The following post is part of a guest series by Jason Liske of Ascending Mount Carmel. Jason is also a freelance writer and social media contributor at Monkrock. You can read more about him here. The following post is used with permission.
Though I have written on the sin of sloth before, my treatment of it was more focused on the laziness and lethargy associated with the sin of sloth. But having done more research on the subject, I see now that sloth actually encompasses far more than just boredom and indifference.
When one is caught up in sloth, it can feel like they are wearing a heavy iron blanket. Nothing is worth doing (at least “now”), all matters of even weighty importance are irrelevant, the television or some other distraction has one’s full attention, and depression often sinks in like a black fog within the soul. Rather than focus on reality, sloth beckons us to a world of distraction and self-medication to provide temporary reliefs to our own lethargy and sadness. This kind of despairing spiritual environment is all rooted in the sin of sloth, which has to be one of the most forgotten and yet most common of the deadly sins today.
Sloth does not simply mean that one suffers from an overall laziness in their life. From the sin of sloth emanates a whole world of despair, depression, boredom and restlessness, and spiritual indifference, culminating in one giant shrug when it comes to practically all aspects of life. On a spiritual level, this is the road to disaster.
The brutal drone of despair that is one of the fruits of sloth is akin to suffering a slow death. Trust in the mercy and love of God dwindles ever-increasingly, and the soul begins to become indifferent to its own salvation (ironically, a goal sought as the height of mystical experience within the heretical thought of quietism).
In order to combat sloth and all of its fruits, one must lift one’s mind up to heaven and the hope that we have in Christ. I find that even the most meagre hope in Christ is enough to drive one on, to awaken the soul from slumber, and to weaken feelings of despair. Make an act of the will “to set yourself in opposition to what is bad and to force yourself to do what is good”1 (Theophan the Recluse), and snap yourself out of the spiritual lethargy and depression you might find yourself in.
Another remedy is to busy oneself, as the old Benedictine adage goes – “Ora et labora” – pray and work. Master Geert Grote, one of the most prominent figures of the Devotio Moderna movement, recommends the reading of the Scriptures as consolation for the sorrowing soul2. I have found in my experience that the reading of the lives of the saints provides tremendous motivation to remove oneself from the heavy mire of sloth – to do so seems “to awaken many from living death to true life.”3
When fighting sloth one must remain active in the spiritual life; anytime the temptations to sloth and spiritual lethargy begin to coat the soul like wet grey blankets, one should remove themselves immediately from the temptations by running to Christ in prayer, or by occupying themselves in some activity. When sadness and despair of God’s mercy presents itself, one should remind themselves of the hope they have in Christ, and that they too are called to a vocation in serving the Lord.
“Indeed, if we, too, live as if we were to die each new day, we shall not sin… when we awaken each day, we should think that we shall not live till evening; and again, when about to go to sleep we should think that we shall not awaken.”4
1 – qtd. in Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pg. 258
2 – cf. “Letter 62: On Patience and the Imitation of Christ”
3 – qtd. in Devotio Moderna: Basic Writings, “Edifying Points of the Older Sisters”, pg. 123
4 – St. Athanasius, qtd. in The Call of Silent Love, pg. 140