Sloth: A Twenty First Century Take on an Ancient ViceNovember 07, 2018
For those familiar with the 7 deadly sins, sloth ranks as one of them – the others being envy, vainglory, avarice, anger, gluttony and lust.
I was recently interested to read Rebecca Konyndyk De Young’s take on sloth. Validly pointing out that while we tend to associate sloth with laziness, or lounging on the couch munching away at crisps and binge watching Brooklyn 99 yet again, this is not the historic understanding of sloth. The longer understanding of sloth has been that it is a failure to pay attention to what we are called to do.
Medieval writers on spirituality warned monks (who were always concerned about the 7 deadly sins) that 10am to 2pm were the danger hours for sloth, not because they feared that the monks might doze off (though given the early start they had to their day, that must have always been a risk) but that they might become distracted from their primary task of prayer, and that they might allow their minds to wander, or for secondary tasks to catch their attention. Their sloth was not that they did nothing – but that they failed to do that which was of greatest importance. To put it differently, they failed to do the work of love – love for God shown in a life of prayer, and love for others, shown in a life of prayer for them.
Sloth them is a failure to do the genuinely important. The irony is that our very busyness might earn us the title of being slothful – for so many are busy, but they are not doing the work of love.
An example given by Konyndyk De Young is of a couple who argue. Rather than confront their disagreement and work through it, they avoid the conflict and bury themselves in their work. Soon work distracts them sufficiently from the argument, and they pay little attention to it. For a while, the matter is forgotten. But the real work of love has not been done. The matter is unresolved, and is likely to come up again in another angry encounter in an unguarded moment. In this example, rushing to work to keep busy is committing the deadly sin of sloth – for it avoids doing the work of love.
By this understanding, many of us are guilty of sloth, not because we are lazy (a different concept altogether) but because we are unwilling to love deeply enough to do the work that love calls us to, be that serving the other, confronting the other, listening to the other or simply wasting time together with the other.
Now that’s a great thought on which to end. We can sometimes avoid sloth by simply wasting time together – for if our time wasting leads to deeper and more caring relationships, we have done the work of love, and no one who does the work of love is slothful…