If there was a favorite thing I like to teach on other than the Bible, it would be the idea “feelings follow choice”.
We live in a culture where feelings reign supreme with entire industries and markets based on solely on appealing to feelings. I don’t just mean consumer goods… I’m talking about self improvement, marriage and lifestyle choices. We buy things based on feelings, our relationships are dictated by feelings, what we do in life and how we live is based on feelings. Our feelings are elevated to be the tipping point, highest priority of everything our life. My rights, my happiness, my dreams, what I deserve, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
We have an entire army of “mental health” experts who teach a person the most important aspect of their emotional and relationship health is how they feel about things. “How does that make you feel?” “Do you feel like that’s the best choice for you?” “Do you feel happy?” “Do you feel like that’s what you want out of life?” “Do you feel like you deserve that?”
It is this obsession with “feeling” which has led to a pandemic loss of personal responsibility, people not keeping their word and generations mulling around in confusion unaware of what is important in life. I have often said, and will continue to say, one of the primary reasons for the lack of stability, personal sacrifice and integrity in our culture is the destructive elevation of feelings, making them our guide, our criteria for decision, and ultimately our absolute individual truth (which is of course, no absolute truth at all).
Let me give you an analogy I’ve repeated often, and then I’ll share with you recent example of how this helped someone.
Feelings Follow Choice Just like the Caboose Follows the Engine
Picture your life as a long train. The engine is your power to make choices, your personal will. The engine is not pushed around by the wind or hills or people standing in the way. It goes where it is headed because a choice has been made on purpose regardless of the circumstances it passes through. (analogies always break down if taken too far, so just leave it there…)
The caboose represent your feelings. Feelings in and of themselves come and go based on circumstances and environment. Feelings are led around by what happens to us, our physical condition, our emotional state and the randomness of life. Our feelings are fickle and like the well-known phrase in the Bible are “tossed to and fro on the waves” of life.
By comparison, choices can be made based on knowledge, absolute truth and the force of our will regardless of circumstances or emotions. Our choices can be determined by unmovable principles, responsibility, duty and timeless truth regardless of how we happen to feel at the moment.
Even at this point in our discussion, the discerning person should already recognize which of the two (choice or feeling) are more reliable and should have the highest priority when it comes to our decision-making. Isn’t it obvious? Should our feelings, which are prone to change on the spur of the moment in a storm circumstances, dictate the important decisions of our life? Or should we base our choices on unchanging truths, objective knowledge, deep convictions and commitments we have made?
Burn this picture into your mind: your life is a train rolling down the tracks of life. The engine is not drifting along aimlessly. The engine is your source of power controlling the speed and direction of your life. The caboose is your feelings and they will always follow the engine and its choices. Even when the engine has made a decision to turn left or right or switch tracks, it may be a while before your feelings catch up and follow the same path. This is an important point to remember and the reason why I use the phrase “feelings FOLLOW choice.” It is not always immediate but it is always a sure thing. Feelings follow choice.
Choices Came First Back When…
Here’s a practical example. Everyone understands what happens when you meet someone and decide you’d like to pursue a romantic relationship. At the point of meeting them, you don’t have deep feelings of love, commitment and sacrifice. You start out with the initial twinges of attraction and interest. So what do you do next?
You make the CHOICE to begin doing things that will cultivate the feelings of attraction, romance and eventually love both in you and the other person. You carve out time for them. You do nice things for them. You buy gifts for them. You go out of your way to compliment them and say things to them to make them feel good. You think about them.
You make all these choices to do everything possible to not only cultivate your own feelings (which started out as just potential surface indications of interest) but you do everything you can think of to nourish and nurture the other person’s feelings for you. You may spend weeks or months, sometimes years, making choice after choice after choice to bring about the feelings that will cause the relationship to go further and become more serious.
…But Now You’ve Got It Backwards and Feelings Come First.
Fast forward a few years into marriage. Now everything is backwards. You don’t feel like doing anything nice for your spouse and you never do. You don’t feel like spending time with them so you don’t. You don’t feel romantic so you don’t do anything to create romance. You don’t feel like complimenting them so you don’t. You don’t feel like sacrificing anything for them and you aren’t going to.
It’s all turned around exactly opposite now. You will not CHOOSE to do anything you do not feel like doing. Our culture has brainwashed you into believing if you do something without feelings motivating it, then you are being insincere and a hypocrite. You’ve been brainwashed by our “self” focused society (self-esteem, self love, self happiness, self forgiveness, etc.) into believing your happiness and feelings must come first before you can do anything positive about others feelings, especially your spouse.
You don’t feel like you are in love anymore so you are not going to CHOOSE to do anything a person in love would do. You don’t feel like you are in love so you aren’t going to act like you are in love.
We Choose to Do Other Things We Don’t Feel like
While many people lack the self-discipline to do anything they don’t feel like doing most of us can understand the following:
- We choose to work out or train even if we don’t feel like it.
- We choose to eat less or eat differently even if we feel like eating something unhealthy.
- We choose to get up and go to work even though we may not like our jobs or feel like working.
There are many things we choose to do each day regardless of how we feel about it. On the flip side, if you are a person who never does anything unless you feel like it then most likely you are a walking definition of being undisciplined and your life is out of control.
Feelings follow choice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s marriage, work, health, serving others or spiritual growth, we have to face all of these situations repeatedly and routinely at times when our feelings do not match what we know we should choose to do.
