“I need to keep busy.” For a long time I lived by that motto. After all, idle hands are the devil’s playground, right? It’s a mindset our culture encourages, even celebrates! In some regard that’s not a bad thing—there is no feeling quite like the pride of a job well done or the joy that comes in partaking in something you truly love. God designed us this way—we are meant to work! Work is a good thing that connects us to God insofar as we offer our labors and fruits to him to build up his kingdom. However, just like in so many other things, we can take something good, distort it, and then that distortion becomes our identity. I am my work. I am the product of my output each week. I have to keep busy because I don’t know who I am if I’m not! Ask yourself the question, what would happen if you weren’t busy?
The Hidden Vice of Sloth
This brings me to the concept of sloth. Ironically, the vice of sloth is so prevalent in our society and in our individual lives, but we don’t realize it because we understand it through an incorrect definition! How do we define sloth? I think most of our minds turn to the general idea of laziness. While that’s a part of it, if we leave the definition there, most of us have pretty good reason to dismiss identifying with sloth as a personal struggle. “Me? Lazy? Do you see my schedule?!” However, I’ll be so bold as to redefine sloth as laziness in prioritizing the most important relationship in our lives—our relationship with God. Sloth takes these good things—work and our favorite activities—and perverts them by having them take up more time and space in our lives than they should, and in doing so takes us away from the most necessary relationship we need to be carving out time and space for. Sloth is ultimately a distraction, keeping our minds preoccupied with the immediate busyness of life rather than our eternal goal (heaven).
My favorite quote by Matthew Kelly is that “The most important things in life are hardly ever urgent.” Sloth keeps us focused on the urgent, not the important. With this new understanding of sloth in mind, I’ll venture to say that sloth is indeed one of the most permeating problems in our culture. It’s a dangerous vice because, unlike others which are objectively wrong, it’s praised as a virtue. People commend us for our busyness! They are amazed when we say we work 70 hour weeks and have a jam packed schedule—somehow in makes us these inspirational people who can seemingly “do it all!”
A personal example to illustrate my point. I was unknowingly stuck in a sloth-rut for 6 months after an unexpected family tragedy. I was working at a non-profit at the time, and as such it was encouraged to go above and beyond for the sake of the organization. In the name of serving the mission, I fell into this trap of busyness—coming to work early, staying past dinner, continuing to work once I got home, and rarely taking time off on the weekends. I was praised for my dedication and sacrifice, but… I was miserable. By devoting basically all of my time and energy to this mission (and it was a really good mission dang it!), I neglected my relationship with God, my family and friends, and my own personal healing that needed to take place in the wake of this tragedy. I “needed to stay busy,” because I simply couldn’t deal with everything that needed to be dealt with if I weren’t.
Fortunately, God intervened, and I was able to step away from my role within that organization. It was one of the scariest steps I’ve ever taken because it left me alone with myself, which to be quite honest was not someone I wanted to be left alone with (why do you think I’d been staying so busy for the previous 6 months?). I decided to commit and persevere through the process, and it definitely was a process, but one that led me to cultivate those things in life that are important but aren’t urgent—daily prayer with God, fostering relationships with my family members, seeking counseling, and making the necessary external changes in my life to support each of those endeavors. Though I am not above any vice and they all seem to have a way of creeping back in my life despite my best efforts to sweep them out, I can look back on that season of life as really learning how to both recognize and kick sloth in the butt! And I am so grateful!
Prioritize the Important Over the Urgent
I’m not against hard work and sacrificing for a greater good, but I will say that even noble pursuits need to be kept in check. In the words of Dan Lord, “Work is meant to be a holy activity, but when it cuts off all of the persons it’s supposed to serve, especially God, and becomes merely an object that must be produced at all costs, it becomes unholy and an obstacle to joy.” Fight against busyness, for though it will always be present in our lives, it shouldn’t be our lives. Rather than busyness, our lives as Christians should be marked by joy, and that springs forth from our primary relationship which, though rarely urgent, is definitely the most important.