Laziness and cowardice are two of the greatest enemies of the spiritual life. And they are most dangerous of all when they mask as “discretion.” — “Thoughts in Solitude” Page 22
It’s no small irony that my post about laziness is a few days later than I wanted it to be. Paul calls himself the “chief of sinners” but I think I could oftentimes be considered the “chief of sluggards.” It’s not that I am the type of person to sit around on the couch all day watching Netflix, I love activity. But I am lazy in the sense that I will avoid doing the things that I am supposed to do at all costs. I’m a procrastinator, a distractor, and halfway-doer.
So the idea of being lazy in the sense of a spiritual life is absolutely one that I can identify with, but the twist that Merton puts on it with the second line is one that he focuses on throughout this chapter of the book. In times where I’m not being outright lazy and avoiding reading my Bible, having spiritual conversations, praying, and the like, I can also paralyze myself with a false sense of discernment.
I’ve spent so much time in my life thinking about and talking about the wrong way to do things. The wrong way to share the Gospel, the wrong way to preach, the wrong way to interpret scriptures, etc. I’ve spent far less time actually doing some of these activities myself.
But Merton makes a good point about the difficulty of the balance between laziness, cowardice, and discernment in the next line, “This illusion would not be so fatal if discretion itself were not one of the most important virtues of a spiritual man.”
Discretion is important. In fact, it’s vital. You must know the right and wrong ways to share the Gospel, the right ways to interpret scripture, the right ways to pray, and more. Jesus criticized those who prayed in ways that built themselves up, for example. There is certainly a wrong way to pray, but Jesus didn’t stop at the criticism, he then taught the correct way to pray.
Too often, I find myself in the category that can identify the issues with the way others do things, but then I don’t take action myself and do those things in what I believe to be the most God-honoring ways. I see a guy with a megaphone on a street corner condemning passers-by to hell and I think “that’s never going to work, in fact that’s going to do the opposite.” But how often to I take the time to get to know someone, tell them my story, teach them about the Good News of Jesus Christ, and work over the course of days, weeks, and years, to disciple them in the Lord? Not very often. That takes time, courage, effort, and the risk of rejection.
A false discernment would be knowing that the street corner guy is probably not going about things the right way and just criticizing him. True discernment would be knowing that he’s wrong and doing things in the way that I think God wants.
I don’t have a nice bow to tie this post up with because this is really an issue that I struggle with. I’m hyper-critical, but not hyper-active. It’s an attitude of humility and an attitude of action for which I need to be praying.