My point? If you can CHOOSE to do one thing (name it: excercise, diet, work, etc) even when you don’t feel like it, then you can just to do ANYTHING, even if you don’t feel like it (spiritual growth, restoring your marriage, changing your attitude).
A True Story
I speak with couples who have reached a point after a few years of marriage where they experience those first times when they are disenchanted and struggle with “I don’t feel in love anymore.” I recently spent some time on the phone with both a man and wife giving them advice about what they should CHOOSE to do concerning their marriage that was struggling after a tragic death in the family.
For her, it was the idea of choosing to let go of control even when she felt like there was so much she needed to say, point out and made known to him. These were legitimate things but her feelings were driving her to frustrate the possibility of reconciliation with too much discussion and too much focus on what he was doing wrong. Her feelings of wanting to fix the situation needed to be subservient to her choices to be patient. She needed to choose to fore go her own need to discuss things to the point of exhausting the relationship. Regardless of what had happened up to that point, she had made a choice to be committed to the relationship and to reconciling the marriage. She was willing to put her feelings aside and follow her “will” (choice). Her husband was following his feelings down a different path.
His feelings made him wonder if he was still in love. His feelings told him he was unhappy. His feelings told him that wanting to give up felt easy, so it must be the right thing to do.
Sadly, he had a Christian counselor affirming those feelings, ensuring he needed to become happy himself (“self”) before he could be happy in his marriage. His Christian counselor was telling him he needed to fix his own problems (“self”) before he could work on the problems of his marriage. His friends were affirming his new-found happiness (“self”) as confirmation God was pleased with his choices. Other Christians were telling him these were not the “right choice” from a biblical standpoint, but God does not want us to live an unhappy life (“self”). Self, self, self, self… all fueled by feelings.
This is become the standard by which our culture lives and makes decisions. Choice is based on feelings. “Self” is king. Feelings, especially those of personal happiness and satisfaction, become the filter by which we make our decisions regardless of consequences or responsibility. Personal happiness defined solely by how you feel is the road we must all follow, we are told. While we can accept this is the practice of some who have no interest in God or a greater good, it is absolutely maddening and infuriating we find ourselves today with the vast majority of “Christian counselors” giving the same type of advice. I know of a Christian counselor who told a woman she should not remain married just because it was the right thing to do if it meant she would be unhappy. Wow…
To his credit, the husband I am speaking of was open to hearing what I had to say. It went went something like this…
Me: you are a professing Christian. You are mature enough I know you understand we should make our decisions based on what we know is right and what God would have us do rather than on how we feel. Is that correct?
Him: sure, I know you’re right and I know where you’re going with this. But you don’t realize how how I feel.
Me: no I don’t, and from the point of view of doing what is right it doesn’t really matter how unhappy you are or how things are going now. As a good and decent human being, and especially as a professing Christian, our duty, and the path to real happiness, is not following our feelings but following our will and choosing to do what is right and good no matter how we feel about it.
Him: but I feel like this is God’s will because things are so good now and all this has come about so easily. I’m working on myself and becoming a happy person myself which I need to be before I can be happy in a marriage.
Note: At this point I’m glad he is my friend already trusts me because I’m not going to beat around the bush or sugarcoat anything.
Me: that’s nonsense. How can you giving up on your marriage and pursuing your own personal happiness is God’s will or even what is best regardless of what God thinks about it? You made vows to your wife and your family depends on you. You are choosing to seek your own personal happiness. Would you advise someone else to do that, honestly? Or would you tell them the greater good and personal responsibility dictates you honor your vows and you choose to do what is right regardless of how you happen to feel?
Him: I know what you’re saying, and I know that’s right but I just don’t feel that way. How can I work on a marriage when I just don’t feel like I want to? How can I choose something I don’t feel like doing just because it’s the right thing to do? Does God want us to be unhappy?
Me: you’re asking the wrong questions from the wrong perspective. You have a flawed definition of what true happiness is in the first place, and secondly you do not understand feelings always follow choice. The feelings of love and romance can return to your marriage in the same way they were created in the first place… by your choices.
Note: At this point I went on to explain to him what I wrote above about our choices to create feelings of love when we are dating, and the picture of the train engine and the caboose.
Him: I never really thought of it like that but I know you’re right. It’s really hard for me because I have such strong feelings but I understand in my mind what you’re saying is right.
It’s my pleasure to tell you there was a magical end to this and my friend made an instant decision to return to his marriage. I wish that was always the result, but most of the time it is not.
In What Areas Is Your Caboose Leading?
Now that you understand what I’m saying – “feelings follow choice” – consider what areas of your life are being lead by your caboose (but shouldn’t be). In what important matters have you been allowing your feelings to dictate your choices?
- Health: do your feelings dictate a poor diet, no exercise and hours in front of the computer or TV instead of healthy choices?
- Relationships: do your feelings dictate your moods, whether you are kind and loving, how much you sacrifice for others, and especially how you treat your spouse and family?
- Work: do your feelings cause you to gripe, complain, and do as little as possible?
- Spiritually: do your feelings allow you to keep putting off hard work, discipline and change needed to begin maturing spiritually?
Feelings follow choice. You know this in your mind to be true but maybe you’ve never put it to the test (except when you “feel” like it, ironically). Perhaps this is the key, the truth, the principle you’ve been waiting to hear… the missing piece of your life puzzle needed to make the real changes you know you need to make.
What are your questions for me?