Do Good, Feel Better
‘Bring forth the fruit of repentance’ (LK 3:8).
Righteous action burns off impure feelings—dread, suspicion, self-concern, lust. I can go to bed with holy intentions and wake up stewing in a pool of diseased emotions. That’s when I need to sit upright before the Crucified and silently thank Him for giving everything to gain this impassioned mess of a man. Usually my feelings settle down as I fix on Him. They find their ‘cruciform’ as I bow down.
In a world sinking deeper into fearful self-concern, we need yet another dose of the call to act, to repent. Advent insists on it by highlighting John the Baptist in three of the four Sunday Advent readings this year. This third week focuses on John calling us to prepare for Jesus by doing a host of practical, righteous things that have little to do with ‘feelings’: if you have more than you need, give your surplus away; stop cheating and slandering people; seek to be content with what you have (LK 3: 10-18).
It’s as if John the Baptist knows that overreliance on feelings can function like quicksand. President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Dr. Everett Piper, got a dose of the mire we are in when he preached a homily on I Cor.13 (the ‘love’ chapter) and a student approached him afterwards to say that he and his peers felt ‘victimized, made to feel bad, uncomfortable, for not showing love.’ To deep ‘feelers’ everywhere, Piper responded: ‘Students have become narcissistic and self-absorbed. The university is a place to learn that life isn’t about you but about others.’
Life isn’t about you but others. Or, in the spirit of John the Baptist, act first, your feelings will follow. It works. Last week at a convalescent home, I entered to lead the Sunday service, entangled in feelings that included self-pity. My first greeting came from an old African-American woman bound to a wheelchair and several wires which kept her alive. Bright as the sun, she returned my greeting with: ‘Praise the Lord, we are gathering with Jesus and I am so happy to be alive today!’
I got happy fast. Do good; feelings will follow. Who knows? You may even feel better. One is coming who will ‘baptize us with Fire and Spirit’ expressly for the purpose of burning off ‘the chaff from the wheat’ (LK 3:17). Might we prepare for Jesus this Advent with righteous acts that burn off the dross of selfish emotions?