Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Hieronymus Bosch
The Seven Deadly Sins and the four Last Things
(click to enlarge)

Kay's Seven Deadly Sins meme is up and running with sloth. So far in playing these meme, I've stuck to a non-confessional mode but for this one I think I'll make an attempt to write a little about my own slothfulness.

I was baptized Catholic. My father allowed it to appease my mother. After that, Mother became overwhelmed by life, I'm sure and neglected to keep trying to convince Father that my brother and I should be raised Catholic. My father was, for most of his life, a self-proclaimed atheist but later in life, he began to cave in to the whims of the Virgin Mary, who in Portugal is more popular than Jesus. I then began to consider him more of an agnostic, though he was hard-pressed to admit it himself.

So having no formal religious upbringing, I don't believe in sin as it's proclaimed in early Christian thinking. Or any Christian thinking, for that matter. But I don't say that to dampen the spirit of Kay or her meme but to illustrate how little regard I have for western religion. In other words, I'm a heathen, a pagan and a secular humanist, for the most part. With a deep, underlying sense that god is love and love is god and that is what's inside of each of us. When I am overwhelmed by the power, beauty and magic of this earth, I do wonder about a Great Spirit or Creator. But I'm not too hung up on what form or forms that could possibly take. I'm content to sit in wonder and refer to science, mythology and legend.

Having said that I don't really believe in Sin as punishable in any godly way, I must admit that if I did, Sloth would have to be my greatest sin. Especially in the last couple of years. I used to be very hard-working. I still work hard at many things: my job. Uh. My job. Everything else is always piling up: laundry, housework, yard work, lists of people to call, lists of things to do.

I'm torn between guilt and celebration at my slothfulness. I feel guilty because I grew up with a working mother who ironed the underwear every Sunday and kept the house spotless and dust-free. I feel celebratory because it's liberating not to be a slave to that crap. By the same token, it's taking its toll in that I feel even more slothful when I see what is piling up, become overwhelmed and turn my back on it.

I'm trying to find reasons for my slack. One friend said it's okay for me to be slothful because I only a couple of years ago sent my youngest off to college. Prior to that it seems it was nothing but work. Raising two busy daughters, working, getting them through high school and the whole college admissions process, going through a divorce, beginning a new relationship with new daughters and a future MIL. My friend thinks I'm entitled to some sloth. I'd like to seize on her comments and cave in to them, forever. But I'm not altogether sure this is a healthy thing to do. I'm now nearing the end of my rope in the sloth department.

I'm making myself do things. Forcing. Yesterday, I decided to go out and work in the yard to remove leaves and see what's popping up. It was tempting to take my camera and start taking pictures but I made a pact with myself that I would work for an hour and then go get the camera as a reward. It worked. I accomplished quite a lot, found some shoots of spring bulbs popping up and then felt entitled to take a drive and shoot more pictures.

Later in the day, I visited my future MIL, who is 87 and going downhill fast. I brought her some soup and we talked about her memorial service arrangements, which she has been very diligent in planning. I see her a few times a week but again, I have to force myself to go. It's really tearing me up to see someone I care about preparing herself for death. It makes sense that she do so. It means she's accepting that she won't last forever. But it's still a painful reminder of loss and regret.

I don't always want to be reminded of loss and regret. Another way in which I've changed. I wallowed in loss and regret for years. After finally beating down depression after many long years, I want to avoid the heavy emotional work of confronting it when I need to.

It appears that my tendency toward slothfulness is a mixed bag. There is a lot of freedom in it from the things that used to overwhelm me with depression, stress and anxiety. By the same token, I'm asking myself how long I want this to last.

My house is not clean. It's hard to keep clean. It's a house built in 1950. It has many nice antique rugs that create tremendous dust. If I were a good housekeeper, I'd have to vacuum daily. And I don't want to, so I live with the dust. I manage to make and keep a couple of rooms really nice.

