“Someone’s going to always tell my kids that their dad was a great football player. But no one will be able to tell my kids that their dad was a great dad and a great husband, so I have to be able to show them that. And that’s what the next chapter of my career is going to be.” -NFL player Donald Driver on Retiring last year
I’ve talked before about how, growing up, my dad was the assistant manager at Wendy’s. But what I didn’t know until much later in life was that he was given plenty of chances to advance to his career. He was offered positions of store and even regional supervisor several different times. But he always turned them down.
Dad was always a hard worker. He showed up early and left late, and he loved his job. So when I found out that my dad had turned down these promotions I was confused, and asked him why?
His answer changed my view of work forever…But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Did you know that when earlier Christians listed the 7 deadly sins, they’re not re-inventing the wheel. Everyone of those sins were taken from the Greco-Roman list of vices.
Except for one.
Sloth is a uniquely Christian sin, because in the story God is telling, humans are held responsible to God for what they do with their lives. But that means more than we think it does.
There is an interesting tradition in the book of Proverbs that talks a lot about sloth. The Proverbs talks about the sluggard, the person who is just wasting away. Now I grew up hearing a lot about this particular tradition a lot, primarily by my mom trying to get me to do my chores, or get a job or whatever.
The book of Proverbs says things like, “Go to the ant you sluggard, consider it’s ways and be wise.” Sloth I was taught, means to be lazy and to not be working. But that’s a very small view of sloth.
In fact, I think part of the reason Americans have such a poor view of work and play is because we don’t understand what sloth really is. There is a proverb that actually says, “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” The Sluggard is borrowing trouble where there is none. He’s using excuses of danger and risk to just avoid living life. One of the definition of sloth in the Bible is not just avoiding work, it is anxious apathy.
Sloth is saying no to the endless potential and possibilities that God has given us. Sloth is reaching for any reason to not risk anything. It’s seeing a lion where there isn’t one.
But Sloth is more than just anxiety and it’s more than just laziness. There is another side to sloth that I don’t think we American Christians get. but desperately need.
Gaining the World
So back to my dad.
I asked him why he didn’t take that job, even though it would have meant a lot more money for our family. And my dad said, “I did that for you and the family. I didn’t want to give my best energy to someone or somewhere else.”
How cool is that? Dad knew the difference between providing for a family and neglecting one. And despite the enormous amount of pressure society puts on men to be a certain definition of successful, my dad chose to do the first, not the latter.
Dorothy Sayers wrote about sloth. And I love her definition:
“Laziness (the way we normally define sloth) is not the real nature of this condition. Really it means a life driven by mere cost-benefit analysis of “What’s in it for me…instead” It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for purpose in nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, find purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and only remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die. We have known it far too well for many years, the only thing perhaps we have not known about it is it is a mortal sin.”
American’s work more than any society in the history of the world. We don’t know how to play, we don’t really know how to party, all we know is how to work…and more often than not, it is not just a good work ethic. It’s sloth.
So we work long hours in the office, to avoid the hard work that needs to be done in the marriage, or the hard work of being a parent. Too often we use work as a way to avoid life, but God intends that we use work as a way to engage it.
When Ray Ramona finished filming the last episode of the “Everybody Loves Raymond” show, he told the studio audience there for the live filming why he quit. The show could have gone for more seasons, the network and fans loved it. But Ramona told them that 15 years ago, when he was leaving New York to try his luck in Hollywood, his brother hugged him and then slipped a note into his suitcase.
When he got to LA, he opened it and all the note said was this: “What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?”
Then Ray told the audience over the last 10 years, he had been blessed beyond belief with his career. He felt like he has gained the world, but now it was time to work on his soul.
May we all.