Monday, 7 April 2014

Sloth. it might not be what you think- the Seven Deadly Sins

    We are continuing our examination of the Seven Deadly Sins which are the major diseases of the soul. Last week Scott took us through gluttony. This week we are looking at the sin of sloth. We usually think of sloth as laziness, but that is only partially true. To really understand sloth you first have to first determine the point of human life. According to the saints the point of human existence is to love and serve God. There is a part of this love and service that is common to all of us and a part that is specific to each person.
            All Christians are expected to worship God, study scripture to learn the way of Jesus, pray, be grateful for their life, love others, live honestly, support a just society, and so on. There are certain basic expectations for how we live our lives and to neglect this basic guidance on our lives is to be marked by sloth.
God has also given us each a particular mission based on our own particular location and our particular gifts. We love and serve God by pursuing our particular mission. That love and service looks different in particular human lives. God has made us all different and has given us all particular gifts and talents, which are to be used to love and serve God. Some will serve God by feeding the homeless. Some will serve God by being the best nurse or scientist or professor or electrician they can be. Some will serve God by serving their church in various particular capacities. Loving and serving God will look different in each of our lives because God has a particular mission for each of us. Sloth will cause us to neglect that particular mission God has given us. We can neglect our mission by busying ourselves with other things, or we can sit around and watch TV. Both are sloth.
Sloth can look like laziness, or busyness. Sloth can look like a boredom or indifference concerning spiritual things. It can be a lack of personal prayer or personal Bible study. It can be a distaste for worship and an avoidance of serving others. Sloth is what is being referred to by Jesus in the book of Revelation when it says, “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16). Sloth can look like a lack of passion around spiritual things. Sloth is a refusal to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Sloth is what causes us to be the fig tree that bears no fruit in Jesus’ parable (Luke 13:6-9). Sloth is to bury our coin in the ground rather than invest it (Matt 25:14-30).  
To live a slothful life is to live without a sense of meaning or purpose that gives you passion. This lack of meaning and purpose can result in a sense of life being pointless and an apathy towards the suffering of others. We also find ourselves resisting our obligation to better ourselves and learn to lead a life that is marked by the teachings of Christ. Without a sense of meaning that transcends our own selfish goals we will ultimately be left unhappy and unfulfilled.  
There is an old teaching of the rabbis describing a slothful person who has the opportunity to study the Bible with a Bible teacher, 
“Your teacher is in a nearby city, go and learn … from him.” He responds “I fear a lion on the highway.”
 “Your teacher is in your own city.” “I fear a lion in the streets.” 
“Your teacher is near your home.” “I am afraid a lion is outside.” 
“Your teacher is in a room inside your home.” “I’m afraid that if I rise from my bed the door will be locked.” 
“But the door is open.” “I need a little more sleep.”[1]

Sloth does damage to our soul because it damages our capacity to do good. Just as a muscle that is unused gets weak, so our soul can become weak in its capacity to do good. The effect on our soul is that if we lose out capacity for good, we will also lose our capacity for God. Sloth can then become a kind of sadness about God, or a boredom with God, or a feeling of indifference to God. If we extinguish every spark the Holy Spirit sets in us we will soon destroy our capacity to notice those sparks within us. If our ultimate goal is to be unified to God then sloth is a serious disease of the soul.  
We usually resist God because we focus too much on gratifying our physical and psychological desires and allow them to overtake our spiritual responsibilities. We desire more to watch TV than pray. Or, we prefer to busy ourselves with meetings, or making money, or with other hobbies, and avoid prayer. We naturally want to resist sacrifice, but the way of Christ asks for sacrifice. We naturally want instant gratification, but our spiritual work is always working towards what is eternal and demands sacrifice in the moment.
The grace that cures sloth is diligence, a zeal and joy in serving God. It is not only doing the right thing, but it is doing it for the right reason- out of love for God. One way to make space to receive this grace is to behave as if you have it. Sometimes if you force yourself to smile you will begin to feel happier. If you force yourself to dance and sing sometimes you will notice joy rising within you. Sometimes our behavior can influence our inner disposition. Also, begin to do the things you believe God desires that you do, regardless of how you feel about them. Doing this can help to develop holy habits which will begin to become a part of your character. Doing the behavior will also show some of the fruit of the action which will help convince you of the benefit of the action.
Another way to snap yourself out of sloth is to meditate on the day when we will stand before God and give an accounting of our life.  When God smiles at us and asks us to tell Him what we have done with the precious gift of life he gave us and the particular talents he gave us what will we say? … The Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen when contemplating the cross of Jesus and the scars Jesus gained to save us imagines us encountering Christ,

“On Judgment Day He will say to each of us ‘Show Me your hands and feet. Where are your scars of victory? Have you fought no battles for truth? Have you won no wars for goodness? Have you made no enemy of evil?’ If we can prove we have been His warriors and show the scars on our apostolic hands, then we shall enjoy the peace of victory. But woe to us who come down from Calvary of this earthly pilgrimage with hands unscarred and white!”
 This will help us to consider how much energy and effort we put towards self-centered and temporary goals vs. towards spiritual, communal, and eternal goals.
 Or, for a more earthly (and less intense) example we could meditate on how we want our children, family, and friends to remember us once we are gone. Consider what effect your life is having on others.
You might want to consider how amazing it is that we exist at all. Life is an amazing gift no matter how humble or how much suffering we endure. Life itself is always a gift. Learn to be thankful for life and for those in your life who show you love. Learn to be grateful for the numerous people who sustain you. Those who work to provide electricity, repair roads, and grow our food. We live in a world where we rely on many people.
We can build holy zeal within ourselves by seriously meditating on the life and teachings of Jesus. As we fill our minds with holy things the passion will build within us. Music and art can help with this as well. Going on retreat to dedicate more time to meditation and prayer can also help to build this prayerful joy as well.    
 Sloth is a disease of the soul that causes us to retreat into a sad apathy about life and God. Sloth wants to tell us that we can have spiritual satisfaction and maturity without having to exert any effort. The slothful person might, at times want to follow God, but is unwilling to take a step and exert effort to follow Christ. Christ will not force us. It is always an invitation. He stands at the door and knocks. Will we turn off the TV, get off the couch, and answer the door?

[1] Schimmel, p.203

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