Recently, PBS released a new movie adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility. In that adaptation, Marianne says the following: “It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are; it is what we do … or fail to do.”
That quote really resonated with me. It is our actions that define us, not our feelings nor our conversations. It’s easy to know what the right thing to do is, but it’s harder to actually do it, especially when we don’t want to. When our head tells us one thing, while our heart tells us another, it can be an agonizing experience. I have always loved movies where the heroes/heroines are put into a situation like that; my heart literally pains in my chest as I stand in those characters’ shoes and feel their pain. But when it actually happens to you, it’s not nearly so fun, nor so romantic.
Doing the right thing can be difficult, and conflicting feelings only complicate matters. Yet feelings are fickle; they change daily, sometimes hourly. Feelings deserve to be listened to for the messages they are telling us, but feelings should not be allowed to get the final say. American society seems to have become a culture that makes decisions based on feelings, not facts; I could not disagree more with this way of making decisions. Movies instruct viewers to “follow their hearts,” and while the story may turn out well in the end, that’s just Hollywood talking. Real life isn’t like that, and we can’t blithely “follow our hearts” to make big decisions.
Actions are more important than feelings. Actions are more lasting that feelings. If you know something is the right thing to do, then don’t worry if it doesn’t feel right. Just do the right thing, and eventually the “right” feelings will follow. What we do is more important than how we feel.
And it’s not just the big choices that define us, it’s the little choices, too. The totality of our choices is what makes us who we are. A friend once told me: “Life is the accumulation of little choices. Those choices can either be healthy or they can be destructive. They may not be one or the other all at once, but over time they develop into patterns of behavior that reflect our character and determine our path.” Big choices get more attention, but little choices, choices made on a daily basis, can have just as much of an impact on our lives.
When a person is a Christian, then s/he has the assurance that God will bless their correct decisions, even when our sinful nature would have us choose the wrong path. This is a great comfort, especially when the right choice involves denying oneself and bearing some sort of cross. God promises that we will be blessed when we choose to live our lives as he would have us live them, and we can be confident in that promise, no matter what our feelings may tell us.
God knows how difficult making the right decision can be. Sending his only Son to the cross couldn’t have been easy, and neither was it easy for Jesus to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world. Yet love, true love, is not about feeling — it’s about action. That’s the message of 1 Corinthians 13: ” Love is patient, love is kind, love is gentle, love is not self-seeking, love keeps no record of wrongs, love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Real love is about choosing to do the right thing, even when it doesn’t feel right.
God showed that kind of real love to us sinners. Inspired by his love, we can make good decisions about our lives, too. Even when those decisions bring us little earthly joy, we can still have spiritual peace and joy, knowing that we are living as children of God. Eventually, that spiritual joy will spill over into our emotions as well, helping us to feel better about our situation, and perhaps even enabling us to be thankful that with God’s help, we made the difficult, right choice.