Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Recovering the sense of duty. . .

About the last thing we need on earth is help to get in touch with our feelings.  Lord knows, we are driven more by feelings than anything else in life -- more than facts or truth and certainly more than duty.  But it is duty that is the higher realm on which we meet the realities of our lives as people and especially as Christian people.  Duty does not depend upon feelings but acts because duty is the higher calling.

Parents are parents whether or not they are feeling it at the moment.  Your care of your children is the higher calling and it is your duty -- the duty that engages you whether you feel it or not.  We could use other examples from going to work to dealing with your spouse.  These are your duties and they are not subject to your feelings.  You don't get to choose when you will work and base that choice on how you feel about it and neither do you get to choose if you will be faithful to your spouse because you feel it at that particular moment.  Oh, sure, we often do let our feelings trump our duty all the time but we do this as an aberration and exception rather than the rule.  Even though we succumb to being driven by our feelings, we generally wake up when we realize that failing in our duty will screw up our kids or harm them or prevent us from getting a paycheck we need or allow our spouse to act with the same indifference to the marriage as we are tempted.  When we do realize these things, we generally also wake up to what is real and true and our bounden duty -- at least until the next temptation comes along.  At least we used to do this.

The temptation to be driven by and judge all things by how we feel or feel about them is greater now than it has been and our culture condones this judgment more than it ever did in the past.  The primacy of feelings does more than take its toll on the home or workplace.  It has affected our state of mind.  Look at the backlash from those whose employers are requiring them to come back to the office.  The people who have become accustomed to working from home are not feeling the office anymore and feel somehow betrayed when the employer says it is time to return.  We as people have learned to work on our terms and our terms alone.  The declining popularity of marriage and children is in part due to the fact that we as people are not feeling the marriage thing or the parent thing with all its responsibilities.  The toxic atmosphere of social media is at least in part due to our venting, complaining, and lamenting of the things we do not like and we have developed a pretty short fuse when it comes to such things.  The rise in road rage is another example.  The feelings rule our mouths and our actions and the poisoned air of our anger, bitterness, and sense of entitlement is crippling us as a nation, communities, and neighborhoods.

While there are probably a few things we can do to tamp down some of the upset, the real answer is to rediscover our sense of duty.  We have obligations as members of society, people in the community, workers in the workplace, and certainly in the home.  These obligations do not belong to us when we feel them but all the time.  For Lutherans, read through the Table of Duties.  This is certainly what Luther was getting at in the Catechism.  These duties are what frame our relationships -- to God, to our family, to our neighbor, and to the Church.   Yes, the Church.  Churches have also become places of conflict and division, mirroring what has been happening all around us.  We are abundantly self-aware of what we want or what we think we need or deserve but we seem immune to the idea that we owe God or others anything.  What we do not realize is that the chip on our shoulder is not helping us to find peace and contentment either.  Just the opposite.  We are boiling over with upset and it takes less and less for those around us to get a taste of that anger and bitterness.  Even in Church.  

Our immediate reactions have become the sum total of our reactions.  We respond in the moment to everything and we seem never to give that initial response a second look.  We look for things that offend us and we have learned to characterize those things that offend us in extreme terms.  Things are not bad -- they are the worst.  The things we endure are not bad but horrible.  We have learned to apply to life the standards now used by medicine to define "health" -- on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain?  Life is filled with pain that we cannot control but we can control our response to it.  When our focus is solely on ourselves, the result is that we notice and feel our pain more acutely.  We have come to believe that our only duty is to ourselves and we have become focused exclusively on that duty.  The result is that we are more unhappy even though we have more money to spend, more leisure time to enjoy, and more distractions to pursue than people in any other age or time.  That ought to tell us something about ourselves.

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