Sloth- Seven Deadly Sins

We are continuing our examination of the Seven Deadly Sins which are the major diseases of the soul. 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. This has two different aspects. There is a general reality common to all of us, and a personal reality that is specific to each person.

The common reality we all share is that 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 regarding our lives is to be marked by sloth. We are negligent of our calling if we don’t pursue these things.

As well as the general calling we all share, God has also given us a particular mission based on our own particular location, time, and gifts. We love and serve God by pursuing our particular mission. That love and service looks different in particular human lives. My mission is different than yours. Some will serve God by feeding the homeless. Some will serve God by being the best nurse they can be. Some will serve God by serving their church on the Altar Guild, or maintaining the church building, or serving lunches at funerals. Some of us are dealing with debilitating illness and our calling is to pray for the church and the world. For those of us that are fighting depression, just getting up and dressed in the morning is the battle God is calling you to. 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. Really, it is avoidance- avoidance of doing the thing God has called us to do. It can be a lack of personal prayer, or personal Bible study. 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).

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]

The emotional side of sloth looks like 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 joy is found in God, then separation from God will steal that joy intended for us. And, 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 own 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 demands the sacrifice of immediate pleasure for the sake of the eternal.

The grace that cures sloth is diligence. 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. So, 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 good fruit of the action which will help convince you of the benefit.

There is a strange thing that I notice within myself. Sometimes I can feel a pretty powerful reluctance to prayer. Some days when I go to pray it is sheer obedience to make myself. I know I’m not the only one who feels that. I also know that after I pray, I feel much better and I find my original reluctance strange and confusing. It teaches me that my emotions don’t always have my best interest in mind, which is why many of the early saints were so suspicious of those surface emotions.

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!”
 Those are hard words, but perhaps they help us to consider how we spend our energy. Do we spend it on self-centered and temporary goals, or towards spiritual and communal 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. What will your legacy be?

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. Surround yourself with people who take their discipleship seriously- Maybe join a study group.

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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