We as Christians are called to love all, forgive an infinite number of time, have faith in what we cannot see and be joyful during suffering. When I was younger I thought of love, faith, forgiveness and joy as a feeling resulting from the Holy Spirit. Through my life experiences battling mental illness and studying of neurology I learned that the feelings/emotions result from a chemical reaction in the brain. I thought hmm, is that so…. Historically, we say that feelings come from the heart but that is not true. Just like the earth is not flat, feelings do not come from the heart. Feelings and emotions come from the brain. Furthermore, I realized I cannot force myself to feel something that I do not. We feel what we feel. We cannot flip a switch and feel something different.
When I came to understand that feelings are not in our control I wondered to God, “what am I to do with this, I cannot change what I feel?” This was his response, “my dear child, you cannot change how you feel. You can lay what you feel at my feet and say change me father. But love, joy, faith, forgiveness are a choice. Your actions will reflect your choice. You choose it daily and if you keep coming to me and choosing it, I will change how you feel through the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ and medical care. If not now then in the future and if not in the future then in heaven.”
This brought me such peace. The knowledge that I can choose to love someone even when I do not feel the emotion. Similar I can choose to forgive someone who I do not trust. I can choose to have faith in God when I cannot feel his presence and I can choose to act with joy even when I am overwhelmed with pain/suffering.
Feelings are a chemical reaction in our brain but we can choose love, joy, forgiveness and faith by our actions. It is the Holy Spirit that changes us in a way that is reflected in our feelings. We cannot change ourselves but we can choose whether we go to him and lay all that we feel at his feet.
Similarly mental illness causes changes in the brain that affect feelings and emotions. So if God is not changing how you feel, consider seeking professional care. Mental illness is real and it has treatments. If you are going to God and it is not helping, then maybe he wants to bless you with a doctor and counselor.
So to those who face the challenge of choosing love, faith, joy or forgiveness in the absence of the emotion, may God honor your choice by changing you so the feelings come. To those who are making the choice daily and your feelings have not changed, God sees. He understands. May you consider professional help and may God give you the strength to keep making the right choice. Amen
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25