Seedy acedia! Deceitful acedia! This nasty “bad thought” of the long ago monks appears to very alive and well in our culture. So what can we do about it? Here are some suggestions:
Name it. As I mentioned originally, it seems to be no small coincidence that the rise in acedia has come with the loss of its name through the years. What used to be readily recognized as a sin in the monastic communities, and even in the church at large for centuries, slowly came to seen as an ailment or a distraction, such as the “ennui” of the 1600’s, or its later relative, melancholy. But let’s call it what it is: the Enemy’s attempt to lead us away from the full love of God and His transforming work in us.
Confess it. It is a sin. When we give in to the temptation to leave the things we know we should do, to follow our desires for distraction or amusement, we are disobeying.
Change your viewpoint. The monks viewed repetitive work as part of working out their salvation. They even rejoiced in it (at times) because it gave them more time to pray. Perseverance and manual labor were at the core of their spiritual discipline. We lucky moms get to have plenty of opportunities for both! So the next time you are facing a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, remember that this is another chance for the “straw” of the repetitive task to become the “gold” of ceaseless prayer – just as the monks thought.
Look for times that allow for contemplation. Certain daily tasks are mindless enough that they free up the RAM/space of our brain for more serious thought. Use those times as the monks did, to meditate on the goodness of God. Whether we're pushing the stroller around the neighborhood, weeding the garden, or washing dishes, we can choose to chew on the Truth of God’s word, instead of immediately turning to external noise or stimulation.
When you fall down, get up again. When the noon-day demon besets us, or our weariness threatens to overwhelm in the evenings, be quick to turn back to the task at hand. The word acedia shows up so much in the monastic writings because it was a common threat. But they were not content to just give in and give up. Instead, the monks admonished one another to “get back up again,” and return to finish the task. Even just following through on one small task (emptying the dishwasher? Folding that last load of towels?) can often be enough to drive the acedia away.
Focus on perseverance. One monk who wrote a lot about acedia is Evagrius Ponticus, who lived in the 4th century A.D. His primary antidote for acedia was perseverance. Before taking on a task, he suggested that we decide how much was to be done, and then not turn aside until it was completed. Of course he doesn’t account for interrupting toddlers or screaming babies… sometimes moms have to finish simple tasks in several short bursts. But you get the general idea. Another one of his wise teachings was that it is not in our power to determine when we will be disturbed by bad thoughts, such as acedia, but it IS up to us to decide if will keep those thoughts around. If he was speaking to us today, I think he’d say something like, “Kick acedia to the curb, people!”
Turn to the Psalms. When we are particularly beset by acedia’s lies and despondency, it is good to see how other handled it before us. David and the other Psalm writers transparently show us how the battles in our minds play out, and how God can have the victory in our souls. Psalm 42, for example, shows David repeatedly asking himself why he is so “downcast,” and then he reminds himself to put his hope in God…. But a few minutes later he is again feeling downcast. God is no stranger to the battles that rage within us, but as with David, who ends the Psalm with “For I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God,” He will ultimately provide the victory.
Recognize that the road is hard, but right. Your work is difficult, dear mom. It is repetitive, it is mundane, it is often thankless, and the results aren’t seen for a long time. But it is right. This is the road God has put you on, as the very best thing for you right now. He is using it to transform you, to make you more like His Son. He loves you greatly and wants you to turn to Him. Don’t leave the path; don’t look for escape or other things to distract you.
“We are made for love. To resist it is to deny who we are. In their reluctance to die to the old self, those with acedia choose slow spiritual suffocation to the birth pains of new life. They cannot fully accept the only thing that would ultimately bring them joy. They refuse the thing they most desire, and they turn away from the only thing that can bring them life.” – Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung