Psalms 33; 146, Isaiah 5:18-25, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, Luke 21:29-38
Yesterday we looked at the relationship between God and humanity as a love story cycling from estrangement to reunion. Today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians also addresses love, but more how to express the practical sort of love we are called to implement in our community. This type of love, also known as agape or charitable love, is not about affection, but about action. When Paul advises his audience not to repay evil with evil but to do kindness always, note he does not add “and you have to like each other while you do it.” One of the attributes of Christian love is that we strive do right by others no matter how we feel in the moment.
Our pop psychology culture emphasizes the preeminence of feelings. Reality shows and bad therapy model a brand of emotional purging that may be cathartic for us, but which may also leave many floundering in our emotional wake. Rising above our emotions may even earn us the title of “hypocrite.” We should be careful not to buy into the notion that our emotions define us or should define our actions. Good therapists and wise spiritual leaders teach us there is a deeper self that lies beneath our emotions. When Paul asks us to repay evil with kindness (and he asks us this because Jesus asked first), he is encouraging us to engage that deeper, truer self. The love of God that is the foundation of the deeper self may sometimes be experienced through emotions, but it precedes and follows any emotional expression, and it never promotes the self at the expense of others.
We act in love toward others because they are beloved of God, not because we are fond of them, or because charitable actions “feel” good. However, we can reap spiritual benefits from these actions, especially if our actions are loving when our gut is not. In a culture that encourages us to let feelings guide our choices, it’s easy to forget that our choices also mold our feelings. Acting in love transforms us into loving people who reflect the love of God. What more could we aspire to?
Comfort: You are stronger than a collection of feelings.
Challenge: Read some books or articles on managing emotions.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for giving me the ability to be better than I feel I am. Amen.
Discussion: What emotions do you have the most trouble controlling?
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