SLOTH PREVENTED my pen touching this paper until the last minute. Sloth, no doubt, will lead me to make spelling mistakes and compose idiosyncratic grammar. Sloth will surely prevent me from rewriting it if it's rubbish. You, dear reader, are another victim of my sloth. Behind most unhappiness lies sloth. At the moment, I am struggling because my spectacles are hanging together with sellotape - sloth prevents me getting to the opticians. I recently upset a friend because sloth would not allow me to return a telephone call. I have been in car accidents where sloth was the driver. Sloth can be deadly.
It is not enough to say sloth equals laziness. It is too attractive to be lazy! Laziness is a marketable commodity. To be slothful is to be more than bone idle. Sloth is the failure of will to act and move our minds, souls or bodies. Sloth is the cause of all sins of omission. My failure to do things is proof that I am part of fallen humanity. Sloth made my redemption necessary for by myself I can do nothing. In God there is no sloth at all. There is action, creativity, in balance with rest. For me to become less slothful it is necessary for me to become more God-full. Sloth is a spiritual disease.
Sloth is quite difficult to diagnose. Some of its symptoms look like depression. The difference lies is the fact that when I am slothful I choose not to act, when I am depressed the illness takes away the power to choose, my will is profoundly handicapped. In sloth the will is deliberately over ruled by an act of self-will. Again sloth can appear like spiritual desolation: this is a state of felt distance or absence from God, a disabling spiritual dryness. Sloth prevents me from any kind of spiritual discipline whereas spiritual desolation can galvanise me into prayer and study. I can be confident in and aware of the real presence of God and still be slothful.
It is possible to make good excuses for sloth. I could tell you that I have been very busy over Christmas, that I needed a lot of rest, that my study takes too long to heat in this weather, that the phone rang each time I was about to start; all these are reasons for the last minute rush. All of them are true. But, the real truth is that I knew it would be difficult; that I would have to think, reflect, use my memory and be honest. Sloth is the sin by which my priorities become re-ordered around self. Sloth is most active in those areas of life where self will be put last; the very places where spiritual freedom and wholeness is to be found.
Therein lies the power of sloth (as in other deadly sins) - it appeals to self. I am slothful because my own needs and world view are more powerful in me than the need of any person, or even Jesus. I am not slothful about going to the pub or a rugby match for example! To overcome sloth requires those two tools of godliness - grace and hard work. Grace in being open to the Lord that my weakness may be used to His Glory and grace to seek self-disciplined application to those activities on which our faith places special priority - worship, prayer, fasting and good works.
It's as easy as that.
Andy Hawes, is Vicar of Edenham with Witham-on-the-Hill in the Diocese of Lincoln
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