A few nights ago Marilyn and I went to an Orlando Magic game with some friends from Tennessee. After the game we decided some barbecue would cap off a perfect evening. We walked into the restaurant 25 minutes before closing time.
By the time we finished eating, it was a little past closing time. Our server was still very nice to us (because her tip depended on it), but the other employees were huddling together, muttering to each other as they gave us dirty looks. One frowning young woman came dragging a vacuum toward us, plugged it in, and started vacuuming the carpet right beside our table, even though the entire restaurant needed to be vacuumed. Subtlety was not one of her gifts.
Those restaurant employees, bless their hearts, were acting like they felt: tired and grouchy and ready to go home. May I suggest a better way to approach a situation like that? Try acting better than you feel. If you do, you’ll find that you feel better. William James said, “You don’t sing because you’re happy. You’re happy because you sing.”*
Now you might say, “But Mark, if I act better than I feel, I’m just another hypocrite.”
Not so fast.
Picture a new mom. She hears her baby crying at 2:00 a.m. She’s exhausted and doesn’t feel like getting up. Does she stay in bed and let her child go hungry because she doesn’t want to be a hypocrite? Of course not! She does what she knows she should do, even if she doesn’t feel like it at the moment. No one in his right mind would call her a hypocrite.
By the way, lest you think I got this idea from Oprah or Dr. Phil, you need to know that acting better than you feel is one of the great themes of Jesus’s teaching:
“Love your enemies.”
“Pray for those who persecute you.”
“Turn the other cheek.”
“Go the second mile.”
“Go and be reconciled to your brother.”
All of these statements are Jesus telling us to act better than we feel.
In the next 24 hours, you’ll probably find yourself in a moment of irritation, frustration or fatigue…one of those moments when a negative impulse will have you on the verge of blowing off steam. Let that moment be a test. Act better than you feel, and see if you don’t feel better.
For further reflection read 1 Peter 3:8-12.
*Dr. Paul Faulkner, Making Things Right (West Monroe: Howard Publishing, 1996), 54