About Me,  Catholic Spirituality,  motherhood,  sin

Surprised by Sloth

I so wanted to paste some kind of giant sloth gif here but…I won’t. First of all, because I lack the basic comprehension of technology to do so. And do I need a second reason?

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting via voice text (if you don’t know what Voxer is, you should check it out. I’m not big on many apps, but this one is a life-saver for moms and far-flung friendships) and we were trading insights and general nuggets of a spiritual nature and I realized for the first time, I think in the context of this conversation, that my “root sin” or primary struggle, if you will, is with the sin of sloth.

Now, if you’re anything like I was, you probably don’t even know exactly what sloth means. Or perhaps it conjures a vague notion of Homer Simpson and a car full of empty cans of Mountain Dew and Pringles. Something like that.

That was my subconscious understanding of sloth until fairly recently, at any rate. I wish for the life of me that I could tell you where it was I first became acquainted with the more nuanced explanation of the sin, but I’ll just go ahead and blame it on either St. Josemaria Escriva or one of the daily meditations in the Magnificat.

But the sloth that has it’s claws sunk deep in me has less to do with Pringles and more to do with a softness of the will. A weakness of the spirit, if you will. The desire to always indulge just a little more. The utter resistance to any kind of a schedule because I’m a free spirit and I don’t need to be boxed in by “rules” and “timelines,” man.

So just 10 more minutes on Facebook. Just another half hour before I turn off the lights at night. One more slice of pizza. One more glass of wine. 5 more minutes of ignoring the escalating conflict in the sandbox because I don’t feel like putting my phone down and getting off the couch. Drive through lunch because I didn’t plan a menu.

And maybe weirdest of all? Cleaning RIGHT NOW because I feel like it. No matter what. Vacuuming like a mad woman when I should be reading to somebody or praying a rosary.

That’s sloth.

Weird, right?

It’s not glamorous, in terms of deadly sins, but boy does it have its claws sunk deep in me. Maybe it’s just my obsessively analytical Meyer’s Briggs type (INTJ – to rule them all) or maybe it’s real, but I feel like I’ve been seeing so many of my flaws and habitual sins in light of the s-word since connecting the dots. (And I always figured I was just “spontaneous” and that’s why I hated meal planning and schedules.)

Imagine my surprise then when a whole chorus of “me too’s!” went up from around the table at a mom’s group I’m part of. Could it be? Could sloth be the “it” sin for 21st century moms?

I mean, I guess it kinda makes sense. Because technology. Convenience foods. Mini vans. Instant entertainment and distraction in the palm of my hand. There are a million different ways I can ignore my primary duties and cruise along on semi-numb auto pilot, because my little corner of the world is so safe, there are almost no consequences should I decide to do so.

My kids will not go hungry if I don’t cook dinner. They’ll just eat frozen waffles. My family will not go naked if I don’t do laundry. They’ll just wear different clothes. Nobody will get eaten by a wild animal or hit by a car if I zone out on social media or internet tv all afternoon. Our yard is fenced and our corner of suburbia tame and safe.

So you see, the only real immediate victim of the deadly sin of sloth is…me. 

I’m trying to check myself when I hit that proverbial wall each afternoon and just.can’t. for a moment longer.

“Did I neglect my prayer time? Is this happening because I didn’t plan well? Was it the 25 minutes I wasted on Instagram this morning that lit the fire for this tantrum of neglect to explode hours later?”

And if the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then I’ve got some work to do.

(If the answer is “no,” however, then I’m just a woman with 3 preschoolers and a newborn, so please hand me a glass of wine.

This Advent I’m going to really examine this habitual sin of mine, looking for those areas (Peppermint Joe Joes. Cough, cough) where I’m prone to overindulge in the name of “I earned this,” and stop to make sure I’m not slothing where I could be, you know, practicing virtue.

Oh, and I’m allllllmost 100% certain my kids are paving for me a unique and customized path to temperate, industrious sanctity because there are 101 ways I can self deny in a given day before breakfast.

I just need to, you know, act on them instead of running in the opposite direction.

“For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.” 

– Leon Suprenant, The Sin of Sloth

okay fine, one sloth. And a nursing sloth at that.




  • Kim

    Thanks for giving me something I can chew for Advent. And Jenny, I SO wished we lived near each other….because hand me the glass of wine, girlfriend.

