This week my husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. The sermon at our wedding was, “Love is a decision.” It has taken me this long to fully appreciate the truth in that statement. That’s because one of the enemy’s most destructive lies to relationships is this one:
I can’t help how I feel.
Compare that to what God says of our feelings:
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
Words Mean Things
Early in my study of the Bible I became aware of the connection between my heart and my words.
Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak.
But recently God has been doing a new thing in me, taking this idea up a notch, challenging me to begin with my thoughts, use wisdom to discern truth from lies, and rely on the power of my thoughts to direct my feelings and ultimately my behavior toward others.
Mind over Matter
For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
Our thoughts produce our feelings which prompt our behavior. So to change our behavior we must run the cycle in reverse and identify the feelings that drove our actions, and then go one step further and ask: “What thoughts are behind those feelings?”
Note: The following incident is fictional; any resemblance to real life is purely coincidental. 😉
Imagine that my husband greets me in the kitchen with a cheerful, “Good morning, darling,” and it elicits only a grumble from me in reply.
If I step back and examine the feelings that prompted my reaction I realize I am feeling frustrated, resentful and uncared for. Wow. That’s a lot of emotion for a simple “Good morning.”
What thoughts produced those feelings? Turns out it is garbage day and my husband forgot…again.
…Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may know what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
What if instead of reacting based on those feelings I consciously redirect my thinking: The garbage is my husband’s responsibility, so whether it goes out or not is up to him. I know for sure he doesn’t fret one second over the status of my laundry. And, I remind myself, my husband takes great care of many things for the kids and me.
Suddenly those positive thoughts, grounded in truth and love, wash those negative emotions away. Now, after just a slight pause, I am able to greet my husband with a respectful and equally enthusiastic, “Good morning!”
Mastering Our Thought Life
God intended for our minds to be masters over our hearts, not the other way around. And yet our human nature is to allow our fickle hearts to rule our lives far too often. The Bible is full of examples we can learn from beginning in Genesis.
Look at the thoughts that precipitated the Fall: Eve told herself first of all “that the tree was good for food,” “it was pleasing to the eyes” and it was “a tree desirable to make one wise.” (Genesis 3:6) Because we are talking about love, let’s look at these thoughts in the context of relationships:
God said she and Adam could eat from the abundance of the garden, just not from that single tree. How often are we drawn to forbidden fruit over the good things in our own relationships? How often do we look at other relationships and imagine them to be better than our own?
What is pleasing to the eyes is not always what is pleasing to God, in fact it’s often just the opposite.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4
This world defines beauty very differently from God’s definition, emphasizing the surface and the temporal over the deep and enduring beauty of heavenly things:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Finally and most perilously Eve convinced herself that the tree was “desirable to make one wise.” Well what could be wrong with that? Are we not all to pursue wisdom?
It wasn’t really wisdom Eve was pursuing, for this was the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Up to this point she and Adam had lived only in the knowledge of good, their focus fixed firmly on God and His provision.
Yet, how irresistible it is to want to “know evil.” Evil is love of self above love of God or love of others; it is pride. Selfish motives darken our hearts and lead us down the wrong path in our relationships. We want to be first, not last. We need to be right more than we desire to hear and care for the needs of another. We want what is good for ourselves more than what is good for another, even someone we profess to love.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
The only hope for us is to make the decision to love. Fortunately, God in His wisdom gave us the perfect rubric by which to mind our hearts and think the thoughts that will produce loving feelings and actions in our marriages and families:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8