The Six Faces of Sloth
If you’ve been in almost any Christian bookstore or card shop, you’ve probably seen a plaque or bookmark, print or wall-hanging, featuring a story called “Footprints in the Sand.”
It tells of a man who dreamed that he saw his life in terms of a walk along the beach with God. Throughout the years, there were two sets of footprints. One was his, and the other was God’s. Yet he noticed that during the most difficult times of his life, only one set of footprints appeared in the sand. In his dream, he asks God about the single set of footprints and is told that those were the times God carried him.
Let me give you a new and improved version that a friend once e-mailed me:
One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.
But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?
Those prints are large and round and neat.
But Lord, they are too big for feet.”
“My child,” he said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”
“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know.
So I got tired, I got fed up.
And there I dropped you on your butt.”
Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand.
For some reason, I don’t think I’ll see that one hanging from a wall, much less printed on a greeting card. But it probably should be, because it speaks to one of the most critical barriers to the transforming work of God in our lives, the sin of sloth.
We don’t hear about sloth much these days, but it’s a good word, one we ought to get reacquainted with, because it holds a major key to life-change through the power of God. As described by Dorothy Sayers, sloth is that “...which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for.”
Or in a one-word assertion that many in our day put forward, sloth merely says, “Whatever.”
Yet as all-encompassing as these descriptions might be, sloth is specific in its manifestations. The usual face we put on sloth is that of laziness. But consider the other faces of sloth, such as the face of tolerance, which leads us to accept how we are without any attempt at change.
Or the face of apathy. Soren Kierkegaard once declared, “Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is wretched, for it lacks passion.”
Or the face of procrastination, the persuasive whisper that there is no need to hurry, robbing us of a proper sense of urgency. Procrastination is knowing what we need to do, but never quite bringing ourselves to do it.
Or the face of activity. This is an ironic side to sloth, but very real. We can fill our lives with busy-ness, events and recreation to the point that we never attend to the matters that most need our attention.
Finally, sloth can carry the face of circumstance. It’s easy to exaggerate the power of circumstances, allowing the situations we encounter to dictate our lives – and specifically, dictate what we do not do. Sloth tells us not to bother, to just give in to the situation.
But regardless of its face, we must journey from sloth to diligence,
…or leave our butt prints in the sand.
James Emery White
Dorothy Sayers, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” The Whimsical Chrisitan.
Soren Kierkegaard, A Kierkegaard Anthology, Robert Bretall, editor.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.