    • Laura lutz

      The article was way too long, I skimmed it. The time it would take to read it in its entirety I could have washed the dishes. A Sloth does what it can, it does not have the metabolism of a squirrel therefore it need not be on a guilt trip. I’m going to lay down now.

  • Amanda

    When I read the first sentence, I wanted to stop. Because, you know, I knew it was going to be true, and if I haven’t read it maybe I’m less responsible? Since my last couple months of pregnancy and first couple (ok, three months and ten days) post-baby, I’m consuming vast amounts of sugar. I need it! I do! Or, POSSIBLY, I’m trying not to be sanctified and Dr Pepper is my weapon of choice. And I’ve been unsure lately whether I could be committing mortal (or even venial!) sins that I’m not recognizing as sin at all. Gluttony, is that still a thing? It’s not sexy, but I don’t struggle with lust, and I like to ignore what I do struggle with. (And then I ask myself – am I a saint? Am I prepared to go sans purgatory? And when the answer is a big fat NO, I remember I must be ignoring my less sexy sins.) Yeah, the phone. The cookies. The deep and abiding desire to think my own thoughts without anyone interrupting them because “she pointed at me!!!” The just generally wanting to put them to bed right now so I can have some peace. It’s normal, yes, but sometimes I could be pushing past my human incapabilities with some divine help and I’m not even trying. Wow, this turned into quite a confession to post on the internet, and the baby’s waking up to eat – which is pretty appropriate.

    • Suzi Whitford

      I’m 8 months pregnant and giving in to every single sweet bite I can find, telling myself it’s a well deserved pregnancy craving. Thanks for pointing out I should be more conscious of my sin of gluttony. How appropriate a day before Thanksgiving! 🙂 Hey, in the early church public confession was the thing, so good job getting back to your roots! 🙂 Let’s both try to control ourselves tomorrow… and beyond!

      • Jenny Uebbing

        As a fellow preggie craving victim on the other side of delivery, let me just say I’m paying for all those bites now. Ouch. And you’re right about public confession, hahaha, hadn’t thought of that.

        Thanksgiving wasn’t a total bust!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Ohhhhhh girl, how I want to think those uninterrupted thoughts and enjoy peace. And cookies.

      I feel relieved that I’ve pinpointed it for myself at least, because I’ve tried kind of unsuccessfully to confess “liking my glass of wine/bowl of ice cream too much” which was met with some skepticism? confusion? by my holy confessor, but I think maybe it’s because we both were clearly seeing it wasn’t gluttony I was dealing with. But I could still feel (and not clearly communicate to him) that something about my state of heart was way off. We also don’t share a common first language, so that probably prevented deeper understanding too. But anyway, excited? I guess? to confess my slothy ways.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I was guessing (and maybe secretly hoping) that it had some bearing on my MBT. For some reason when something is related to my INTJ-ness, I “get it” more fully. Which makes me a consummate, must-analyze-and-understand-why INTJ, right?

      • Karyn

        One type to rule them all! I liked the article just for that line, lol. INTJs are supposed to be the least common type for women and the least likely to be religious or spiritual – so why have I run into a few of you on the Catholic mom blogosphere?

  • Suzi Whitford

    Hi Jenny!

    This is a great post. Sin can sometimes be so subtle that we do not even recognize it. How easily we can be filled with pride thinking we’re on the fast track to Heaven when the devil actually has a hold of us. CS Lewis in his Screwtape Letters says that the devil does not have to do anything elaborate to keep us from Heaven, all he has to do is distract us. (Facebook, TV, comfortable activities instead of prayer and discipline.)

    This post also reminds me of the Catholic practice of a Rule of Life. http://www.ignatius.com/promotions/catholic-truth-society/download/a-rule-of-life.pdf

    “Our wills are often weak; we allow so many other things to get in the way and take priority. This is where a personal Rule of Life can be invaluable. … remember that the word “rule” really means “regular” and so a Rule of Life is something to help us live our lives in regular contact with God, welcoming each new day, week, month or Church’s season as a new opportunity to love and serve Our Lord and our fellow men and women. ”

    “The word “disciple” and the word “discipline” both come from the same Latin word meaning “to learn”.”

