Vain Imaginings

Jul 21, 2023 by Colleen C Orchanian

Vain Imaginings. Maybe you have never heard that phrase. It was new to me in the last year. I’m sorry I can’t recall where I first heard it. In a nutshell, vain imaginings are when we daydream about an imaginary situation in which we ourselves look really good.

For example, in real life I lose an argument with someone. In my vain imagining, I relive that argument and I’m quick witted, brilliant, and easily best the other person.

In another vain imagining, I am having a pity party and imagine myself on my deathbed. I am brave, at peace, and not at all bothered by the physical pain of my terminal illness. Everyone marvels at how I face death.

I might have a vain imagining that I’m having a conversation with my college-age son and he is listening to me, taking in all of my years of wisdom, and is convicted to follow my advice.

Vain imaginings. I always look good. I’m always wise. People always are impressed by me. I want to acknowledge the many accolades but I also want to appear humble, so I just smile graciously.

What a bunch of baloney, right?

As I began to learn about vain imaginings, I was relieved to know that I’m not the only one who does that. Maybe some of you have gone down that path at times.

You might say, well, what’s the problem. It sounds harmless, maybe even humorous. I do sometimes laugh at the ridiculous scenarios that come to mind during these imaginings. So yes, they can be humorous. But there is more that’s not so funny, and I believe it is a tool of the enemy – of Satan – to stoke our pride and create tension in our relationships.

What do I mean?

Here is an example of a vain imagining that does just that.

My husband and I like to take motorcycle trips. Sometimes, at the end of a long day of riding, I’m tired and need to stop. That sounds reasonable. What usually happens is that I let him know I need to stop, and then it takes a while to actually find a place to stop. Maybe 30 minutes to an hour. During that time – finding a stopping place – I have my vain imaginings. Why hasn’t he stopped yet? Doesn’t he know how tired I am? What’s wrong with the hotel right here? He doesn’t even care about how exhausted I am. And I’m hungry. I even start talking to him, even though he can’t hear me because we’re on separate bikes. Why aren’t you stopping? Here. This place. Okay. How about this place? What is wrong with you? Don’t you even care?

I can go on and on. By the time we stop, I am really mad at him and I can be very snippy. (There are probably some more colorful words that could be used there - but we’ll stick with snippy.)

So my vain imaginings are all about my comfort, my wants, my inconveniences – and his failure to take care of them. I become the victim – not of the circumstances but of my husband. And he doesn’t deserve this. I become better than him.

So you can see how my vain imaginings can lead to conflict with my dear husband.

What about one of the other scenarios mentioned earlier. The reliving of an argument. What is the benefit of reliving an argument when the other person is not even there? Maybe I can learn how to manage a similar argument in the future. That would be a plus. But personally, when I’m reliving an argument, it’s not so I can have more success in the future. Instead I want to put that person in their place, even if it’s only in my imagination. That goal is pure pride. I leave the vain imagining feeling superior to the other person. I don’t recall that being one of the teachings of Jesus.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 reads: Vanity of vanities – all is vanity. This verse comes to my mind when I allow myself vain imaginings. It’s God speaking to me and reminding me that I’m wasting my time. There will be no good fruit.

Let me be clear: Imagination is good. It is a gift from God. It helps us grow closer to Him. It helps us see ourselves in the verses of scripture, in the stories Jesus tells. Imagination only becomes a problem when it is VAIN imaginings – when our imagination feeds our vanity. That’s why it’s a tool of the devil – the one who wants to draw us away from God and away from healthy relationships.

So what can we do when we travel down the road of vain imaginings?

I propose three steps:

Be aware. We want to recognize that it’s happening. For example, I read a post on Facebook with a political position I don’t agree with. Mentally, I have an argument with what I might call the idiot who posted it. I have no intention of commenting on the post or having a conversation with my Facebook friend. I recognize that I’m getting angry for no reason and plan absolutely no action. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. I recognize in the moment. What next?

Repent. That means you stop. I often actually say to myself and God – what pride. I’m so full of myself. God forgive me! I don’t want to go down that path. God is not leading me down that path. It is someone else entirely. Someone who does not have my best interests at heart. So I reject it, repent and stop. Enough with the ridiculous scenarios I’m painting in my head.

Pray for assistance. We take everything to God. I know I’m full of myself. Father, help me to think less of myself and be more charitable to others. Open the eyes of the blind – even when I am the one who is blind. Convert the hearts of those who oppose you. Help them to know your love – your peace – your mercy. Let me be an instrument of your mercy, peace, and love.

Whatever your prayer, just speak from the heart. Remember that the Holy Spirit will give you the words even when you don’t know what to say.

Vain imaginings. They are not good for us. They distract us from God. They make us feel superior to others. They lead to real-life conflict. They bring bad fruit, and we want good fruit. God wants us to bear good fruit. So let go of your vain imaginings.

I will leave you with one final story tied to an earlier one I shared. My husband and I were on a motorcycle trip. It was late in the day and we were tired. He was short with me and I got annoyed. As we rode the last way to the hotel, I started my vain imaginings and then stopped. I realized (thanks be to God) that I do the very same thing I was complaining in my head about him doing. I take my fatigue out on him, as if it’s his fault that I’m tired. I realized that he’s tired, too. I made a firm decision to be kind when we stopped. It totally changed my mood. That’s what can happen when you recognize the vain imaginings in the moment and take action.

Questions to ponder:

  • When do you tend to fall into the trap of vain imaginings? Why?

  • What action can you take to reject the temptation to vain imaginings in the future?