Our bedroom is not one of them. It's like a dorm room we share. I'm okay with that. My desk is here. The filing chest from WP's father's old insurance office from the 40s and 50s, which is filled with art postcards, photographs, craft stuff and all sorts of odds and ends. WP has his piles of books. We have our TV where we watch a lot of movies. Our bed has a feather mattress top and a warm, down quilt. And there is my bureau with my collection of handcrafted (mostly) jewelry. We live and love and work and read and entertain ourselves in this room. Here is another example of giving up on expectations. My parent's room was for sleeping only. The bed was always made and everything was in its place, dust-free and perfect.

There have been times when I want that same order; when I wish I could turn a room into a place of beauty that stays the same no matter who has been in it. I have been striving for color and art in the parts of the house I can control. Otherwise, I think it is more important to live than to showcase.

I don't live alone. I want to avoid the trap of making up the whole house my way without regard to its history and the two generations that've grown up here. More importantly, this is WP's house as well as my house. The rugs are his. Most of the art is his. Some things are now ours. It's a mishmash of what happens when a blended family is created. Most of the time I'm okay with that.

I meandered a bit on sloth. But what all my words have in common, I think, is an attempt to try to balance what I don't want to do with what I have to do. I saw how hard both my parents worked to achieve some standard they had for their home. At times at the expense of just being and spending time as a family. I don't want to do that but I'm not always comfortable with th result of slacking off, either.

This is a struggle for me, not a sin. Interestingly the wiki entry for The Seven Deadly Sins indicates that the old form of sloth was really about the sin of despair and melancholy. In other words: what we now call depression. Its modern form is more like laziness and not utilizing one's talents. Looking at sloth from a sin perspective, I'm guilty of both. I was in a state of low-level depression for years, with the occasional clinical episode. And now I'm not depressed, just slacking off! See how complicated this slothfulness is for me? ;-)


  1. Now I am confused. How could depression be considered a sin?

    Your so-called slothful housekeeping sounds just fine to me. As you say, really living is far more important than having a picture-perfect home.

  2. Well if depression is a sin, then I guess I'm a sinner -- not flagrantly or all the time but I do have bouts with it. Between Adam and I we keep the house "tidy", but fortunately neither of us are obessed with overly "tidy". And I couldn't agree more that really living is far more important than the picture-perfect home.

  3. I think depression is a perfectly acceptable reaction to living in modern western society. We get shoved into the machine at an early age and aren't expected to complain?

    btw - I had the same problem with Linda's blog and emailed her an hour ago. Hope she finds a solution soon.

  4. I think the concept of sloth is an irrational outgrowth of our society's obsession with production. I mean, there are entire societies within which the concept of idleness is a presumptive state, and at least tolerated, if not celebrated!

    I've seen your house, and it has a comfortable functionality which could hardly be considered wrong. Who says you have to spend your "free" hours working around the house?

    Anyway, thanks for this opportunity to really, honestly think about things. You've always been really good about that.

  5. Sphinx, now you have to accept your wonderful, loving life as it is and all will be well! Nothing is worth risking depression over...I know too! :) Don't worry, be happy!

  6. I dont know about it being a sin but there are times this world depresses me and I suffer mostly from shallowness .. tho if you were to turn the lights on in our apartment, sloth describes my housekeeping . so I guess I am a shallow sloth

    And I dont know what coffee is called joe .. now I must find out!

  7. Wonderful post! I can so relate to much of what you say. One of the reasons I find the whole Christian "sin" obsession to be a problem is because I think it causes a great deal of hurt in people's lives for no good reason. And the idea that clinical depression was considered to be a sin! Still is in many people's books, I think, because it is so misunderstood. I think balance is always hard to find especially in modern life. Sounds like you are doing really well to me.

  8. Bobbie: good question. Your question had me thinking. It must be because depression often causes people to slow down, sit around, stay in bed and otherwise have difficulty getting through the hours.Interestingly, that was not the case with me when I was depressed. I kept things going all the time. But I experienced a lot of irritability, loss of sleep and appetite and a general negative feeling. A hole and a lot of sadness and emotional pain.

