The quote above is Dante again, to which Kathleen Norris responds: “The question presumes the freedom to choose; if I am truthful with myself, I recognize that in midlife, there are many days in which I indeed choose to sin and wither. Even if I can think of ways in which I might rouse myself from lethargy, I resist acting on them.” (Acedia & Me, page 201)
The picture of sinning as withering makes it clear that the choice of passivity, non-caring, is a self-destructive one. Isn’t it ironic that we sometimes get to this place of lead-limbed inaction through a misguided sense of ‘taking care of myself for a change’?
Perhaps I become weary with doing good—and as Ruth pointed out in a comment recently, it may be that I was doing too much, or taking on burdens not rightly mine. In any event, I am not seeking God’s face and asking for my proper work (Ephesians 2:10). It may begin to feel as if God is requiring too much of me. So I deaden myself to agape and replace it with a languid narcissism, acedia. I reject discipline as being tedious or repetitive. I embrace the new, the sensational.
But though I may think I’m seeking an exciting life, I’m really only looking for new ways to be passively entertained. My senses become dulled to what is productive, life-affirming and God-honoring. In any “activity” I should ask: who am I serving with this? If the answer is too often “me” then acedia rules our hearts.
Now listen: we’re not talking about the healthy care for one’s physical, mental and emotional health. And an occasional self-indulgence as a “treat” is a vastly different thing from wallowing in amusement—a word which literally means to not think. But like the naughty boys in Pinocchio who are enslaved because of a surfeit of sweets, sin “so easily entangles” us…once we awaken to truth, it can seem like a hole too deep to climb out of.
I wonder if perhaps acedia is sometimes a defense mechanism we use when we think we’re too far gone. We choose to deceive ourselves into thinking that “it doesn’t matter” what we do or don’t do. The demon’s lies seem plausible at times when we feel that either God doesn’t care what we do, or we can never live a life that pleases Him enough, so why try? As Norris says, “When we are convinced that we are beyond the reach of grace, acedia has done its work.”