Energy. To have it pulsing through my body, my mind and my emotions gives me a greater sense of being alive. I long for the vigor and strength to do the things I want to do. The older I get the more I value this commodity because I find that it is not as plentiful as it used to be. So I seek to protect the energy I do possess by selecting activities, projects and even relationships according to the internal stores of emotional and physical fuel I feel that I have in reserve.
Of course lack of energy for life is not just an old person’s issue. As a teenager, depending on how I perceived my social life was going at school could determine any given morning whether I had the drive to get out of bed. And if I felt I had nothing to look forward to, I could quickly feel myself turning into a blob on the couch in front of the television.
There are many ways we talk about this issue of personal energy: enthusiasm, hopefulness, focus, positivity, passion, optimism, zeal, conviction, joyfulness. They’re all vibrant qualities we desire for ourselves and value in others because they provide fuel for life. But when we don’t have these, what’s going on? While there can be varied reasons for our lack of soulful energy and activity, including chemical imbalances and harsh circumstances. I want to explore a possible spiritual contribution as well.
Can it be a sin?
One of the more curious members of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins* is sloth, also known as laziness. It’s all about what I don’t do or the painfully slow pace at which I do it. Sure, it can be irritating when someone chooses to lie around rather than be active or when they’re just too lethargic to get things done (especially if you’re depending on them). But should lack of activity or low energy be considered a sin? And a deadly one?
The Bible, surprisingly, has a lot to say about laziness. The Proverbs over and over condemn slothfulness, linking it to dissatisfaction with life and all sorts of negative outcomes. Even the New Testament touches on the subject calling believers to diligence and faithfulness in whatever they do. I remember my grandfather quoting to me a poignant verse useful for tossing at kids lying around the house: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV). I don’t recall if it actually moved me off the couch or not. But it did stick in my mind.
Okay. So the Bible speaks against it. But why has it been listed as one of the BIG seven? What makes it so deadly?
My heart of disobedience
I remember when I first heard how sins can be broken into two broad categories. There are the things we do that violate God’s laws and destroy relationships—sins of commission. And there are the things we fail to do to honor God and bring forth His will and love into this world—sins of omission. I have often since recognized that my failure to initiate good works is my most common downfall. I now realize that at a heart level I have wrestled with sloth.
As a follower of Jesus I have learned how to avoid committing most sins that are obvious and socially frowned upon. Temptations to murder, steal and commit adultery are not where I struggle (although I still find the seeds for such sin buried at random places in my heart). The sins of omission, however, are the sneaky ones that I easily justify or simply do not see. And for me, they most often are cloaked in the excuse of protecting my limited storehouse of energy. I simply cannot see how I can do all the good things Jesus would have me do. Often they just seem too hard and exhausting. So I don’t.
Trusting God beyond what I can feel
“That’s not my gifting.” Or, “I don’t feel led to do that.” These are the phrases that have enabled the sin of sloth in my life. I have resisted the promptings of the Holy Spirit more than once. Though I could see what I should do that would please God, yet it didn’t feel comfortable. In addition, it was easy to rationalize why I wasn’t the one to do it. Someone else could do it better.
Sloth is present when we prioritize our personal peace, rest and comfort over doing the obvious thing in front of us that God would have us do. Reaching out to that stranger; stopping to listen to someone who can’t logically benefit us; stepping outside of our routine or what we feel we can control in order to give to, pray for, touch or be present in another’s world. Sloth whispers to us that we don’t have the resources to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And we need to conserve what we do have to stay comfortable or even just to survive. We end up ignoring what God is saying because it doesn’t match what we feel at the moment is reasonable or possible.
What to do?
Like all other sin, it must be confessed as such. Sin is fundamentally choosing to do things your way rather than God’s (see post on sin). Sloth demands that your ways of feeling and understanding take priority over whatever God is saying is right and good. Acknowledging this as wrong and seeking God’s forgiveness and help to change is a massive first step.
It’s then a matter of choosing to trust that God will give you whatever you need to take the next step of obedience, even a baby step. He will be your covering regardless the responses of others. He will provide the moment-by-moment strength and guidance to do the tasks you don’t feel you can do. He will recharge your “battery” when you give of yourself in obedience to His word. The question, however, will always be, are you willing to trust Him to give you what you feel you don’t presently possess?
One story of Jesus speaks powerfully to what He asks of us. Jesus told His disciples to feed the crowd of thousands, and at first they panicked. They finally rummaged up five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took what they brought to Him, inadequate as it was, and fed everyone present (John 6:1-13).
What are your loaves and fishes that the voice of sloth is scoffing at, saying you should reserve them for yourself? Give Him what you do have, even though it feels like you will then be left with nothing. And watch Him do something that you never thought possible. That’s how God works. And that’s why sloth is so deadly. It keeps us from walking with God in the way He intended.
He will supply the sustenance and energy you need to do His will! You just need to choose to take the next step.
*Also known as “cardinal sins” or “capital vices,” they include pride, greed, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony and lust. They are often thought to be abuses or excessive versions of one’s natural passions. For example, the sin of sloth as a desire to protect my energy levels (which is natural) but now many good things God desires me to do are left undone because I don’t feel like doing them.