We are always being formed. We are formed by vice or by virtue. Either way, these are the habits that shape us. Are we living with vice or virtue, sloth or diligence?
The vice of sloth is easily misunderstood. Sloth is not just a lack of productivity or ambition or hard work. It’s not about how busy or exhausted we are. Sloth is not just laziness. Rather, sloth is laziness with what matters most.
Sloth is more than inactivity. Sloth is the misordering of our endless activities which leads to death.
Sloth hides best in busyness
In Luke 10 we see that Martha is caught up in her busyness. Despite her efforts, Jesus rebukes her.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” Luke 10:38
Oftentimes, we choose to do the lesser things. We do what’s easy instead of what’s necessary or best. That’s sloth. We hide our sloth behind a flurry of activity. We prefer the distraction of busyness over the real work of loving and being loved. We move away from God, thinking we are moving toward Him.
Be diligent: slow down
The first step in the fight against sloth is to slow down. And, it’s not just “slow down and do nothing” or even just do less. It’s slow down from being busy. It’s slowing down to reorder activities and give ourselves over to the right things.
Sloth is too lazy to change
Sloth is more than general laziness. It’s a lazy soul. The slothful person looks at God’s transforming love and says, it’s too much work.
It’s easier to be Martha, harder to be Mary. Mary’s doing what’s necessary. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) There are a lot of things we could do, but one thing is necessary. Luke tells us that Mary chose the good portion: she…sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. (v.39) Jesus calls us to listen first, and then to service.
We need a relationship with Jesus. All relationships take work, and if we refuse to do that work, it’s not going to work. Not only will the relationship be in serious jeopardy, but we can miss out on the joy offered to us through that relationship! But the hard work of a relationship can at times make us want to give up or distract ourselves with something else.
Be diligent: don’t give in
When sloth rises up, following Jesus can feel too hard. Don’t give in. Like Mary, sit at His feet, listen to what He says. The only antidote to sloth is diligence, perseverance, working at the relationship—which is the hardest thing in the world when we are feeling slothful! Our souls are bent towards laziness.
We say we want to change, but do we? I don’t want to be so angry or lustful or greedy. Change is not just going to happen. Peter said, practice these things. We must realize that practice makes virtue. Discipline makes virtue. And our motivation is not to earn His grace (you can’t do that) but because of His grace!
Early church fathers talked about how the best way to fight sloth is with the discipline of “staying put.” What they mean is doing what you know is right even when you don’t want to. Diligence. Instead of drifting, choose to step further in. We should do what we should be doing, not what we want to do, even when it feels like drudgery.
We’re busy with many things. So many things. One thing is necessary. God wants to make you whole, to transform you into the person He created you to be. Don’t you want that? Don’t give in to sloth. We need Jesus.
Sloth is too lazy to love
Sloth refuses to do what love requires. This is why it destroys families and workplaces and communities. It’s not just laziness; it’s being too lazy to love! Jesus isn’t telling Martha to stop working and go to Bible studies all day long. No! God loves us so that we will love others. When we don’t, sloth impacts everyone around us!
When we choose sloth (or drift), it may feel innocent. And sure, we need rest and downtime. Workaholism is not a virtue! But if we’re becoming slothful persons, we are robbing the people around us. It’s a failure to love. Your family needs you. Your neighbors and your friends need you. Your church. Your community. Your clients. Your classmates. Sloth sees the needs and opportunities for love and says, nah, it’s too much work.
Be diligent: love your neighbor
Find places to serve your community and your church. Volunteering is good. And the primary work God has for you is the place where He’s put you. It’s the work you do day-in and day-out, whether you get paid for it or not, whether you like it or not. Practice diligence. Then you’ll begin to see your work not simply as a collection of tasks, but as an opportunity to love.
Life is meant to be spent. This is why Jesus came. And He spent His life for you and for me. He longs to change us with His love. He constantly works on our behalf. And yes, He died for lazy people too. But He rose again to turn our sloth into love. To bring dignity and joy to our work and to our lives. To bring forgiveness when we fail and hope that we can change. This is the work He does. And it’s the work He invites us into. Let’s be diligent with what matters most.