So be very careful to love the Lord your God.
Relate: For the past few classes, I have been teaching emotions to my first graders. We have been learning: happy, sad, angry, bored, scared, surprised, excited, tired, and hungry. Most of these they already learned in their kindergarten English classes but bored, surprised, and excited were new. One of the problems I quickly encountered was that the students had trouble distinguishing between emotions and actions. I would show a picture and ask “how do you feel?” and they were just as likely to answer “smile” or “cry” as they were to say “happy” or “sad”. Fortunately, we had just taught the present continuous tense for simple actions (walking, running, jumping, dancing, talking, etc) So I combined the two into one worksheet. We had two columns, one labeled How I feel and the other What I am doing. A picture would come up and the students would figure out from the picture to write “I am happy” on one side and “I am smiling” on the other. Or “I am scared” on one side and “I am watching TV” on the other.
One thing I wasn’t teaching, but you can see from those two examples is that sometimes the action creates the emotion and other times the action results from the emotion. I am scared because of what I am watching on TV. The action creates emotion. I am smiling because I am happy. The action results from the emotion. In the real world, all of our emotions have both triggers and response. Actions precede and follow all of our emotions. My friend’s action of “boo” triggers my surprise. My jump and briefly increased heart rate are resulting actions. From this perspective, emotions are not truly good or bad things. The good and the evil are actually the stimuli that create the emotions as well as the response these emotions create. When we say things like, “don’t let your emotions rule you” we are talking about being careful with how we respond to the emotions we have. When we say things like, “guard your heart” we are talking about being careful about the stimuli we allow impact us.
React: I am sure many people reading, if they are reading wisely, pulled up short on that last sentence. Wait a minute. There are plenty of times when we cannot control those things that trigger our emotions. We can’t avoid the accident that our friend got in or the cancer our parent was diagnosed with. We cannot even control the friend that sneaks up behind us and shouts. We can’t control the words that ooze out of our boss’ mouth like toxic waste. True. All of these things we cannot. But most of our environment, most of our triggers can be controlled far more than most of us imagine. We chose our environment. We chose what we watch, who we hang out with and how often, what we say, where we spend our money, and much more. Beyond that, our responses to current emotions, in turn, create new environments and the stimuli they will then create. Kindness leads to gratitude, gentleness turns away anger, patience diffuses frustration. Our positive responses create a healthier environment just as our negative ones create a more toxic environment.
Nowhere is this truer than with love. Yes, love is much more than an emotion, but it is still an emotion. All too often in our world, we treat love as though it were an untriggered emotion created ex nihilo. “You can’t help who you fall in love with”, “We just don’t love each other anymore. There’s nothing we can do about it”, “The thrill is gone”. When Joshua gives his command, “Be very careful to love the Lord your God,” he is speaking directly against this common misconception in our modern world. He is speaking directly towards the things we chose to do and to surround ourselves with. Do the things and put yourself in the environment that will make it easier for the emotion of love to overflow into the actions of love for God. How can I, how can we, put this principle into effect with our friendships, spouses, and our God in our daily lives today?
Help me to do the things that I did at first. Help me to fall deeper in love with You, but even more help me to be very careful to create an environment and to control the influences on my life that I would only always fall ever deeper in love with You. Help me to love You more through the way I love others. Give me the wisdom to know better how to foster the fruit of Your Spirit through how I am responding to my emotions. No matter what stimuli the world throws at me, let my responses be always point them to You.