What prevents us from growth in life and faith? I wonder if the deadly sin of sloth is most often at root.
This isn’t the same as laziness. You can be a workaholic and exhibit sloth. Because sloth is about neglecting the most important things––love of God and neighbor. (I wrote a full post on sloth here: “Sloth isn’t what you think it is––or, The workaholic sloth.”)
Usually it’s about neglecting those things because there’s something uncomfortable required. So let me offer a simple prescription for rapid personal growth in life and faith: Do one uncomfortable thing every day.
• Have a hard conversation with someone.
You know you’ve needed to, but you’re avoiding it because… you’re normal. And these conversations are uncomfortable. But your relationship is lacking a level of truthfulness because you’re avoiding this conversation.
It’s time to address that unresolved conflict or tension. Time for you as a boss to talk to that employee about performance problems. Time to share that bit of unwelcome information/observation with a friend or family member.
Have lots of grace in these conversations. (Pro tip: if you raise your voice, fail to listen, use sarcasm, or make personal attacks, you’ve missed some opportunities for grace.) But also get those hard truths out there.
See more on grace and truth in “A third way in the church’s ethics debates.”
• Volunteer for something outside your “comfort zone.”
Two volunteer opportunities that I’ve seen go from uncomfortable to rewarding for several people: children’s ministry and homeless ministry.
Our church has a once-a-week overnight homeless ministry. We constantly have difficulty finding “host men” to stay the night. Want to hear a grown man produce a long list of excuses? Ask him to stay overnight with a group of homeless men.
It was the same for me. The first time I stayed overnight, it was with quite a bit of trepidation. But most of my fears were unfounded, and a few were just selfish. Now that I’ve gotten over my fears and selfish concerns, the whole ministry has become a real blessing to me and our family.
• Confess something and ask for forgiveness/accountability.
This is a slightly different take on the “hard conversation” above. This could be about apologizing. I’ve found the “five elements of apology” suggested by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas especially helpful:
* Express Regret – “I’m sorry.”
* Accept Responsibility – “I was wrong.”
* Make Restitution – “What can I do to make it right?”
* Genuinely Repent – “Here’s how I’m going to be sure I don’t do that again.”
* Request Forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?”
Try to use all five. Or especially the one that feels most uncomfortable. It’s probably the one most needed.
Or you could confess a personal sin and ask for accountability. Of all the things we hate doing, confessing personal sin may be the worst. But if you want change, there’s nothing better than having someone else’s prayers and accountability.
I have never looked forward to fasting. I rarely enjoy it. I often wimp out about it last-minute. Because I really like to eat.
Actually, there are times I have an accidental 18-hour fast. I get wrapped up in other things and forget to eat. My wife has no understanding of this. But this reveals something even deeper… I’m capable of fasting without noticing. What I especially reject or dread is not having the option to eat if I’d like to.
We resent suffering the mild discomfort that comes from an empty stomach. Really, we resent being denied anything we want. Richard Foster says it well in his brilliant book, Celebration of Discipline: “Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels.”
• Go screen-free for a day.
Use your phone as a phone, and nothing more. No computers or tablets or TV.
For many of us, solitude is a foreign experience. What do we do to kill 5 minutes in a waiting room? Pull out the phone. To kill 15 seconds at a stoplight? Same thing. We are never alone.
Because of this, we’re missing small opportunities and large––to notice other people and things around us, to pray, to meditate on Scripture. William Wilberforce, who led England’s abolition movement, writes about reciting Psalm 119 (the longest psalm in the Bible) as he walked to Parliament. I would be more likely to check my mail and read my Feedly. He got much more out of his walks than I’m getting out of mine.
• Give away something you would really like to keep.
Richard Foster again: “Because we lack a divine Center, our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.”
Find something you have that someone else would need or enjoy more. Then give it away. It could be that shirt you haven’t worn in two years. It could be money. You could do like the couple I know who gave away one of their cars, not because they weren’t using it, but because they knew someone who needed it more.
• Deal with pain in your past.
Do you have something in your past that you actively avoid thinking about? It might be time to deal with it. It would probably be good to have someone else guide you through that process, too. I’d recommend going to your pastor and possibly also a licensed social worker or counselor.
Those are just a few suggestions. You can probably identify several other uncomfortable things you could do today. Pick one, get up the gumption (better, pray for it), and then do it. Then do something else uncomfortable tomorrow. It’s the antidote to sloth. It’s rocket fuel for growth.