Sloth gets a bad press. The protestant work ethic and unrestrained capitalism that dominate our western cultures has given it a position on the naughtiness list slightly above murder, rape and fancying people of the same sex as yourself. But, like all "deadly sins," laziness is not the complete demon that we make it out to be. The human race has retained it in its emotional make-up for good reasons. For a start, without laziness we would all burn out and die at an extremely young age.

But there are other benefits to human individuals having a healthy inclination towards laziness. Benefits that help keep society and our communities together.

I have always had a tendency to be lazy. This became far more exaggerated after falling prey to a bout of serious depression sixteen years ago. Even now I have to will myself to do even the most mundane task such as having a shave or going out for a walk with the dogs. I have learned to overcome this problem and live with it but I have not managed to lessen my sloth and I doubt that I ever will. What I have done is accepted it, not allowed it to dictate what I do and, above all, I have used it to make me a better priest.

Far too many priests and church ministers are workaholics whose greatest fear is being observed doing nothing. The main conversations at clergy get togethers usually involve attendees bragging about how little time they have for their families and for themselves because of all the pressing demands of their job. The truth is that most of these complainers delight in their temporal martyrdom and are only overworked because they want to be or, more likely, because they are afraid of the consequences of not doing everything themselves, namely, other people receiving praise rather than themselves.

I can be as arrogant as the next man. But my laziness trumps my fear of competition. This means that I am naturally and selfishly collaborative. If I can share my workload, I will. I actively seek to do so. This does not mean that I dump the things that need doing on absolutely anybody. I'm far to wise to do that as such a random policy will invariably lead to more work ending up in my "to do" tray. Instead I have learned to discern talent in others and share my tasks accordingly. I have also learned what you have to do to make people want to help which is basically to make them feel good about doing it. The one thing I am not lazy about is dishing out praise and gratitude. This is not phoney as I am always grateful for any help that I can get.

My guess is that most people on selection panels are looking for potential church ministers who will devote all their time and energy to their vocation. But not all of them. There are wise selectors who realise that such obsessive candidates will become nothing but bad news and ultimately destroyers rather than builders of congregations. The truth is that a minister who would much rather be sitting in the back garden with a good book and a long drink on a sunny summer afternoon than filling in diocesan returns, and who can make the decision to do so without feeling guilty if they are due a break, is going to ultimately be a far better builder of a happy community than a minister who works all hours, who makes his congregation mere bystanders to the work of faith and who screws up his family and social life just so he can brag about how overworked he is to his workaholic bishop at the next clerical, mutual backslapping session.

Relax! Don't do it! Unless you really can't get out of it.



  1. I’m not sure that what you describe is sloth.

    I’ve found a great many people stay frantically busy and “successful” to keep from actually doing anything.

  2. You have just described me, dear MP. Not the workaholic but the sloth. I remember the day I named it – the great value in sitting about and doing absolutely nothing.
    I’m militant about it. (which flies in the face of sloth, but there you have it.) I grieve for my fellow clergy who cannot find time to pray. I tell them about those moments when I am rushing about doing things and find myself in the church fretting that no one picked out the used service leaflets from the last service and something inside me says, “STOP!” And the wise priest does just that.

    I wonder what people think when, on the odd occasion when there are others about and I hear that call, “STOP!”, I do just stop there and stand, doing absolutely nothing at all.

    Funny thing, no one has ever asked me.

  3. Ah, yes, and as MadBuddha said, “It is no good just not getting off your butt, to achieve complete enlightenment you have to remove from your mind all thoughts of ever being arsed to do anything.”

  4. Ok, just for clarification. What you are calling sloth is the inclination towards blessed inertia, not the act of sitting still and breathing deeply…or am I misunderstanding? That sloth when tied to some healthy boundaries is what can allow an individual with a demanding life to care for themselves. However, one must push back against sloth to get things done that need doing – hence the need for good boundaries and a discriminating eye (e.g., the laundry does NOT have to be done right now.) OCICBW

  5. Actually, the sin of sloth is really acedie — which is more a kind of giving up than it is laziness.

    Having said that, I agree. EXCELLENT essay, MadPriest.

    I once accused a priest of Pelagianism and he (most seriously) took it as a compliment.

    (And, yes, I know that the historical Pelagius got a bad rap. I’m referring to the heresy as it is traditionally understood.)

  6. Sloth vs. indolence? Can someone who has trouble sitting still please explain the difference to me? I’ll check in again after my nap.

  7. Fortunately the Good Lord has blessed me with sufficient pain that sitting still is anathema so…I believe the difference is in volition. Sloth being the absence of it and indolence being a conscious act of avoiding.

  8. That should read: “You’re hurting my brain…” etc


    Ya know, I’d duck and run, but perhaps our esteemed host can’t be arsed to chase me down and swat me (ooohh!) for being an apostrophe Nazi.