  We have feelings and emotions for a reason. Yes, they are effected by this sin sickness (just like our bodies and psyche are), but they are still a vital part of who we are. If I am to do right behavior in order to change my feelings, what happens when the feelings don’t change? What happens when I don’t love more, fear less, believe better, trust deeper, worship?

Acting my way into feeling feels like just that: acting. It feels like I am lying to my self (or at least to those around me) in order to convince my self of whatever. As I said, this idea strikes my as far to stoic. I can’t discount my feelings, even when they are wrong. Yes I want to see my heart changed and my emotions moved. But behavior isn’t the final solution. Modifying what I do may not ever truly touch the need, the reason for these emotions.

Maybe I’m off here. Maybe I’m just too sentimental, too undisciplined, feel too much for my own good. All I know is feelings matter. Acting to feel seems to deny this to me, even though I agree that behaviors feed feelings.

What do you think?

  • Richard Hummel

    I can sympathize with your thoughts on feelings following your actions. I also attend Cross Point, and had the opportunity to hear this message live. I encourage you to hear the message in it’s entirety at http://www.crosspoint.tv.

    I think the only thing this discussion is missing is the element of time. I want to go to the gym, work out, and see immediate results (wouldn’t that be awesome 🙂 What if the investment of time in order for actions to change our feelings were to take years?

    I have noticed in my own spiritual life that His time is significantly different than mine. “God, please give me patience, and give it to me now!”

  • Chrs

    In my own life, it’s an idea that frees me from the tyranny of feelings. So many people won’t do things unless they’re interested or compelled to. If that’s not you, then you’re more mature than some–and I think you’re right that there should be balance.

  • I definitely get where you are coming from, and I think, if your primary concern is acting, behavior, getting the job done, etc., it amounts to little more than self-reliance or even hypocrisy. On the other hand, our minds, hearts, and wills are not always in sync, and it can be helpful, even necessary to move one forward without the others and hope the others will catch up.

    If you are aware of a need in your life, and you are motivated to act on it, even if you aren’t super excited about it, doesn’t that show you have SOME feeling involved? I don’t think we can motivate ourselves forward without some emotional engine powering us out of thought and into action. If you can fan that spark, that tiny inkling of emotional involvement in what you are doing, using the bellows of your actions, you just might nurture it into the nice strong fire you were looking for.

    I think that might be part of the conforming ourselves to Christ by exposing ourselves to him so intimately and pervasively that we begin to look, think, and act like him, so that, even if our hearts haven’t quite lined up with his yet, we can see clearly where it is headed and have the ability to the act on what we now understand. In that acting, we conform even more. It’s a back and forth, two parallel paths down the same rode.

  • i get the paradox of thoughts here, aaron. i’m glad you blogged this out. for me, i took pete’s words in the context of acting christlike when i don’t feel like being meek, gentle, patient, etc. i struggle with how it can be laced with hypocrisy and a lack of authenticity, especially because of the plastic always-happy-and-blessed christianity i was raised in. but i do believe there is a balance to be found there. choosing the hard even when i don’t feel like it, and still being honest and authentic about where i’m at (with God and trusted individuals).

I reserve the right to moderate and delete comments at my sole discretion. Basically, don't be an ass or a troll, contribute to the conversation, and you can say what you want. This is my online home, not a free for all chat room. Thanks.