1 Samuel 12:21 Do not turn aside to go after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are futile.
As I review my life, I must confess that many things I have done, and still do, amount to a useless, worthless, waste of time. I have held grudges over petty and meaningless things: somebody called me a name. A cat ate my guinea pigs when I was a child, so I still hold grudges against all cats. I said something that hurt someone I liked. I didn’t take someone else’s feelings into consideration on a decision. There are isolated events and decisions that I feel badly about to this day. Nothing major, in the eyes of most people, but enough to beat myself up over for many years.
Beating ourselves up, self-condemnation, and not offering forgiveness to our self and others are just three of the many things we do that are useless traps of the ego. Many of us have urge-based desires that control us. I’ve got to scratch that mosquito bite; I’ve got to buy one more flashlight through Amazon. "After all, Patrick," my ego tells me, "you can’t have too many flashlights." It is a treadmill of behavior that gets us nowhere; just wears us down and depletes our energy.
The more we suppress those desires and thoughts, the more they appear. There is actually a name for this phenomenon: The Ironic Process Theory. You need to have a surgery. Your friends tell you, “Just don’t think about it,” and the more you try to squash that thought, the more you fail, and that’s all you can think about. We’ve all heard it said: What you resist will persist, and will grow in size. Thought suppression is futile – it is a useless waste of time. One better strategy is to replace an unwanted thought with another thought or action. It works well if it is a totally unrelated action. When you want to scratch that bite, drink a glass of water instead, or sing a song, or peel an orange, or stand on one leg, do a pushup or a squat … almost anything to replace that urge.
One of the more frequent futile activities we humans pursue is worry. Worry is time consuming and adds no value to our lives. We are told in Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In this verse is the problem and solution: when worry consumes us, stop it by replacing it with prayer.
Here are other futile activities I have to realize need replacing within me. Perhaps one will ring a bell with some of you.
1. True and abiding happiness cannot be found in external pursuits, people, or situations. Deep and lasting contentment, a sense of peace and ease within, and a feeling of deep connectedness with life can only come from our inner natural spiritual state. This is true joy and bliss, which the world cannot offer, and it is futile to look there.
2. We cannot change anyone, and what a waste of time to try. It is more productive to release our expectations of others and their behaviors, thoughts, and actions, learn to see past our differences, find what is good within them and place our focus there. When you drop all desires and expectations about how people should be, you will never feel deceived or emotionally hurt again.
3. All things that come into being also pass out of being. It is futile to cling to anything of this world.
4. Our thoughts are the beginning and ending of how we feel, what we think, how we act, what we believe, and it is pointless to look elsewhere. The only thing that separates us from the joy, peace, and love of God is the lies, fabrications, and stories we tell ourselves about why we are not experiencing, peace, joy, and love. When we release the stories, all that remains is peace, joy, and love.
5. Trying to change the world without changing ourselves is futile.
6. Resistance, at all levels, is a fruitless waste of energy.
7. We cannot avoid painful circumstances and is futile to try. We can deal with pain in productive and nonproductive ways.
8. It is OK to feel it all. Anger is not always our foe. Even the Bible says, “In your anger, do not sin.” We are human, and we will experience the full range of human emotions. However, we can use our anger inn multiple ways: to make change or wreak havoc. Jesus got angry at the money-changers in the temple and turned over their tables. Sometimes our anger will prompt us to make the necessary changes to serve others in a greater way. We come into this world alone, and we leave alone. To experience 'aloneness' may be the only way to make friends with yourself. Allowing our self to feel hunger connects us to our bodies and our spirits. We can get comfortable with a broad range of emotions.
9. Pleasure and pain, good and bad, day and night, light and dark, inner and outer, are all aspects of the same coin. In the physical world, we cannot have one without the other. Having said that, duality does not have to be a bothersome negative, as long as we know it exists. It is like the two walls of a hallway; it gives our consciousness a direction and a clear path to follow. Let's recognize it and move on.
There are many more futile, if not toxic, behaviors that waste our emotional and mental energy. Comparing our self to others, negative self-talk, seeking validation from others, pleasing others, taking things personally, reliving the past, playing the victim, a sense of entitlement, judging others, arrogance, being overly competitive, dependence upon technology, stubbornness, not speaking out, seeking attention, jealousy, lying, cheating, manipulating others, and blaming others.
Many of these intertwine. Recognizing them within ourselves is the first step to replacing and releasing them. Christ is the master renovator of who we are, and once we recognize a trait that we desire to release, we can go inside to that power and strength to see the transformation through to completion.
Ephesians 4:17-21 relates this insight: This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard him and have been taught in him, just as truth is in Jesus.
When we have attuned our awareness to Christ, we no longer walk in darkness and ignorance. Although our thoughts are powerful allies, the creators of who we are, it is our hearts that determine ‘whose’ we are. It is beyond our thoughts that we connect with Spirit and the Creator of All Things. To believe that all we need are clear thoughts to make a difference in ourselves and the world is living an earthly half-life; we are incomplete. Moving beyond the ego and the physical world to the heart is where we find wholeness and oneness.
Just as we must take care of our physical heart, our spiritual heart requires attention and is subject to certain ailments. Sometimes our heart is hard, because of hurts, disappointments, and other human trials that cause us to shut ourselves off from the Grace of God. We become like stone: unfeeling, uncaring, and inflexible. This causes our ignorance, and even greater negative tendencies such as guilt.
Another ailment is darkness, when we shield ourselves from the Light of God. Our demeanor, attitude, and understanding is dark, withdrawn, diffused, and unclear. A closely related disorder of the heart can be uncleanliness – in all areas of our being, including our thoughts, words, and attitudes. We become callous, worldly, and greedy to engage every kind of impurity.
A hardened heart, a darkened heart, and an unclean heart can be the causes of many of humanities troubles. We can look around the world, observe the corruption, war, conflict, oppression, hatred and bigotry, and sadly shake our heads, knowing that the hearts of many people are ill and need healing.
But our tainted heart is not only a cause; it is also the result of our focus and priorities; a hard, dark heart is the consequence of what we allow to influence us. It is futile to claim the love of Christ and expect the wonders of Spirit to manifest in our lives, while thinking unkind bigoted thoughts, judging others harshly, despising those whose choices differ from ours, and treating each other uncivilly. We can pray and proclaim all we want, but until we become the love we want to see in the world, the tolerance and peace we want to see in the world, what we see in the world will not change. It is a waste of time to look for love in the world when our hearts are filled with fear and hatred. We are blind to anything that is not already within us; we just can’t see it or recognize it.
So, it is my prayer that we will abandon useless pursuits, release the thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes that consume our energies and time, waste our gifts, deplete our hope, and offer no salvation, no value, no spiritual renovation in return. I pray that we do not turn from the path of Christ in order to pursue empty things that cannot profit or deliver. I pray we resist the lies of the ego and the world, for they are futile. Let us turn to God in prayer, asking for help, strength, guidance, comfort, light, and to walk with us on this journey.