In any concept of productivity or industriousness, there exists a relationship between action and accomplishment. We work hard to build up little castles of sand, endlessly pursue (frequently unreachable) ideals, and encourage each other to take heart and persist. Most of the time, we tell each other to do more to get more – rest and repeat.
There is wisdom in some persistence. To persist in faith is constancy, and that’s the core of the willing heart. Who doesn’t admire the man who endeavors again and again, who stands up more times than he falls – who is indomitable? Mile by mile, or inch by inch, we sometimes find it within ourselves to fight through the thickest opposition with gritted teeth and sweat-beaded foreheads.
But there is also wisdom in some quitting. Sometimes, those things we pursue are not wanted for us by God. This is also a part of faith and the core of the Serenity Prayer – we must find the silence and stillness in which to know whether we act out of our own wills or inline with divine intention. Knowing when to quit is as delicate an art as knowing how to persist.
But the highest wisdom in the area of human effort is not persistence or quitting. The highest wisdom accounts for that terrible opposition to the human spirit: the futility tactic. Sometimes, the things you hold dear will collapse around you. Sometimes, you will fail repeatedly. Sometimes, you will wait and wait but the ship will never come to port. And when those times come, the tumbling thoughts questioning every effort arise: Why do I try so hard? What’s the point of all this? Should I just give up… on everything?
Those are the words of the noonday demon. It doesn’t matter whether we suppose the futility tactic to be an independent spirit, a calculated measure of some fallen angel, or the frailty of the human spirit. The highest wisdom in the area of human effort is that the outcome and the action are completely separate things. With such insight lodged deeply in your heart, the futility tactic dries up and vanishes.
If you, having mustered as much wisdom as you can to determine the Will of God, have then put your best effort forward – that’s it. The flower does not seek the bee – it blossoms, then the bee comes. Whether or not the bee comes, though, the flower is the full expression and beauty of the plant. Whether or not that which you seek comes, your action is your full expression and beauty. And when you let go of the outcome, your action becomes inwardly effortless – it does not stir the innermost depths of peace within you and you don’t grasp after it again and again in your mind.
The futility tactic is a fundamental characteristic of the empire. The effortless action is a fundamental characteristic of the Kingdom. Outcomes and measures of success are mere contrivances of man – the shifting patterns of castles of sand, meaningless from the perspective of eternity in time.
Having done our best and kept love in our hearts, we can still be defeated by the futility tactic. We are free only when we rely fully on the Will of the One.