"I'm not in the mood." "I don't feel like it." How often do we hear these words from our children, our spouses, ourselves?
We have been conditioned to believe that our moods and emotions should govern our behavior. Grand gestures, flowery words, profuse tears...
But in fact this is not the Jewish way. While charitable organizations may play on our emotions to encourage our giving, a gift made in the passion of the moment (who knows what cause could sway you next?) is less meaningful than one made after serious, rational thought (a la Warren Buffet). The Talmud asks us which is greater, a mitzvah done out of personal desire or one performed because the Almighty commanded it.
While it's certainly preferable to have our emotions engaged as well, the Talmud praises the actions done in obeisance to the Almighty's will. It's the subordination of our will -- not the realization of it -- that counts.
This is true on the micro level as well. We may not feel like playing with our children. We may not be in the mood to make dinner for our spouses; but we rise above that to do what's right, to give to others. Then we are making the most meaningful choice.
Relationships that are about moods will ultimately falter.
We all have those nights when we tumble into bed exhausted only to realize that we didn't lock all the doors, or only to hear a small voice request a glass of water. No one feels like getting up at that moment. No one is in the mood to leave their cozy bed, but we do it in order to give to our spouse, and to our child. Because it's the giving that counts, not the feeling. Because it's the giving that builds relationships, not the mood. Because it's the giving that's the mark of the person, not one's emotional expressiveness.
From the trivial -- participating in activities that your friends choose not you, to the deeper -- waiting up late to talk to your mate at the end of a long day, these small acts of kindness make all the difference.
Relationships that are about moods will ultimately falter. This includes our relationship with the Almighty. Frequently we are not in the mood to pray (or perhaps do other mitzvot) but luckily for us, the commandments are not dependent on our emotional swings. The obligation to pray exists, whatever our feelings. Shabbos comes once a week whatever our moods.
And our spouses and children want and need the relationship with us even if our emotions are screaming, "Leave me alone."
There seems to be with every child at least one moment when you have to run with them to the emergency room in the middle of the night. In the strangest way, this is a gift from the Almighty. For only at that moment, when our bodies cry out for sleep, when we're stretched beyond capacity, do we truly appreciate how much we love this child.
Only through giving that arises out of repeated subjugation of our body's desire for comfort do we appreciate the beauty and importance of our relationships. Every night at the dinner table there is always one child who doesn't have a napkin, one whose glass is dirty, one who wants the one salad dressing that isn't at the table. While this may suggest a need for better preparation, the point here is that someone has to rise from the table, from that end-of-the-day relaxation, to get it. And I know that when my husband is the one who does it, he's doing it to spare me, even though he's tired and hungry too. That's the giving we need to appreciate. The thoughtfulness when it's not easy to be thoughtful.
This doesn't mean we ignore all our needs (I'm anticipating the attack). It means we make a careful distinction between what we need and what we feel like. (Rarely do I actually need ice cream!)
There may be times when we need a vacation (why have those times seemed so frequent lately?). In those situations we should try to go away to recharge and rejuvenate.
But when we don't feel like helping with homework, we're not in the mood to make dinner, we don't feel like being kind, we're not in the mood to listen, we should remember that we want to control our body and not allow it to control us. Contrary to popular wisdom, we won't build our deepest relationships on erratic and wild expressions of emotion but rather on rational, thoughtful giving. Just ask your spouse or your children or your friends which they prefer.