I was reading this article about balancing your emotions (knodding my head here and there) when I ran across this line:
"Feelings matter. Our feelings testify to what we truly treasure."
I've spent much of my life battling emotions, but at the end of the day I've always known that they are important. In an impulsive, emotionally driven culture where whatever feels right is right, we can't let our emotions rule our lives. When you don't reign them in with common sense and a little wisdom you end up with a reality tv show on MTV.
Yet emotions are good. They are what make us distinctly human. They can drive us to do good, to show compassion, to feel guilt when we do something wrong, or to love another person above ourselves. And they do testify to what we truly treasure.
If a husband were to tell his wife that he couldn't afford to buy her a gift for her birthday, but then went out the same day and bought something for himself---that would likely leave his wife feeling devalued. It is not about whether or not he has the money, but rather the action of using it for something else he values more.
If you can't afford to tithe or give your money to a charity, but spend money on things like new clothes or entertainment, then it's not really a matter of financial means. It is a reflection of where your priorities lie and the fact that you don't value giving as highly as looking nice or not being bored. Any type of giving requires some form of sacrifice whether that be money, time, or whatever.
We often trick ourselves into thinking differently...but it is our feelings that ultimately testify to what we treasure.
When you commit to loving someone else above yourself in marriage, you commit to valuing them above yourself even when you do not feel like it. It's a commitment to stand by them even when you don't feel the emotions. But that doesn't mean that your marriage (or any relationship) is meant to be void of emotions.
The lines right before the quote I chose from this article read this way:
"'When I first learned that my heart had the capacity for evil, my response was to despise feelings. I didn't want anything to do with emotions. I would 'obey, no matter how I felt.'' But that's impossible. Obedience without feeling is a level of disobedience."
Since this is written from a Christian perspective, it is basically saying that God doesn't want resentful obedience or even indifferent obedience. Think of a parent asking their child to obey them. If they are obeying in action, but emotionally defiant, it might as well be disobedience. They want their child to trust their advice, or obey simply because they love their parents, but you cannot make a child feel those things. It's the child who has to decide what their attitude will be and whatever choice is made, will have an effect on their feelings towards their parents and consequently, the relationship they have with their parents. (And vice versa in a parents attitude towards their children).
This can be said for any kind of human relationship. Who wants to spend time with a friend who gives you no attention and consistently looks at their watch just dying to get away to something more important? Who really enjoys receiving a gift from someone who makes it clear they didn't want to buy it for you? When was the last time a friend said to you "I don't really like you I'm just going to be your friend because I think it's the right thing to do" and you thought..."Awesome, that's exactly the sort of friendship I'm looking for!"
As much as the effort may be important, it's not the same without the genuine emotion. And as the emotional beings we are, we can usually tell when the emotions aren't there.
I think the same applies to marriage and that is where it gets tricky. Tricky, because the marriage relationship is one of the most unique. Whereas friendships are easily ended and family is permanent whether you like it or not, marriage is somewhere in the middle of family and friendship. It's often said you cannot make yourself feel something (like attraction or love) and that is true in many ways. But what about when you go into a marriage with the emotions and they dissipate? A marriage without feeling is a wasteland of obligation and pain. Honorable as it may be to stay committed, if you no longer love your spouse it will show and take it's toll on your marriage.
I'm not an advocate for divorce. I truly believe there is almost nothing that cannot be worked through. So my emphasis on feelings here is not to be misconstrued as an excuse to chase them and end your marriage. Rather it's a call to those who have lost the feelings to find them again, and for those who have them to nurture them and never trick yourself into thinking they are unimportant. They are important.
I realize all of the realities my assumptions in this post ignore. In reality we are all flawed and selfish creatures. The idea of loving someone else in a lasting emotional and selfless way seems unrealistic. Nuanced at best. But I think it's something to be strived for...and our attitude about our feelings can change them. If our goal in marriage was to be less selfish and love someone above ourselves...we would strive to look for the best in them, to sacrifice for them, to treasure them. Choosing to pursue the emotions can be a crucial first step to feeling them again.
Yes, the effort has to come from both sides to truly heal or maintain any sort of relationship and there is no guarantee that your efforts will be matched. There is risk involved when you choose to believe it's right even if the other party does not respond. You'd be surprised how often the effort is recognized and appreciated, but it will always start with you, a choice to stop being selfish, and the decision to love them again even if you don't feel it right now.
I guess I feel that the effort to love, the work that must go into maintaining a marriage or saving it, is a crucial beginning towards true feeling. It's when we let ourselves become self absorbed and indifferent that we devalue emotions and our relationships suffer.
So who do you treasure? Or better yet, who should you treasure?