Mental Gymnastics

From Reaching for the Invisible God:

Some psychologists practice a school of behavior therapy that encourages the client to “act as if” a certain state is true, no matter how unreasonable it seems….If you want to preserve your marriage but are not sure you really love your wife, start acting as if you love her: surprise her, show affection, give gifts, be attentive. You may find that feelings of love materialize as you act out the behavior. If you want to forgive your father but find yourself unable, act as if he is forgiven. Say the words, “I forgive you” or “I love you,” even though you are not entirely convinced you mean them. Often the change in behavior in the one party brings about a remarkable change in the other. Something similar works in my relationship with God. I wish all obedience sprang from an instinctive desire to please God – alas, it does not…I must rely on this technique… (p. 88)

I find this to be one of the fundamental principles of mental gymnastics. One day I’ll write and explain why mental gymnastics are NOT a bad things. I think they get far too much of a bad rap in our circles. As if it were our own striving attempting to make us holy. Of course we should just let go and let god. If sanctification is based 100% on the work of Christ in our heart, then of course it is futile! If it is based in some part on our own works then what is “trying to be nice” or “trying to do the right thing”? Isn’t this what we do every day in our struggle with sin and our journey through life? Of course it is. Anyway, dealing with this fully would take quite a while and I don’t know if I’m prepared to do that. In fact, I am sure that I’m not.

Back to the topic at hand. What do you do when you actually WANT to do something very badly, but you REALLY don’t feel like it at all. So you treat your wife with love because you love her. But what if you’re relationship has broken down (for whatever reason) and at this particular moment, you can’t stand her anymore. Well, instead of ignoring her, punishing her with critical comments, or whatever else people do to spite one another, what if you flip it on it’s head and choose to actively treat her like you’re madly enough. Just pretend for a while, OK? And you know what? The funniest thing happens. This is very well documented. You’re feelings will change and you’re love for her will grow again! Amazing really. This really works, but it isn’t for quitters. Yancy says that the other person’s feelings will change too. I really don’t think you should say that. They may never really change as much as you want them too. As soon as you add that in the mix, even in the back of your mind, than it will undoubtedly make itself some kind of CONDITION for you to continue. I think the part about the other person probably changing needs to be thrown out completely.

This exact same thing could be said about husbands, friends, family, co-workers, etc. I think it’s a special property of human relations. Now, all of this operates independently or IN TANDEM with the holy spirit. Maybe it never operates without the hold spirit. But that work is invisible, so who can say for sure? It might be simply a property of human psychology. It may be God working in our hearts behind the scenes. Maybe it is God working in our hearts behind the scenes THROUGH human psychology. After all, he did make us, right?

Anyway, you can love and then act out in love, or just start with the actions and pick the love back up later. Just jump in.