God created you to care, to take risks, to work for the common good. When you stop caring, be sure acedia is nearby.
Even for the most disciplined among us, spiritual indifference is never too far away. We’re all susceptible, in other words. Some more than others, sure. In Enneagram literature, acedia is the deadly sin of Type Nines (that’s me, by the way…surprised?). So, if you’re a Nine, you resonate with all this. But acedia can also infect groups and cultures.
Acedia is a threat to anyone in the creative world, for example. It’s also a danger, as Kathleen Norris says in Acedia & Me, “to anyone whose work requires great concentration and discipline yet is considered by many to be of little practical value.”
This includes artists of any flavor. This includes teachers and pastors and counselors.
Acedia will also threaten those who seek to imitate Jesus. You can do the Christian-fandom-thing, where Jesus is more your mascot than your savior. Acedia welcomes status-quo-Christianity. But, if you set out to obey the radical teachings of Jesus, this demon, spiritual indifference, will be an ever-present reality in your life.
So, how do you push back?
Let’s address that. First, you must acknowledge spiritual indifference or acedia as legitimate evil. When thoughts of Who cares? What’s the use? enter your consciousness, you must label them as evil. You must. Until you see acedia as a bonafide spiritual problem, you will fall short of putting forth the energy required to overcome it.
Once you acknowledge this demon, however, you can begin to fight against it. How? You’ll be surprised, I think, by the simplicity of the attack. Acedia loves complexity, you see. It thrives in the world of thoughts and ideas.
You attack spiritual indifference, not with spiritual insight and Jesus-talk, but with simple, focused, intentional action.
So, then, here you go.
Here are 5 practices to help you overcome the demon of indifference.
Take care of yourself.
One of the first and most obvious symptoms of spiritual indifference is refusing to take care of yourself.
Healthy eating. Exercise. Proper sleep. These are the foundations of life, easy to understand, excruciatingly hard to apply. Exercise, for example, has been part of my life since the days of my early youth. I played ball all the time as a young lad. Even in college, when my attendance at the gym wasn’t required by a coach, I continued going. Yet still, as I type this, making space to exercise, is hard. Why? I know working out, even for a few minutes, makes me feel better. I know exercise is good for my health and my perspective. So, why is it so hard?
The same can be said for eating healthy or sleeping properly. Who among us thinks their life would improve with less sugar and more sleep? Right. Yet, how hard are these simple practices to implement?
So, you see, fighting back against spiritual indifference begins, not with something big, but with something simple, like taking care of yourself.
Do something thoughtful for someone you love.
For five or so years, I’ve battled a chronic illness. It’s debilitating. At times, pain cripples my body and I’m bed-bound for days. Our church community knows about this.
So, yesterday, my wife comes home and sees a card laying on our doormat. She opens the card to find a $100 and no name.
The gratitude Tiffani and I felt over this is something beyond words.
Herein lies the power of timely acts for people you love. It’s an open declaration to one of acedia’s greatest lies, that little things don’t matter.
They do matter, in fact. They open your heart to love. And love, friends, is the opposite of indifference.
Finish what you start.
Commitment, that’s the discipline we’re nurturing here.
One of the things I most thankful for about my dad is his unwavering expectation to finish what you start. I still remember, as a freshman in high school, deciding to quit football a few into spring practice.
I neglected to talk with pops about my plan. And upon discovery, he left work, drove home to pick me up, and taxied back to the football field.
On the way, he mentioned the importance of finishing what you start. Because I started spring practice, I would finish.
Part embarrassed, part Irish-angry, I trod back onto the football field.
Come to find out I could kick a football better than most. That skill, uncovered in the days following my return to spring practice, got me a college scholarship.
Without my dad’s stubborn insistence on finishing what you start, I would have left that gift (and the scholarship that came with it) buried.
The point here is to make a practice of finishing what you start.
If you start reading a book, finish it. If you start a podcast, listen to all of it. Even if it sucks or fails to grab your attention.
You will find this discipline harder than it appears. But you will also find it rewarding.
Show up and do your best every day.
I’ve seen, in my own life, that my feelings or mood often dominate my actions. On those days when I’m full of energy and passion, I’m more likely to write, to engage with kids and my wife, than on those days when I feel like poo poo.
Acedia would have you believe you’re incapable of meaning contribution unless you’re in a state of euphoric bliss.
Here we have one of acedia’s many manifestations: perfectionism.
To combat this, practice showing up every day and doing your best. Some days you will have less in the tank. That’s fine. Do your best. Some days, your best will be nothing more than getting out of the bed.
But this little practice of doing your best sucks the power from perfectionism and comparison. It puts you in the driver’s seat, as your feelings assume their rightful place in the back seat. Here we neither deny our feelings nor allow them to control our actions.
So, there you have it. Not a comprehensive list, but a solid plan of attack against the demon of indifference.
May we recognize the evil undertones of careless living. May we wake up to the beauty and wonder and amazing reality of this life. May we devote our time and energy to what matters. I pray God fills you with courage, so you can wake up and hope, so you can live every day, eyes wide open.
Grace and peace, friends.