Sloth is laziness. Sloth is an eagerness for comfort, to take the path of least resistance, to avoid the physical and spiritual work we are called to do. Left unchecked, Sloth is the sin that leads to sorrow, despondency, depression, apathy, and nihilism. It is the sin of indifference.
Thomas Aquinas tells us about Sloth in his Summa:
"Sloth, according to Damascene, is an oppressive sorrow, which, to wit, so weighs upon man’s mind, that he wants to do nothing."
Sloth denotes a sorrow for spiritual good and it is evil, both in itself and in its effects: in itself because it has us view as evil that which is actually good (hard work) and in its effects because that view keeps us from doing what is actually good.
Sloth is idleness and aimlessness. It is a refusal to take action when action is demanded, and action is always demanded.
It is always demanded because it is that for which man was made, and that’s something we often forget. Even those who are fairly biblically literate make the mistake of thinking God punished man with work when He told Adam, "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life."
But work preceded the Fall, as we see earlier in Genesis: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it."
Work is in our nature. Before the Fall, Adam was tilling the ground and keeping it. After the Fall, he was still tilling the ground and keeping it. The difference is that now work, which is our intended nature, has become "painful toil" because it is the means by which we now must reacquire virtue, defeat sin, and sort ourselves out. It no longer comes as naturally to us. It’s effort and sacrifice and… well… hard work.
The Sin of Sloth is what happens when we ignore our nature, when we ignore the painful necessity of work. This world defaults to chaos and decay, and only by being proactive can we stop it. And the onslaught of chaos is incessant, so we can never stop working or else we begin to lose.
We see this lesson in Proverbs 24:30-34:
I passed by the field of the slothful man,
by the vineyard of the man without sense;
And behold! It was all overgrown with thistles;
its surface was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall broken down.
And as I gazed at it, I reflected;
I saw and learned the lesson:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest -
Then will poverty come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man."
When we decide not to fight, we start lacking purpose and we stop caring about anything. We are overwhelmed with apathy for all things. Sloth is often described as a lukewarmness towards good work, which is the same language we see in Revelation 3:15-16:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
If we think of the sin of Sloth as mere laziness or as doing absolutely nothing, then it can sneak up on us. We must keep in mind that Sloth is also doing things half-assed or doing them unreasonably slowly.
We overcome Sloth by attempting to acquire the virtue of Diligence. How do we do that?
1. Value Work
Develop the mindset that work is invaluable and absolutely necessary; that it is a worthwhile thing to do and that those who do it are ordered and righteous people; that idleness and mindless entertainment are things you want to avoid at all costs. Bear in mind that I’m talking about the physical and spiritual work that helps us cultivate self-discipline and all the other virtues. I’m not saying to value your place of employment over all else and to put in lots of overtime. Workaholism is a form of Greed. Make an intentional and obsessive effort to do the tasks you must do in order to become the man you were called to be. (Not necessarily the man you want to be, but the one you were called to be.)
2. Manage Your Time
Keep a schedule. Plan your time and your tasks well. Always know what you will have to do next in order to improve or progress. If you don’t track your time, it will get away from you and you will naturally slip into idleness. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have any downtime, but schedule it and limit it. And even though it is downtime, remember that you are still purposed with doing good work. Read a book that makes you better, watch a movie that makes you better, play board games with the family. All action should be actions that matter and not mindless consumption or pleasure seeking.
3. Get Married and/or Have Children
I didn’t care enough about my mission or vision in life until I got married. Nothing makes you consider what adventure you’re on and what destination you’re heading toward like being expected to lead others. Also, nothing causes you to face your demons and sort yourself out like having to shoulder the burdens, responsibilities, and priorities of other people. There’s no time for complaining when things need to get done and it forces you to tame the lazy and selfish idol within you.
Sloth is overcome with vigilance and diligence. Keep an eye out for all the weak points in your day when you end up choosing to do something mindless and plan something else for those times.
Replace them with good work, however modest.
More from "The Seven Deadly Sins" series:
- Fighting Greed: How to Acquire Liberality
- Fighting Envy: How to Acquire Contentedness
- Fighting Wrath: How to Acquire Patience
- Fighting Lust: How to Acquire Chastity
- Fighting Gluttony: How to Acquire Temperance
- Fighting Pride: How to Acquire Humility
- An Introduction to the Seven Heavenly Virtues
- Demarcating the Battlefield: An Introduction to the Seven Deadly Sins