Jumping at Shadows

Years ago we had a kitten that developed a special interest in life. It did the “cat thing” of chasing strings, rubbing against our legs, curling up in our laps, climbing trees, and the rest. But this critter developed the joy of jumping at and chasing shadows.

If we walked through the yard during the day or into the room at night with the lights on, and he saw our shadow, he immediately pounced on and wildly chased it, trying to nail it with his claws until the shadow disappeared. He then stopped and looked around as if to ask, “Where did it go?”

His favorite version of the game was trying to catch a shadow on the wall. You should have seen him! He would sit at the base of the wall, watching a shadow that Michael (our son) cast on the wall. Michael moved his hand up & down and in various directions, and the cat slowly – intently – focused on the ethereal object. He crouched low, quivering with pent-up energy. Then he EXPLODED straight up the wall as he grabbed at the phantom object. He did this repeatedly for five or six minutes until he tired himself out. But several hours later, he was ready for another go at it. What a critter!

Marvel (the cat) didn’t seem to know that he would never nab this prey. He didn’t know that his objective was not attainable, and he expended time and enormous amounts of energy in the process. Watching the feline focusing on and striving for something that was not attainable is entertaining and elicited gales of laughter from us. I think God revealed His sense of humor when He created cats.

But do you know that many people do the same thing? They sit at a mental wall and focus on objectives that are not attainable. They focus on what SHOULD be, or MIGHT have been. If only I had more money. If only I had married someone else. If only I had a different job. If only I were good-looking or more popular. Hundreds of If Onlys.

They also focus on what others might be thinking of them.

That reminds me of the shy student sitting alone. When the instructor asked the student if he needed assistance, the young man said, “No, but I’m wondering what those guys are thinking of me.” The instructor gently responded with, “You might be wasting your time, son; they don’t even know you are here. Why don’t you go join them?”

How about you? Do you worry and wish things were different in your life? Worry will never change anything, and changing the past is impossible; so you are wasting time and expending enormous amounts of energy. That energy is needed for the present, and worrying blocks our creativity and impedes progress. Why not use that pent-up energy to do something? Make a change now. You should remember that many times the most important change we can make is our own attitude.

In 1973 I did not like my job. Let me rephrase that: I enjoyed being an appliance repairman, but I really did not like my employer! I jumped at every opportunity imaginable trying to get another job, but to no avail. No other job opened up for me. I didn’t know that the problem was NOT my employer – it was my attitude. I didn’t realize that I had become a proud, arrogant person; and trying to change employers while exhibiting a bad or poor attitude was like jumping at shadows.

One Sunday after the church service, I spent a lengthy time in prayer. The Holy Spirit was reminding me of my attitudes, errors, faults, sins (call them what you want), and I was repenting. I did not spend time consciously changing my attitude; but when my self-consciousness decreased and my God-consciousness increased, my attitude changed as a by-product. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Already a Christian, I became a different person: I had stopped doing things my way and accepted God’s way. And guess what? I learned to deeply appreciate my employer. And I was surprised when I was offered another job several months later with greater potential.

Let’s stop our futile efforts of jumping at shadows. Let’s live in the present and pursue reality. That begins with reducing our self-centeredness, increasing our Christ-centeredness, deepening our relationship with God, and allowing Him to guide us. It also enhances joyful interaction with our family.

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