Can you name all of the seven deadly sins without looking?
You probably know most of them, but there is at least one that is easy to forget about.
One of the vices that gets the least attention in the Christian life is sloth (ironically enough).
The term “veg out” is a modern synonym of sloth. One of the first instances of this phrase was from the 1990 movie Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts says, “Let’s watch old movies all night… we’ll just veg out in front of the TV.” Everyone loves a good veg out session. In fact, I’m in the middle of a three-day “veg out” as I type this, coming off of wisdom tooth surgery. I have been glued to my Mac, iPad, or television, all while remaining horizontal on the couch. I definitely enjoy having some time to myself and getting to “do what I want,” but the most exhausting part of this recovery period has been the fact that I’m doing nothing. You know that feeling. Vegging out, by some paradox, wears you down.
Yesterday I read one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a long time about the death of a 32-year-old Taiwanese man, who died likely from exhaustion and heart failure after playing online games for three straight days at an Internet café. The man laid at his computer for over ten hours before being discovered, and that’s not even the saddest part:
“We went inside to cordon off the tables and had investigators there to gather evidence. Only then did the other patrons realize that someone had died, but they still showed no concern and kept playing their games,” a police spokesperson told the Taipei Times. “We were amazed at their nonchalant attitude.”
This is definitely an extreme example, but telling nonetheless. As technology and social media have developed, so has our tendency to get lost inside of it. We crave an escape from the real world. If that wasn’t true, “Second Life” wouldn’t exist, people wouldn’t marry video-game characters, and so many grown men wouldn’t spend more time on their Madden franchise than their wife.
Sloth manifests itself normally in one of two ways. It’s either spending too much time doing what doesn’t matter, or spending too little time doing what does matter.
And where is a place you can seamlessly do both of these things? Social media. Even though sloth is something that easily creeps up on us and attacks without us even realizing, it’s not a very powerful opponent if we have the truth of God’s Word in our hearts. Sloth can be oh so easily defeated, but we have to be equipped with the right tools to beat it. What are some measures we can take against sloth?
Manage your time wisely.
“Wow Zach. That is one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. Thanks for the tip.” I know this is one of the biggest “duh” statements in the world when it comes to laziness. But are we taking time management seriously when the average (yes, average) American watches 5 hours of television a day? Folks, that’s a full-time job. That’s 35 hours of sitting in front of a screen…not counting time spent surfing the web, or sleeping in, or other hobbies. Time management isn’t our priority when we record these kinds of numbers.
Improving time management can be as simple as getting up earlier, developing a routine schedule, buying (and using) a calendar/planner, setting an alarm, limiting the amount of time we spend on media/television/hobbies, planning short and long-term…the list is full of simple solutions to using our time. Making the best use of our time is not just a good idea, but expected of us as Christians (Col. 4:5). We just have to willingly apply these practices.
Get in the Word.
Piggy-backing off of the last point, a consistent habit of reading God’s Word is a difficult process to get going, but we simply must put time and effort into it. Ironically enough, spiritual sloth is not just being too lazy to read the Bible, but also being too busy to read the Bible. Shake the dust off of your Bible cover and wear that book out. For some of you, that means your Bible belongs on your nightstand as a visual reminder to be picked up and used, first thing out of bed and/or last thing before bed.
A few months ago I really made a push to improve this area of my life. Having a dedicated, consistent time to read God’s Word proves to be so much more fruitful for me and my day. My routine is getting up around 6:30 AM, showering, and heading downstairs to my desk to read. Not get on Facebook, not eat breakfast, but read. I am really trying to make this a habit, and although I don’t do it every day, I have benefitted from making myself get up in the morning and getting in the Word. (Note: If you’re trying to establish/maintain a routine, I absolutely suggest reading the Word in the morning. It helps you properly meditate on your studies as the day goes on, as opposed to sleeping on it at night. It also minimizes distraction to use a physical Bible, not a digital one. You know how that goes.)
We all see it, every time we go out to eat with a friend or to a party. Even concerts, events, and exercise fall victim to being virtually interrupted by that illuminated rectangle that fits in our pockets. This photo article tells it all. We are so obsessed with being on our cell phones, from the restaurant booth to the mountaintop, that we are literally missing out on the present life. Conversation is less genuine on Facebook, and nature’s splendor is less majestic on Instagram (you don’t have to Instagram everything!). We will not fall into this vegged state if we choose, sometimes, to put our phones down and purely enjoy the moment.
In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter asks famous photographer Sean O’Connell when he’s going to finally take the picture of that rare creature right in front of him; to which O’Connell responds, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.” This is what it means when the Psalmist urges us to recognize, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). Make the most of these opportunities (Eph. 5:15).
Build engagement offline.
It’s really easy to retweet or like a post. In fact, the word “engagement” itself has taken a diluted definition online. Engagement’s original meaning is to arrange to do something, at a given time and place, with a given person, for a given purpose. Now, the word is attributed to our online clout, or how many likes we get. Engagement is now an effortless task; click a word and you’ve been “engaged” by a post. But we know this isn’t the picture of true, genuine community. Show me a man who wants to flourish in Christian community, and I’ll show you a man who is making an offline effort to meet people face-to-face, willing to spend time, money, and energy making it happen.
What makes such meetings so special? Emotions are so much more easily read, and worn. There are fewer masks to hide behind when no screen separates you. One great asset of offline community is that the power of prayer is maximized. A status may read, “Pray for me,” and you comment, “Praying!” We all know, however, that the norm is not to immediately close the laptop, get on your knees and start praying. We often forget when we simply read a request. But when we have this conversation in the flesh, we can stop our conversation and pray right there. We can encourage our brothers and sisters on the spot and lift them up. Make Hebrews 10:24–25 the lifeblood of your pursuit of authentic Christian community, and don’t veg out and neglect meeting together.
There are three approaches to sloth we can take. Option 1 is to spend too much time doing what doesn’t matter. It’s spending hours in front of a television or computer or so forth (to some degree this even applies to reading books, even about theology, a personal weakness of mine). It’s sleeping until 1 PM every single morning because you can. This leads to overemphasis on the non-essentials. Option 2 is to spend too little time doing what does matter. It’s the selfish neglect of a world outside of your social box that is starving to hear the Gospel. It’s not caring to spend time in the Word or prayer or in church. This leads to underemphasis on the essentials. Option 3, then, is to major on the majors, and enjoy a healthy amount of the frivolous. God isn’t asking all of us to deactivate our Facebook or cancel our cable (though some of us may need to). He simply wants our primary attention. He wants our time. He wants us to go live life in the community with brothers and with lost people. He wants us to live life present, not withering away. Remember: you can never overemphasize the essentials, and you can never underemphasize the non-essentials.