"The way you think
determines the way you feel,
and the way you feel
determines the way you act.”
When I was in high school my family attended a church with a dynamic and outspoken pastor. He was complemented well by his graceful, subdued wife, Ruth Helen. I admired both of them, but Ruth Helen seemed to carry with her an air of mystery and intrigue.
Because my family moved often, I had attended a variety of churches in my life. However, this was the first church I attended in which emotions were freely demonstrated. It was not uncommon to see men cry. Hugging, and even kissing were common greetings among church members, as well. Among my family members, emotions were often suppressed or masked, so I was quite impressed by this. I have always felt that God brought me into that church at just the right time of my life, as I was beginning to question some aspects of my family life and formulate my own values for faith and relationships.
I suppose I might have become overly caught up in the emotional aspects if it hadn’t been for Ruth Helen. I clearly remember the time she filled in for our regular Sunday school teacher and talked to our class about facts and feelings. I was all ears.
“Feelings are important,” she said. “You need to pay attention to them, but you also need to remember that they have their place. Think of it like a train.” She picked up a piece of chalk and drew three rectangles with wheels on the chalkboard. The first rectangle was a little taller, the last rectangle a little smaller, and the one in the middle was medium-sized. Finally she labeled them: the first one was fact, the one in the middle was faith, and the last one was feelings.
“Truth is always the engine. Its job is to direct your faith and your actions,” she said. “Feelings are important. But like the caboose, they should never run the train.”
I could see the wisdom in the train illustration, and I often drew on that wisdom throughout my life. A few years later, I learned that this illustration was used widely by Campus Crusade and other groups, as well. There were some differences, however. Whereas Ruth Helen had emphasized that feelings were important, others made comments such as this, “The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be futile to attempt to pull the train by the caboose."
Something always bothered me about that statement. Still, I found much practical wisdom in the example, and it served me well in several real-life situations. When it comes to issues involving obedience to God’s Word, this formula works. I remember a wise friend counseling me in regards to my unloving feelings for my father. “When the Bible says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ are there any stipulations? No. We aren’t told to honor them IF they are honorable, or IF our feelings toward them are warm. In fact, in those cases, we wouldn’t even need to be told.”
I came to see the act of honoring my father and mother as an act of obedience and love toward God, who had commanded it. The more I honored them with my actions (even when I didn’t necessarily feel it), the softer my heart became toward them. I will be forever grateful for the advice that brought me to that place. The train illustration has broad applications in real-life situations.
Unfortunately, we humans have a way of taking our formulas to the extreme, leaving the living God out of the equation. I have spent most of my life among Christians who are extremely cautious about showing emotion. Strangely, emotions easily surface in response to things like political issues and athletic competitions, but in the context of biblical truth and worship, they lie in check.
I bought into this approach for many years, until God literally sent me to my knees in repentance one day. In a moment of godly revelation, I became aware that, in living this formula out to the extreme, my heart had grown cold. I still read God’s Word and KNEW the truth, but I had suppressed my emotions to the point that I had lost my first love. As a result, nothing stirred my heart any more, including God, Himself.
Since that day, God has been at work, putting the fractured pieces of my heart back together, and I have stopped looking to other Christians as examples of how I should or should not display my emotions. Instead, my emotional responses are directed to the Lover of my soul. I came to see my self-consciousnesses, my holding back of what is rightfully His, as sinful pride.
I was reminded of David, the man after God’s own heart, who danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing only a linen ephod. When Michal chastised him out of her own embarrassment, he replied, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes...” (II Samuel 6:22 NIV)
As I began to allow God to stir my heart again, I felt a sense of regret for what I had missed. In response, I wrote the following poem.
I know how it feels not to feel a thing.
I’m hollow inside and it’s hard to sing.
Nothing moves or evokes a tear.
Laughter is shallow and fails to cheer.
Events don’t delight, impress, or excite.
Night turns to day and day to night.
Predictable, routine, and so mundane...
Thoughts, words and feelings seem inane.
I know how it feels to feel again;
Feelings flow freely from heart to pen.
Sorrow, exuberance-- both are embraced,
Filling the space that not-feeling erased.
Appreciation of detail abounds:
Intricate textures and complex sounds.
Melodies dance inside my soul
And blend with the senses to make me whole.
I wish I could tell you where to start
To renew the passions that once thrilled your heart.
It seems trite to tell you not to despair,
To set your affections on the God who cares.
Yet He is the Author of hope for the heart,
Wonderful Counselor, “How Great Thou Art!”
Delight in Him; desire the Lord,
And a life of passion will be restored.
Over the years since I began "feeling again" my awakened senses have stirred me to action, making me more effective as a Christian. With my zeal renewed, I am more aware of the needs of others, and more responsive to the Holy Spirit in trying to meet those needs. Therefore, I can see the wisdom in Rick Warren’s statement. Indeed, the way I think often does determine the way I feel, and the way I feel, determines the way I act. The statement is useful in understanding why I sometimes behave the way I do.
Still, I am reluctant to reduce this abundant life that I live according to the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, to any man-made formula. I have been there and done that.
For links to more discussion on this same quote, please visit Debbie's blog, Heart Choices. She is today's hostess of In Other Words.