Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sloth and Depression

Somebody recently asked me to share about sloth and depression. Here was my reply:

The list of seven sins, as we know them, was complied by Pope Gregory I in 590. The sins are:
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Greed
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride
  • Sloth
The above list is not found in the Bible, like the Ten Commandments. However, they are all mentioned in Scripture in various places.

Your questions are insightful. Sloth originally meant despair or sadness. Apathy, indifference, boredom, and ambivalence are probably the most common uses of sloth today. A good example might be a runner on a college team with great talent, but is lazy and doesn’t train hard. He then races poorly. This runner could be considered slothful. Roman Catholics generally consider sloth a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission.

Frederick Buechner gives the best definition of sloth I have come across:

Sloth is not to be confused with laziness. A lazy man, a man who sits around and watches the grass grow, may be a man at peace. His sundrenched, bumblebee dreaming may be a prelude to action or itself an act well worth the acting. A slothful man, on the other hand, may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell. He knows something’s wrong with him, but not wrong enough to do anything about. Other people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.

I think the best way to think about sloth is that we are dying instead of living.
Before I start talking about depression, you should know that I am a pastor. I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist. People know more about this than I do.

I see a relationship between depression and sloth. Boredom and apathy can lead to depression. And depression can lead to boredom and apathy. Depression can either be environmental, physical, or both. This could tell us if depression is the cause of sloth or a symptom of sloth.

It isn’t surprising that depression is evident in the Bible. Some of David’s Psalms would indicate that he occasionally battled depression. Some scholars believe that the thorn in Paul’s side was depression. Jesus said that we will have trials and tribulations in life (depression can certainly be one of these), but he promised us his presence.

Depression is common today. Having it doesn’t make you weird or bad. It is believed that roughly 15% to 20% of the adult population has some level of depression. Some studies suggest that the number is much higher. Is it a little bit more common in women than it is in men. A recent study of the United Methodist clergy’s (which I am one) health insurance data showed that anti-depressants are the third most prescribed drug.

Depression isn't selfish. Most people who have it don’t want to have it. It is a disease and though the symptoms of depression may appear selfish, the depressed person often isn’t choosing their self-destructive behaviors.

If depression is something you are struggling with (I’m not clear by your question if this is the case or not) I would suggest that you see a medical doctor or psychiatrist. Good medications exist that can help. I also suggest seeing a therapist who can help create healthy systems in the life of the person they are working with. Finally, I recommend seeking spiritual guidance through a church or support group.

Training Update:

No sloth with the training today. I finally had a good run. I couldn't go outside today. I'm tired of running slow through snow and ice and slop. I went to the gym. I started slower (8:30 / mile) and finished faster (5:30 / mile). Hit every speed in between and threw in some hills (-2% to 5%). 14 miles in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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