Who in your family does the most work? Husband or wife? You or your siblings? Who does nothing? You can point at them if you’d like. 🙂 We’re talking about laziness today. Some people, when they come home, don’t help prepare dinner, clean the house, or ever offer to help. After all, they say they need to rest; being in Grade 5 is hard work. We’re in the Sabbath Summer of resting in God and celebrating Him, but some people are in the Sabbath Year.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
I know what it’s like: I used to be extremely lazy. I never read a novel, never helped clean up at home, and watched four hours of TV a day. Now I’ve got the opposite problem, that of overwork. Many of us are also workaholics and sleep deprived.
So, how do we know when something’s truly rest, or is laziness?
There are three insights we can glean from the Gospel that speak to these opposite sins of laziness and workaholism:
1) Our Lord Jesus says, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Lk 12:35). The literal words of the first part here are “Let your loins be girded,” meaning to pull up one’s long robes from the ankle so that one could serve and move more easily. St. Cyril of Alexandria says this phrase speaks of “the readiness of the mind to work hard in everything praiseworthy” as well as physical hard work. To have our lamps lit means to be intellectually awake and cheerful (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, 213).
One word we don’t discuss sufficiently these days is duty. Duty is another word for responsibility. The fact that we can take on responsibility is a sign of our humanity and maturity. Many of us men, for instance, know what it’s like to feel guilty when we don’t live up to our duty as brothers, husbands, and fathers. We know when we’re lazy—our conscience tells us. And sometimes we’re in tough situations: Do we either help our families or take the rest we need? Do both, if possible. But, here’s the thing: It’s always better to do our duty than avoid it, because, if we avoid our duty, the pain of a guilty conscience, of having let down people, and of being lazy, is worse than feeling tired. That’s because, as we discussed last week in terms of virtue, if we keep avoiding our duty, we become lazy and that becomes a part of our character, and that feels and is awful. Remember, when we’re in a bind, the first thing to go shouldn’t be prayer, because if we have time to eat, we have time to pray. The first thing to go should be non-essentials like checking our phones and e-mail.
However, if we’re the kind of people who already have a strong sense of duty, be careful not to take on duties that really aren’t ours. Many of us are generous, but lack self-possession and clear boundaries, and so take on duties that God never intends us to assume.
2) Jesus says, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert [awake] when he comes” (Lk 12:37), and, “If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves” (Lk 12:38). Now clearly Jesus isn’t asking us to be physically awake all the time, because He Himself slept, and sleep is physically good. One thing to know about the Catholic faith is that it’s heavy on logic. If something isn’t in accord with right reason, then either it’s wrong or one has to look at it again. To deprive ourselves of sleep isn’t good, unless there’s an overriding moral reason to do it, as when we’re taking care of young children or in emergency situations.
Jesus is talking about being morally and spiritually awake; St. Basil says we’re supposed to be in a state of “total responsiveness pleasing to God” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, 214). This is important because all of us are unique, and while we all need sleep, we all need different amounts, and being responsive to God means maturely recognizing what each of us truly needs. We also need time to relax, and this is unique for each person, too. Please be aware of how much sleep you need, and what truly renews you—we may not always get them, but it’s crucial to know what we need and aim for them, and balance them with our duties.
3) In the parable, why will the slave be punished? Because he didn’t do “what his master wanted” (Lk 12:47-48). The key is doing what the master wants. And what does he want? That we reach our final end, which is philosophical language meaning that we do that which we’re made to do. St. Ignatius of Loyola says, “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul,” (Spiritual Exercises, Principle and Foundation) and so we should choose whatever helps us attain this end—this will help us determine if something’s truly restful or is laziness. If rest contributes to praising and serving God, it’s good! If not too much work prevents from serving Him, it’s bad.
Once, the rector of the high school seminary had a problem with the seminarians’ playing too many video games while home for vacation. He shared with me that he was having trouble finding the right rationale to help them understand how to limit the amount of and choose the games wisely. But then he figured it out! Choose the games that help you enter into a fantasy world, but then, when you return to the real world, the games help you be a more virtuous person!
For example, Lord of the Rings is such a good story because, when we enter into this fantasy, we have clearer notions of right and wrong, good and evil, courage, sacrifice, friendship, and nobility! And when we come back to the real world, we’re strengthened to achieve the end for which we’re made: to know, love, serve God and be happy with Him.
This is the measure of our recreation: Does it make us more human and bring us closer to God?
In my first year of priesthood, I had a revelation: I had made a resolution not to watch TV because it’s mostly a waste of time and doesn’t help me become a better version of myself. But one day I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to do anything. So I turned on the TV and watched half an hour of Battlestar Galactica. You know what? It was so mentally restful that, at the end, I actually wanted to pray! We know something’s truly restful when it gives us energy to pray or love our family more.
But on my next vacation, I decided to watch the whole first season of Battlestar Galactica! It was so addictive that I watched the first three episodes in a row on one night, and then another three the next night, and, at the end of it, I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to watch episode seven. Consequently, I knew it wasn’t helping me. I also realized there’s a moral danger: While the show is incredibly well-written, there are a lot of sexual temptations. I never finished the series.
In the Sabbath Summer, what renews us and turns us toward Jesus? Prayer always gives us peace. Reading good books is important. Cut back on non-essentials. And ask for help! God wants us to ask for help. Many of you who are married could benefit from date nights. The planning and expenses needed would be a solid investment for your marriage. Get our teens to babysit your children; we’ve got great teens here who would be great babysitters.
Along the spectrum from laziness to workaholism, in the middle there’s being energetic and wise! At one end of the spectrum was Michael Hyatt, the famous leadership expert, and also a deacon in the Orthodox Church. Michael Hyatt once thought he was having heart attacks, but his body was simply reacting to stress and overwork. The breakthrough came when he realized that trying to do more things and faster was the problem! He perceived that it wasn’t “about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done” (Michael Hyatt. Free to Focus, 18-19, Kindle Edition). It’s about doing God’s will! He’s now energetic and wise! When he’s at work, he’s fully present. When he’s at home with his wife, Gail, he’s fully present to her. The most important people in his life interact with Michael at his best.
At the other end of the spectrum was one of my friends who used to be lazy and going nowhere in life. The breakthrough came when he encountered Jesus’ love. Afterwards, his mission to be holy was clear, and he was energetic in loving his family and serving his parish. I see this happen to many men. Once we encounter Jesus’ love and example, we step up. It feels good to be responsible, to get stuff done, to contribute—it’s addictive, in a good way. It feels good that people can rely on us. This is what happened to me: After encountering Jesus, I wanted to be like Him, and my grades went up, I got better at sports, I treated people better, and my relationships improved.
Let’s do our duty and be responsive to God, being careful about not taking on duties that aren’t really ours. Communicate your legitimate needs and do restful activities. Something is restful, not lazy, when it helps us achieve our final end: to praise, reverence, and serve God.