The sluggard – the misdirected desire of the lazy person

work mattersIn his book Work Matters: lessons from Scripture, Paul Stevens turns to reflect on the sluggard. What a great word.

Before we get to what he says, some questions:

We hear a lot these days about overwork and stress, but when was the last time you heard much about its other side – laziness?

Is laziness similar to wasting our time? When we get distracted by useless things? And since we live in an age of terminal distraction, is it fair to say that we have 24/7 opportunity for slothful frittering away of time that could be used constructively?

And if that is the case, do we need seriously to think about laziness in a technological age?

What counts as a waste of time? When is such waste being lazy and when is it rest from work ? When does self-indulgence of spending hours on Facebook (or whatever) become slothful and sinful?

OK – to Stevens:

Proverbs gets stuck into sluggards with a dose of ironic humour:

Sluggards dip their hands in the bowl but are so lazy they can’t bring their hands to their mouths (19:24)

Sluggards are married to their beds, groaning when they turn over it’s like a squeaky door as it rotates in its socket (26:14)

They use the excuse of danger not to get out of bed. (22:13)

They don’t bother to plant seeds in season and then go out to look for a harvest (20:4)

The lazy are restless with unsatisfied desire (13:4; 21:25-6), helpless in the mess of their lives (15:9) and useless to anyone who employs them (18:9, 10:26)!

Stevens locates this in desire – for the wrong things. The lazy person is locked in himself, futilely pursuing emptiness. He lacks a positive theology of work. [just as a workaholic is also destructively locked in himself, pursuing work at the expense of all else].

Work properly understood is a gift and a blessing that leads to all sorts of positive outcomes – harvest, provision, helping others.

A destructive attitude to work is seen when even the thought of work is a drag – a constant physical weariness and lack of energy to complete tasks. Mental laziness in not seeing what needs to be done. A moral laziness in failing to take up the virtuous benefits of work. Spiritual sloth is not caring about God or his purposes.

Quite a bit of what he describes here could be someone who is seriously depressed. But let’s leave depression out of the picture as a cause of an unwillingness to work.

Stevens goes to the desert Fathers and their deadly serious confrontation of destructive inner thoughts through solitude and reflection and prayer. It is only in a willingness to change before God can the heart be renewed.

… those who would be converted must take up the disciplines of responsiveness: waiting on God and confronting self in solitude, cultivating new thoughts about work (both its intrinsic and extrinsic value), taking decisive action even when they don’t feel like it, and reminding themselves continuously for Whom it is they are working

This book grows on you. Stevens has distilled a lot of learning and reflection into pithy and deep meditations.


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