    And you can relate to the housekeeping? Let's form a club! :-)

    Sylvia: If memory serves, Adam is your son? Nice that he, whoever he may be, helps. My he helps frequently with dishes and laundry but BIG cleaning? Forget it! And he's messy as all get out! But he's a dear man and doesn't impose expectations on me. It's not like he ever complains about the house being messy. I guess I can live with this! :-)

    Susan: agreed. Depression can be a part of our modern lifestyle. But in my family it's obviously genetic. Virtually everyone in my family has depression and my daughter, as I've written about a bit here, has bipolar disorder as well as a first cousin. But depression can be seriously exacerbated by the demands of society. I could go on about this as I've done a lot of reading and studying on bipolar illness and depression. There are societies, the Amish, for example, where there is a significant percentage of mental health problems but the symptoms are less intense and more manageable. According to one study I read.

    I so very much wanted to comment on Linda's blog. It was really frustrating. She is a person I don't want to be disconnected from due to some tech glitch.

    Mary: thanks for the smile! I will heed The Teacher's words! :-)

    Daryl: a shallow sloth? :-D I like you anyway and I'm thrilled you've joined the list to read here. I've done the same at your blog. Much looking forward to getting to know you more.

    Raven: I loved your thoughtful post on wrath and looking forward to what you will be writing on anger. A huge topic for me.

    Thank you for your kind comment, too. :-)

  9. CR: hi, dear! You're so kind. I'm glad you're back. Have missed you.

  10. Thanks for writing…

    I am with you on the not buying into “sin” as sin…and also with the whole tightrope of things I don’t want to do and things I have to do.


    Like… finishing my book which is past due.

    Or doing my taxes.

    Or the dishes.


  11. i have a hard time sometimes, knowing the difference between my depression and just being a little slug for awhile.

    i have a hard time trying to decide if someone means to say something that hurts or if it's just the way i take things when i'm depressed.

    i was raised to always be busy.

    to feel guilty if i wasn't even if i fely tired or sick. my grandparents were italian immigrants and i saw them every day. loving wonderful grandparents but hard workers.

    so, now i am finally learning to give myself permission to be a slug when i need to be, no matter what anyone else seems to think.

    my ramble.

  12. Sherry: I was raised the same way. It was my parents who were the immigrants and I think I recall my father and mother being off from work each only when they were so sick they couldn't get up. I understand what you're saying. All of it. Thanks. :-)

  13. I can relate to this post in so many ways and I've been slothful in both ways--the low level depression and just not getting things done just because. My house is not the order I wish it to be but I just don't have the energy, it seems, to make it the Zen retreat I envision it being.

  14. I was looking at your Seven sins post. Observing the drawings. Monochrome Hell is .... well, Inferno. And Blue Paradise (if I'm not mistaken) with its serie of judges is not so much inviting either. The concept to go begging for one's entrance like it is shown, doesn't tempt me. And yet I'm a Catholic ! Certainly not a perfect one, after what I've just wrote.
    And certainly one that our new Pope would'nt love to get among his worshiping. But, I'm very proud of my self-reliance compared with narrow mind.

    Concerning your way of life, I'm not far from behaving like you. I stopped according interest to things that have no interest in fact. I do chores when I can't avoid them no more. And I've decided to dedicate my time to stuff I concider useful, according me. It took me time to get rid of that standards learnt from my parents, and those I continue to see in friends family. Not easy to assume, Sphinx, not to want to act like everybody.
    Concerning depression, I can"t speak about it given I've never experienced it before. At this time in my life, I'm just a little bit melancholic. I think that's the over 40 that are hard to pass. I question myself. And I've not all the answers. That's my little secret to share.
    Your post was very interesting as a chat between friends can be. I regret not to have enough fluency to express myself. Words are my "allies" but French words.

  15. I read your entire post and found it very interesting. I came over here after reading a post at Dr. John's, where he linked your blog.

    I'm in the grip of sloth - depression? I don't know. I lost my job 6 months ago and have had no luck in finding a new one. Since my faith took a dive a few years ago, I have no idea what I believe any more. That in itself is unsettling, and rather like the pile of laundry you described, which has become overwhelming. I have turned my back on the whole mess rather than try to figure it out. Anyway, I appreciate your writing today.


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