    Okay, didn’t want to quote too much, but the Rule of Life is something we can all apply and benefit from. Thanks for the reminder, we all fall into this ‘I deserve another 10 min on social media’ when I should actually be cooking dinner.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Ohhh I totally want to read this too! Have you read “A mother’s rule of life” too? I struggle with implementing it, even though I totally get it, and I think it’s because, ta-dah! So slothful.

  • Becky

    Yay, another INTJ! And you’re right, sloth is so hard (I type on my phone while my 16 mo old “reads” to herself ). I could play the 38 wk pregnant card but nope, this is a chronic problem. Working on it, thanks for the solidarity.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Give yourself a little slack mama, but I totally hear you. I’ve been pregnant/nursing constantly these past 6 years and I kind of found myself in a comfortably slothful default setting. Like, I’ll sit and nurse the already sleeping baby “just a few minutes longer” to get out of bedtime duties because I’m sooooooo tired. Ha.

  • Ari

    Interesting. I think sloth and pride go hand in hand, because underneath it all is, “I’ll do it my way.” There are lots of us who exhibit the same behaviors, but oftentimes, there are different motivations for it. I’m not sure I agree that it’s the “it” sin of the 21st century. Not everyone will give in to these little temptations for the same reasons. For some secular reading regarding habits, Gretchen Rubin’s “Better than Before” is pretty good because she identifies four “tendencies” of the will, basically, or what motivates us to get things done (Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, and Rebel).

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Yes! I’ve always assumed pride was my root sin, but the more I’ve learned about sloth, the more I see that, uh oh, there’s another problem here that’s actually more primary (at least for me.) SO fascinating. I’ve been wanting to read that book! Another one to add to the Christmas wish list.

  • Ashley

    So interesting! Your idea that the “proverbial wall” that so often smacks me in the face come 4:00 is the result of my sloth hours earlier really hit home for me.

    Have you studied the concept of “acedia” at all? It’s related to sloth, but in a larger context of sorts. I’ve just started the book “The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of our Times” by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B. And it’s pretty fascinating. Seems like something you might enjoy.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I’ve never heard of it before you and another reader mentioned it, and I seriously can’t wait to dive into it. It sounds exactly like what I’ve been experiencing.

  • Jenna

    Okay, so I’ve been thinking a lot about root sin since reading that enneagram book and I feel like I can apply most of what you said to me, but I was attributing it all towards gluttony. Like I want MORE time to myself. I want MORE ice cream. I need MORE help. All more more more. I think those two sins are just so closely related.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      yes, yes, YES. And I’ve brushed off gluttony before because it’s not objectively “that much” ice cream I’m eating…but I think it’s more about the state of heart than the objective amount. Definitely related.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Added it to my Christmas list – thank you! I was so tempted to just buy it for myself last night but I have to leave something for my poor husband to buy for me! Can’t wait to read it.

  • Hannah

    Thanks for this. I’m convicted.
    I’m going to severely limit my internet time…the part about the instagram bing–>tantrum from neglect really hit home here 🙁

  • Judith

    Very thought-provoking! I’ve never thought of myself as slothful per se, but yes, rather undisciplined around the house, and perhaps lacking adequate structure to my days as a SAHM, and also not the best at meal planning, etc., etc….so….hmmm. 🙂 So my burning question is, how does one decide on the “tipping point?” Obviously some leisure activities, personal time, and so forth are necessary for one’s happiness. So how do you decide if 15 minutes on facebook is okay, but 25 is too much? Or 2 fun-size Milky Way bars is appropriate, but 3 is over the top? You know what I mean?

  • Maria

    This article rings with so much truth for me. I am taking it to prayer. The only thing is, with 4 under 5, I find that I cannot fulfill all my duties of state on any given day. Then I get tired, discouraged and … slothful. When there is always something that needs done, where is there room for a moment of non-slothful relaxing?

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I hear you. So clearly. I’ve had to really re-evauate what is necessary and what just isn’t … essential, any more. Just the past couple weeks as the newest baby wakes up more and more I’m finding I really can’t have a perfectly clean house. It can be decluttered, but by 4 pm my floors look like a biohazard and there are toys and shoes everywhere. I’m having to defer my constant cleaning and picking up until after dinner when we all tidy up for 10 minutes or so, and force myself to sit and pray while I nurse the baby or read or something, because otherwise I’m a shrew by nightfall, and the house doesn’t stay clean anyway. It’s such a work in progress.

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