Early within The Acts of the Apostles, angels gain the attention of Christ’s chosen through a provocative question. As the eleven stare in amazement at Christ’s Ascension into heaven, they soon hear the following words, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11) This brings to light the fact that no one is ever to remain idle, especially when called to do the Lord’s will.
Sacred Scripture is filled with numerous passages that warn us about idleness. There is a strong correlation between inaction and the tendency to sin. No one needs to look further than the story of David to realize the potential consequences of being unproductive. Had David been where he belonged, leading his troops in battle, he would have never fallen victim to adultery, cover-up, and eventually, murder.
Although David will always be remembered as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22), he was nevertheless responsible for bringing violence and death into the kingdom of Israel. His actions proved catastrophic for the people, as well as for their future. Once evil penetrates the soul, it subverts the culture.
A Disordered Culture
Paul warned the Thessalonians about such reckless behavior, going so far as to say that one who does not work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Strong words, but when it comes to doing the Lord’s work, He plays no favorites. Everyone is held to the same standard, each according their own abilities (Matthew 25:15).
This disorder has become all too familiar in our world today. We all have been guilty (perhaps more times than we would like to recall) of not pulling our own weight. This may have been because we were too tired, too busy, or maybe even too bored. What is necessary to recognize in these moments is that we leave ourselves vulnerable to sin each time we remain stagnant. Furthermore, our failure to act accordingly can have detrimental effects, especially when witnessed by others (and considered to be the norm).
Reaping What We Sow
Take for example, the parent, who often neglects to perform certain duties around the house because he or she is not “up to it.” Will his or her children find it necessary to carry out their respective chores or responsibilities when asked, or will they initiate a similar response? Or consider the veteran employee, who abuses certain privileges or their status at work. What messages will be conveyed to the newcomers? Our behavior often speaks louder than our words, and the saying, “Do as I say and not as I do” only reinforces such hypocrisy.
I believe that some may address these as moments of laziness. However, I believe they are more closely associated with apathy – a failure to act when one knows that action is essential.
Our society is slowly losing its grip on the traditional value of good, old fashioned altruism. Many feel that only as long as there something in it for them, then it is worth doing. Otherwise, someone else can take care of it. As we examine this issue more closely, we begin to see that much of what we do (that is sinful) is not through action at all, but rather, through inaction. Our failure to do what is expected, regardless of how simple, contributes to an egocentric human condition.
St. Therese of Lisieux and Her Little Way
St. Therese of Lisieux became well known for her “little ways.” Her willingness to perform the most insignificant tasks with such happiness boggled the minds of her fellow sisters, including her superiors. Yet, despite the criticisms that ensued, St. Therese never failed to see Who she was truly performing her works for – Christ. This allowed her to accept each job as an opportunity to engage in spiritual dialogue.
Through an understanding of St. Therese, we too can begin to approach even the most menial tasks with a renewed sense of purpose. Whether it is doing the dishes, taking out the dog, or my least personal favorite – cleaning the bathroom, we can tackle these in a more positive and more productive manner. Slacking off can be contagious, but so too can its antidote.
The Road That Leads to Progress and Peace
Diligence creates opportunities for progress. Naturally, there will be bumps and potholes along the path, but slow and steady wins the race. We must also take heart in knowing that the Lord never asks us to do more than what we are capable of, though He does obligate us to do our part.
The story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) teaches us this lesson about knowing when it is time to do work and when it is time to relax. The wisdom comes in knowing the difference. Mary demonstrates the quality of diligence in her desire to remain close to Christ, quietly listening to Him. This perpetuates true wisdom, leading to both progress and peace.
Often times we burn ourselves out by keeping busy with the wrong things, as in the example of Martha. This can lead us into sin, as we become angry and resentful, just as she did. In this case, the level of activity actually proved stifling. (How many of us can relate to Martha, being guilty of acting just for the sake of acting?)
Idleness presents emptiness in our lives and creates a “Trojan horse” for the devil to set up residence. Our lack of effort then becomes intertwined with our self serving desires. On the flip side, we can become too caught up in meaningless tasks. It is only through learning to live for others that we become transformed into seeing how our actions can be properly understood and nobly carried out. The quality of the act then begins to outweigh everything else, filling us with a newfound sense of peace and joy. Let us pray that we can find, just as St. Therese did, the essence within the moments that matter.