Kathleen Norris is an award-winning writer, especially in devotional books. I have all of her books and have used them as part of my devotional pursuit. She is an “Oblate” of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota. Some years ago she wrote a book called Acedia and Me.” At the time, I did not even know how to pronounce acedia [Ah-ce-di’-a] but had confidence in Norris that if she wrote it, it must be good. The word has a simple meaning; “sloth, apathy, especially in spiritually pursuit”. It is closely related to “depression.” In the book, she deals with her own struggle to stay “on top” in her spiritual pursuit. In our journey of life, through education, careers, relationships, and the struggles we all face, it is difficult to stay on top of it all. The backpack that we carry accumulates a lot of stuff on this journey. It is not unlike my wife and I hiking. She will see a pretty rock or piece of driftwood, and in the backpack, it goes. Our lives become full, and they tend to push God to the side.

This issue of Acedia was resurrected in my thinking as I read a recent article in Christianity today entitled “The Stoic Sin.” The article was written by a Professor at Talbot School of Theology and dealt with guess what…apathy, and depression and used the word repeatedly “Acedia”. I quote the professor, “Acedia is a Greek term that literally means ‘indifference, lethargy, exhaustion, and apathy.’ Out of this word comes the basis for one of the seven deadly sins…which gives us insight into the spiritual dimensions of apathy.” Some of the symptoms of this spiritual malady are restlessness, the inability to complete a book, unable to pray meaningfully or finish a task, an inclination to sleep, eat, worry, and distraction. One writer describes it as believing in nothing, seeking to know nothing, interfering with nothing, enjoying nothing, loving nothing, hating nothing, finding purpose in nothing, living for nothing, stays alive only because there is nothing it would die for. One of the most commonly cited definitions describes apathy as a lack of motivation that is not attributable to a diminished level of consciousness, an intellectual deficit, or emotional distress.

Apathy, when not dealt with, leads to depression. We live in a culture where there is so much information to deal with, so many decisions that we must make, and financial pressures that I must deal with today and that keep me awake thinking about the future.

This kind of thinking can lead us to the same place Jeremiah found himself in. He had been commissioned by God to renew the faith of the tribe of Judah. Judah had drifted from the worship of God, and they grew weary of Jeremiah and his call to return. This led the Prophet to a place of despair, and he was looking for a place of escape. Listen to his prayer as he expresses himself to God; “For the brokenness of my people I am broken; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored? Oh, that my head were waters, my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people! Oh, that I had in the desert a wayfarers lodging place; that I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.” (Jeremiah 8:21- 9:1-2)

If we are honest and self-aware, we all have been close to Jeremiah’s residence. Job found himself in the same mind frame. “Why did I not die at birth? Why did the knees receive me?” Job goes on to describe that he would be better off dead than he would not be exposed to what life (and Satan) was throwing at him. Those people have been in my office over the years. Some are bitter and angry over life, and some are confused, thinking that perhaps God has abandoned them. Some suffer from “Acedia” and some are in the “valley of despair” over what has happened to them.

There are no easy answers that come out of the textbook. However, there are others who have made it through “the valley of despair” and have made it safely to the other shore. Listen to the words of Paul, the Apostle; “But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now, at last, you have revived your concern for me…not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in; I know how to get along with humble means and I know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, I have had abundance and I have suffered need. Yes, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:10-13)

Allow me to give a commentary on this paragraph. Paul was in a Roman prison when he wrote these words. The church at Philippi had sent him a gift, and he is responding to them. Roman prisons were not in the same class as our prison life today. Others had to care for you, or you would die. It impresses me that  Paul has this attitude of gratitude in these circumstances. He does not believe that God has forsaken him. In fact, in verse 10 he says, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly…”.

The circumstances of life can overwhelm faith. It is possible to lose our grip on God as we experience all the emotions in dealing with life. God fades into the distance as I face issues that must be solved today. Where is God when I need Him? Sometimes we face crises due to our own carelessness and at other times the crisis I face is due to the fact that I live in a broken world, where health fails accidents happen and our faith unravels as we attempt to deal with what is before me.

Acedia allows me to drift into nothing. Depression becomes a black cloud that hovers over me every day. Winston Churchill called it a “black dog” that met him every morning.

One of my anchors through life says this; “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” (Ps. 27:1-2)

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