How do lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined people like myself do Lent? How do I 'live a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called?' Some people seem to be naturally motivated, they are always running towards something. Pre-conversion, it's often something like academic excellence, or successful careers, or fitness and healthy lifestyles, or pursuing their dreams, or having adventures, or learning new skills. Post-conversion, they turn all that drive towards pursuing God. They devour the Word of God, read about the saints, go to daily Mass, study apologetics, go to Adoration, volunteer, and serve the poor. Those spiritual muscles are kept in good shape!
I, on the other hand, am one of the laziest people I know. I can sit for hours doing nothing but thinking, or watching youtube videos or playing 2048 or reading blogs, or watching too many episodes of Lost or Downton or The Mentalist... and quite happily do not move a spiritual, physical or intellectual muscle for hours on end. (I don't count critiquing the media I consume, because that doesn't involve any intellectual discipline at all.) Sometimes I won't even do something I WANT to, like napping, because it involves a small effort of will, like not watching another movie trailer.
I realized many years ago that at the root of most of my sins is SLOTH.
Yup, one of the more boring deadly sins. In his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon defined sloth as "sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer." (more here about the sin of sloth).
So what is the solution? I KNOW my sin, but talking about it and even accepting it, is not exactly as effective as it seems in the moment. I can be aware that I am yet again drowning in indiscipline, feel bad about it, and still not change.
I have found the one major thing that has helped me change and grow has been intentionally placing myself in relationship with other Christians who spur me on to follow Christ, to deny myself, put to death the life-sucking sloth, and live a new life that prioritizes LOVE of God and neighbour.
In Peter Herbeck’s book ‘When the Spirit comes in Power’, he writes that one of the keys to cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit is to ‘Run with the saints’.
'In addition to the saints who have already gone home to the Lord, we will taste more of the life of the Spirit if we run with the saints that are still on earth. To learn to move more fully and deeply in the life of the Spirit, it is important to share one's life with others who desire to live the same way. If we are docile to the Spirit, he will lead us to deeper fellowship with others who are serious about following Jesus. One of the central things the Spirit is doing in our day is bringing his people into a deeper experience of communion, in concrete expressions of various forms of community life.’A few years ago I joined a Catholic volunteer organization, and through it, God had provided SAINTS for me to run with. I remember before joining this organization, I read some of the blogs and articles and thought – ‘Wow…these people are so holy. I wish I could be a little like that. I am so far from that kind of holiness and love.' Five years later, praise God, I am a little like that!
Our director recently quoted a homily he heard – ‘Saints make saints.’ I not only work with my community members, but live with them, and it is in lived Christian community, that I am transformed. When I am tempted to be lazy, I see others pouring themselves out, and I find myself doing the same. I see the bible come alive. When I'm not feeling like praying, I see others up earlier than me having their personal prayer time, or at the chapel, and something in me says "Yes! Prayer!"
When I am tempted to treat the poor with indifference, I see my community members deep in conversation with a chance beggar, and I am shamed, and challenged.. and the next time I engage a beggar in conversation too. I am tempted to grow slack in my faith and just murmur sympathetic nothing-sayings to people when they share a struggle, and then I see my community members offer to pray with that same someone. And the next time I am the one doing it.
We are all still works in progress- we sometimes feel and act impatient, judgemental, thoughtless, or fail to go the extra mile. We sometimes forget ourselves and complain, or get lazy with prayer. We act out of our woundedness, or our fear, or our selfishness. But we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, and begin again.
When I run with the saints I get called on by the words and example of my companions. It’s called ‘positive peer pressure’. (Not to mention accountability.) When I see people tirelessly serving each other, being quick to serve or sacrifice, speaking words of encouragement, pouring out their hearts in praise, being honest about their struggles and need for God’s mercy, I think ‘I can do that too!’ And I can!
If you are longing to grow closer to the Lord, become more of who you are called to be, and are not sure how, allow the Spirit to guide you to the people open to Himself, and jump in. Find some saints, and run with them.