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Stability and structure to combat a sluggish life

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I haven’t left sloth almost till last because I’m lazy, because I’m not. But I can be very slothful.

Sloth can be a mortal sin. It can destroy your relationship with God so completely that only sacramental confession can restore it.

It’s the sin of misuse or abuse of time. When you’re slothful, you commit idolatry with a false god of time.

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All of us associate sloth with laziness. This is classic acedia—a lack of spiritual energy and interest.  Religious things bore you. Mass bores you. Prayer time bores you.

You muddle away the morning scrolling endlessly on your phone, and then suddenly it’s midday and you don’t feel like praying anyway.

You know that person at work who can’t settle down and do their job, but spends their whole time going round, coffee mug in hand, chatting and generally being a nuisance? That’s acedia.

If you’ve ever had a midlife crisis, or lived with someone having one, then you know about sloth. Everything a slothful person wants in life is somewhere else.

It’s just around the corner, or in the next marriage, or the next job, or the next big thing. It’s never right in front of them.

Commitment-phobic people suffer from acedia as well. They can’t make a choice to take a definite course of action, so they waver and waste time.

Stability, perseverance, and fortitude are all your best friends against sloth, says Dr Philippa Martyr
Stability, perseverance, and fortitude are all your best friends against sloth, says Dr Philippa Martyr

These people are like cats—they want all of life’s doors to be perpetually open to them.

What else does sloth look like? Are you the person who somehow never does the washing-up, or expects everyone else to pick up your messes in life?

It’s good to receive from others, and if you struggle with this, then you need to practice it more. But if you leave all the work in your home or parish to others, you might be suffering from a case of sloth.

The opposite end of sloth is the tyranny of busy-ness. People in the grip of this form of sloth run away from life into workaholism (all addicts are in flight from something).

Men are especially prone to this. Workaholism allows you to avoid your more tedious duties at home, while pretending that your “long hours” are enough to make you a great husband and father.

And I’ve met plenty of “busy” women in Church settings who are a pest to themselves and others. I have been one of them.

I have also never met a workaholic of either sex who didn’t have other addictions—eating disorders, porn addiction, alcohol abuse, or other destructive secrets.

So what do we do about sloth? Step one is an honest audit of how you use your time.

Without being ridiculous, it never hurts to have a daily timetable which includes specific times for prayer, relaxing with family, doing household chores, doing paid work, and time for sleep.

If you’re a workaholic, schedule time off work. Book yourself in for a short retreat, preferably a silent one, and preferably a long way from your own home. Photo: CNS photo/Isabel Infantes, PA Images via Reuters
If you’re a workaholic, schedule time off work. Book yourself in for a short retreat, preferably a silent one, and preferably a long way from your own home. Photo: CNS photo/Isabel Infantes, PA Images via Reuters

Making an horarium (as they call it in religious life) and sticking to it can be a great discipline for the slothful person.

You will find a million excuses for not sticking to it, which will tell you just how deeply the sin of sloth has penetrated you.

Stability, perseverance, and fortitude are all your best friends against sloth. There is such a thing as doing your duty, or “pulling your weight.”

It’s not a dry and deadly thing—it’s a beautiful virtue. It makes you a better person. And if you’re busy pulling your own weight, you will have much less time to pester other people and stop them from doing their lawful work.

If you’re a workaholic, schedule time off work. Take your allocated leave. You are not the prime minister, and your colleagues will probably get on quite nicely without you.

If this is a scary thought, go and talk to someone about your fear of not being indispensable. While you’re at it, book yourself in for a short retreat, preferably a silent one, and preferably a long way from your own home.

Try also to stop multi-tasking. It’s not efficient. Focusing the task in front of you can give you a lot of inner peace and will also help you to complete it better.

All of this will hurt. Mostly it will hurt because you have no idea of just how slothful you really are. If you try any of these tips, you will soon find out.

Lent is exactly the right time to bring your misuse of time to God. He can help you fix this up and stop abusing God’s time—and it’s all his time, after all.

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