Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
One of the oldest tricks of the Deceiver is disguising his temptations so that we do not realize what they are. Very recently I had a revelation about the vice of acedia or sloth in my life. I have been dealing with feelings of resentment, discontent with my life, and a desire to be doing something other than what I am doing for much of my life. It has never been a continuous feeling, but one I would have when I was alone trying to get work done and once I became a mother a feeling I would have when I was home with my children going about my daily tasks. In fact my feelings of discontentment would increase often when I would be doing the Sisyphean tasks that come with motherhood, ones that demand attention day after day and week after week, and rarely when I would sit and stare at social media for too many minutes of my day. It was a feeling and a temptation that wanted me to be dissatisfied with and seek to escape from the good things in my life.
I did not realize that these feelings were a result of acedia until I came across an article one day, which lead me to discuss it with a priest, which lead me to read a book on the seven deadly sins. In her book Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung she explains very thoroughly about virtues and vices, and in her research into Evagrius of Pontus she found a passage that fit my experience of this vice precisely. Sloth is called the noonday demon, and according to Evagrius “is the most oppressive of all the demons.”
He compels the monk to look constantly towards the windows, to jump out of the cell, to watch the sun to see how far it is from the ninth hour, to look this way and that...And further, he instills in him a dislike for the place and for his state of life itself, for manual labour, and also the idea that love has disappeared from among the brothers and there is no one to console him” (Evagrius, Praktikos VI.12. as quoted by DeYoung, Glittering Vices).
I have written before about how family life can be like that of monks in a monastery, so it is not strange to me that I relate to the temptation as described for a monk. This temptation is one that affects all states in life. It is a spiritual vice (one that takes place in our souls) that seeks to steal our joy in all that is good in our lives. I also want to clarify that it has never been a feeling that has plagued me continually or daily, but one that has attacked me in my most vulnerable time of the day. And when I gave into the temptation, my state in life became a burden in which I could not find joy or peace. In my times of worst temptation, I would also be overcome with sorrow that I was living a life to which I felt called, had chosen, and had been blessed with (especially in my children!) that I had no joy in. My sorrow perpetuated more sorrow.
There are several times of my life that the temptation was most strong. One of them was in the months after my first child was born; when I was at home and my husband was at work, I spent hours in the middle of the day lamenting over my lost freedoms. There I was, with a beautiful baby girl in my arms, living the life that I had prayed for, discerned, and been blessed with, wishing that I was having as much fun as lots of my friends in social media appeared to be having. Once I found a good community of Catholic mom friends and adjusted to motherhood, the temptation became less frequent and less oppressive. Another struggle I have had with discontented feelings has been giving up my time in order to homeschool my children. Being at home with children is one thing, but spending hours every day for the sake of their education really cuts into the time I would spend keeping up the house, cooking nice meals, and sneaking onto Facebook. My aversion to and dread of school days and the beginning of the school year had become quite oppressive.
Evagrius continues to explain how “[the demon] depicts for him the long course of his lifetime, while bringing the burdens of asceticism before his eyes; and, as the saying has it, deploys every device in order to have the monk leave his cell and flee the stadium” (Evagrius, Praktikos VI.12. as quoted by DeYoung, Glittering Vices). Other times I would reflect on how hard and mundane my daily tasks were, count how many years were left before I could expect to be finished with the childrearing, and feel completely stuck. Yet, these feelings, too were a result of acedia, the noonday demon, who tempted me many times, and to whom I so often gave in.
I share these things because I know that I am not alone in my experience of this temptation and I want to share that God wants to give us freedom from these temptations. And He will give freedom from these temptations if only we actively fight against them and seek His aid. I know that if I had not developed a habit of regular prayer, frequent Mass attendance, and regular Confession, my struggles against acedia would have been unbearable. It was the grace of God that helped me persevere through my housecleaning chores, countless diaper changes, hours and hours of putting babies down for sleep, meal making and serving, shopping for all the clothes the children will destroy and outgrow before the next season, the tight budget of graduate school life and student loans, the moves across the country, and the finding and making of new friends. And it was through the support of my husband and the fact that I did not give up on finding joy in my state in life as a wife and mother that I came to the day where the enemy who had been plaguing me was named and I saw how I had thwarted him more times that I had given into his oppressive nature.
“No other demon follows immediately after this one: a state of peace and ineffable joy ensues the soul after this struggle” (Evagrius, Praktikos VI.12. as quoted by DeYoung, Glittering Vices).
Since it was revealed to me what I have struggling against, I have had so much more peace and joy in my daily life. I have had a joy that I did not think was possible to have in the daily tasks of motherhood and homeschooling. I am not entirely free from temptations to acedia, but they do not oppress me as they did. And like I said before, my life as a mother as not been completely void of joy before now, it is just so much greater. May God be praised.
To read more about the deadly vice of acedia/sloth see Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writers Life by Kathleen Norris and The Noonday Devil: Acedia, The Unnamed Evil Of Our Times by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B.