My wife is an amazing woman. Every part of me knows I don’t deserve such a beautiful, sweet and godly woman. At our wedding, my deepest commitment to her was that I would love her well, on good days and bad days, as we pursue Christ together.
But then those bad days actually happen. Nothing monumentally horrible– just me not feeling that great. Sometimes, I’m simply exhausted and just don’t feel like showing her how important she is to me. On those days, the prospect of even the slightest unselfish gesture seems about as impossible as convincing myself to go for a five-mile run at 5 in the morning. Sounds absurd, but in the moment, it sure feels real.
It takes half a breath and a single second to say, “Love you,” and yet a sour mood convinces me even quicker that I shouldn’t have to give her even a peck on the cheek or a soft touch as I pass by. Why? Because I’m in a bad mood, and somehow that makes me think it’s okay to not choose love. At least until later when I feel better.
But there’s a much better way.
Bad moods are inevitable and, dare-I-say-it, unavoidable. But there’s this frustrating thing Jesus said: to love not just on the days when the coffee is flowing and the computer works perfectly, but even the days when we’re exhausted and honestly wondering if everyone around us is intentionally being annoying. That’s paraphrased, of course.
The temptation is to give excuses for why this isn’t possible or at least unrealistic, especially for ourselves. It’s much easier to just surf the wave of our emotions to wherever they want to take us. But if you’re in the habit of reading your Bible, you’ve probably noticed that vast portions of it seem to have been inspired entirely for the point of coaching us through those bad days. And none of it lets us off the hook of maintaining our love.
When squares look and feel like circles
What makes a bad mood so dangerous is that our thoughts and feelings in the midst of it seem so dang real. Depression is a great example. We’re told from childhood that what feels real through our senses is accurate and true. So what happens when we feel like the world is falling apart and nothing is going our way? Schools don’t teach us that sometimes circles look and feel like circles– even when they’re actually squares. Or maybe I was just sick that day. Our feelings and perceptions are what we use to keep ourselves out of danger. But they are also known to lie to us.
When it comes to the conversation we started last weekend on the topic of commitment, bad moods pose a huge threat. They seem to only care about tripping us up in those crucial moments when we have to decide whether to be committed or not.
I’m not suggesting we should just rise above bad moods and be happy all the time. That really is unrealistic. But as Christ followers, we are called into the commitment of love. And committing to love has nothing to do with happiness, but everything to do with godliness.
Bad days happen and the world is completely crazy. What I’m suggesting is that, in the moments we don’t feel like being committed or showing love to the people around us, we should let Jesus coach us to be a little less trusting of our feelings and take more caution in how we respond. Only then can we choose love in the midst of a bad mood.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Matthew 5: 43-47
That tough teaching from the end of Matthew 5 screams “bad mood” to me. Jesus was speaking directly to how we should react when we don’t feel like being loving, or when we think we have every logical excuse to abandon our commitment to be different from the world.
Jesus taught a lot of really hard ideas. But as Christians, we stake our lives on the belief that what He taught was true. Regardless of how possible you think it is to “love your enemies” and bless even those who do not and cannot bless you back, the fact that Jesus said it suddenly means one undeniable thing: it’s worth the effort and excuses aren’t going to help.
What can we actually do?
There’s a spiritual explanation to all of this, of course. It’s called spiritual warfare. One thing we quickly learn from reading the Bible is that there is simply much more to what we feel and experience than we first think. There is a different reality, a realm that we don’t understand, where an ongoing battle is raging. And in the middle of that battle are the souls of mankind. But thankfully we are not left defenseless.
The first thing is to simply recognize that familiar feeling of being annoyed, impatient, offended, or angry, and instead of lifting the floodgates of bitterness and accusations, to turn to a state of caution. This is easier said than done, but absolutely vital to learning how to follow the path Jesus calls His followers to be known for. Once we’ve recognized the situation and paused to consider what we should do (instead of what we feel like doing), here are three things we can do to hold fast to our commitment to love no matter what foul mood we’ve slipped into:
- Pray for the person who is annoying you– and not for them to become more like how you want them to be, but rather for God to help you see them the way He sees them. Thank God for His love and all the other things you have to be thankful for. Speak directly to the darkness you are feeling and, with the authority of knowing God’s Spirit is in you, tell it to leave.
- Turn on a worship song that will help you remember all that you’ve been forgiven of. Learn a few songs well enough that you can at the very least hum them to yourself when you need the reminder. In those moments, you’ll likely find yourself dwelling much more on God’s forgiveness of you than on whether or not you have it in you to act lovingly and patiently with someone else. There’s a pretty sobering parable called The Unmerciful Servant you should probably keep in mind as well.
- Pinpoint and write out the lie you were starting to believe, and then write the truth next to it. List the things about the situation that are good. The Bible tells us in Philippians 4:8 to focus on the things that are true, noble, right, and pure. Whatever is lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy is what God wants us to be dwelling on.
I should also acknowledge that, just as there is a spiritual aspect to bad moods, our souls are unavoidably trapped in physical bodies for the time being. And considering our brains are organs just like our hearts and livers, there are some very natural ways we can make sure those organs stay as healthy as possible so they don’t make our rebellious hearts even harder to wrestle with. A heart attack victim might need to start out with some medication, but any good doctor will see it as a temporary fix and agree that a healthy lifestyle is better medicine than any pill they can prescribe. Our brains aren’t much different. If they’re not healthy, we are only giving darkness a huge advantage in the battle to keep us in a place of withholding love and abandoning our commitment to follow Jesus. Exercising, getting plenty of sleep, and eating a healthy diet are all weapons that God has given us as well that are intended to help keep our bodies from hindering us from following Him.
Jesus didn’t just command us to love. He showed us how to love and then He gave us the motivation for why: the cross. What He allowed upon Himself was not what He felt like doing in the moment. We see that pretty clearly from His conversation in the garden with the Father the night He was arrested. But He did it anyway because of the great eternal truth that exists: there is nothing that can keep those He calls from being with Him.
What do you think? What part of this resonates with you the most? Any other tactics you’ve found that help you show love despite your mood? Comment below!