To be a parent is to persevere regardless of feelings.
Emotions run high in parenthood – joy, excitement, frustration, anger, exasperation, fear – but being a parent is about action. I don’t feel like sitting at the table for a half hour trying to convince him to eat what’s good for him. I don’t feel like addressing a temper tantrum. I don’t feel like chasing a poopy butt boy. I don’t feel like rising at 3 a.m. when he cries.
But of course, I do all these things because being Bronson’s mom is not about what I feel like doing.
And I expect him to obey regardless of feeling, too. I know he doesn’t feel like getting dressed when I say or holding my hand in a parking lot or leaving his food on his plate (instead of throwing it on the floor), but I’m not too concerned about his feelings on these matters. I want him to learn to do them in obedience.
Lately I’ve been recalling a theory I studied in social psychology. As quoted from Social Psychology by David Myers:
“Experiments confirm that positive behavior toward someone fosters liking for that person…It is a lesson worth remembering: If you wish to love someone more, act as if you do.”
“If we want to change ourselves in some important way, it’s best not to wait for insight or inspiration. Sometimes we need to act…”
As a mom, I naturally do this with my son. I act as if I love him regardless of the situation, and I, of course, really do love him immensely.
But this is not always as easy or natural with other people.
Jesus says I should bless those who curse me. I should love my enemies. And I sense he’s not too concerned about my feelings on these matters.
But nothing seems more unnatural, more impossible to me. I wait for insight and inspiration, and while in waiting, I dwell on what was said or done. I weave a web of ruminations, and I find myself trapped in bitterness.
In some situations I’ve prayed for more than a handful of years for forgiveness – that I would be overwhelmed by forgiveness for the people who have hurt me.
This has not happened.
I’m still trapped in bitterness. I’ve woven more threads of anger and pain over the years. As time goes on, I find there’s more people who hurt me, and I’ve been exasperated by God’s inaction.
But I think he’s been more exasperated by mine.
He doesn’t tell me to feel forgiveness. He tells me to act in forgiveness. To bless, to love, and as I’ve learned in psychology, this will actually change the way I feel.
It’s not that my feelings are arbitrary or even unjustified. People have been cruel. Things happened that should have never happened, but I can’t control other people or change the past.
I can move forward, stepping in obedience into forgiveness, letting my actions untangle my feelings. I can be a blessing. I can be loving. And I can let these actions change me in a very important way.