Feelings and Actions and Actions and Feelings

Gustave Flaubert, the French writer most famous for his first published work Madame Bovary once said,  “One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”

In other words, you can exercise some control by sheer will over your actions, but feelings? Well that’s a different story. You can’t control what you feel. You feel what you feel, and because you feel what you feel, it’s like spitting into the wind to try and control it.


Yes, I think. But like so many other things, we can be paralyzed into inaction by stopping with the uncontrollable feelings. What happens when you feel one way, and yet you know you should feel something else? What happens when you know, for example, that you should not be angry with your husband or your wife, or with your kids, and yet you feel angry anyway. You know there is no basis for your hostility, and yet there you are, fuming with rage.

What do you do then? Do you simply let yourself fizzle out? Do you wait to do something until you feel something different?

No, you do not. You act anyway, even when (and maybe most especially because) your feelings contradict what you know to be true.

You apologize. Or you forgive. Or you sacrifice. You do so not because you feel like it; you do so because it is good and right and true. You do it, in other words, as an act of faith.

You don’t feel like apologizing, forgiving, or sacrificing. Or obeying, for that matter. In short, then, you acknowledge what you feel to be real, and yet you submit yourself to a greater reality. A higher calling. A more important truth. You refuse to be governed by what your senses tell you, in the moment, and instead believe something different. That belief is strong enough to look contrary feelings in the eye and not blink. At all.

And you know what? A funny thing usually happens. You start to feel differently. Notice, though, that you don’t feel differently before you act, but as a result of acting. In this way, it seems, you bring the weight of the authority of Jesus Christ slamming down on your momentary emotions. And what you find, time and time again, especially as your heart begins to change, is that in this domain – the domain of the emotions – that Jesus is still Lord.

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