Can a busy, productive person also be a sloth? In the fourth post in a Lenten series on the seven deadly sins, Lucas Damoff contends that extreme busyness—rather than rest—is a sign of real slothfulness.
A mentor of mine, who was a long time pastor, once told me a story from a time he went to a pastor’s conference. In the course of conversation a group of pastors began talking about the last time they had been able to take a Sabbath rest. For many of them it had been years. What stuck out was not just how busy these pastors were, but how they wore their busy-ness like a badge of honor. He wondered how seriously they were taking the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, and if they would likewise consider their lust, greed, or pride as badge or their dedication to the work of the Lord.
Americans tend to be busy. We might think that because we’re so busy we are not slothful. But we can be so busy that we don’t think we have time to worship the Lord. After all, there is so much to get done, what tangible benefit does worship bring us? The question belies a mindset that is antithetical to a Biblical view of human purpose. We exist not to do things for God but to live in relationship with him. Contrary to the creation stories of Egypt, Babylon, and the Canaanites, the creation story written down by Moses does not show the gods creating mankind to be their servants, but God creating man in His image, to share in God’s nature and enjoy God’s creation alongside God. So a sloth isn’t just someone who sits on the couch all day watching TV, a sloth can be a super busy and productive person who has no time to worship the Lord.
Productivity is different than fruitfulness. If I got to be very good at, and derived great pleasure from making mud pies I might be tempted to spend my days out in the back yard, making mud pies. I might even get to be exceedingly efficient at it. But would I be being fruitful? I might be very productive, but the product I created so much of wouldn’t have much value. Ultimately the same would be true even if I were to be highly skilled at making tools and implements that were useful in promoting human flourishing. Even then, I might still be greatly efficient in my work and greatly deficient in my pursuit of God. Ultimately I still would be producing something that had limited value.
If we are tempted to cry foul at this point, and say those two are not alike, it might indicate that we don’t really believe that Jesus means what he says about wealth, and possessions. Money is a powerful tool, but its power is bound to the economies of this world, a world which is passing away. That is why Christ told His disciples to labor for that which does not perish; to work to gain a treasure that cannot be stolen and will not tarnish; to spend what is perishing to gain what will never perish. While this is certainly true of money, it is also true of our time and energy. A human being’s economic potential is theoretically limitless, we could always make a little more money, but each of us only has so many days and hours and minutes to spend.
And this is where we need to begin when we think about sloth. In the Christian view of reality, we don’t crash from our work but we engage in work from a place of rest. Our week begins on Sunday, as a reminder of what should be primary in our lives: we only have so much time to give, so as in our monetary tithe, the first portion goes to the Lord. But just as the tithe is the starting point of our monetary generosity, so too our weekly gathering is the starting point of the time we give to God.
Jesus told us that if we abide in the vine, then we will bear much fruit. Abiding doesn’t really look productive, but if you keep pulling a plant up out of the soil to see how the roots are getting along, you will end up with a dead plant and no fruit. To the world abiding looks like the opposite of work, but in reality this is what we were created for: to live in loving relationship with God.
So this Lent, carve into your schedule time to be with God, to abide in the vine, daily time in prayer and scripture, weekly time in the gathering for Word and Sacrament, and seasonally through times of retreat and vacation.