Today I served as worship associate at USSB and read the following reflection on sin, sloth and service.
I recently visited Las Vegas for a conference, and it struck me that Vegas is a vacation destination that promotes sin as it's main tourist attraction. It is Sin City after all, with the tag line "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," as if anything that you do in Vegas is understood to be ok even if it's not ok anywhere else.
Vegas really banks on the allure of the "sexy" sins in the Seven Deadly Sins list: Greed. Gluttony. Pride. Envy. Lust. Everywhere you look in Vegas, you see the promise of these sins in excess, from the photos handed out on the sidewalks that most closely resemble trading cards of scantily clad companionship for an evening, to the adult version of sippy cups filled with frozen mixed drinks, to the urgently blinking, ever present lights of the slot machines promising the possibility of riches. Even wrath is starting to make an appearance on The Strip; there are ads everywhere for gun ranges where you can fire machine guns and high powered assault rifles to work out your aggressions.
What's interesting is the Deadly Sin that doesn't feature in the advertising for Las Vegas: sloth. Sloth is not a sexy sin; sloth represents laziness, inaction, wasting time. It's funny, but Sloth is the sin I'm most offended by, and the sin I fear most for myself.
I walk through most of my days feeling an internal pressure to do more. Get more work done. Do more housework. Spend more time with the kids. Finish that knitting project. Write another blog post. Schedule that appointment. The To Do list never ends, and at the end of each day, I usually make a list of what I didn't get done to set myself up for failure the next day. It becomes a never ending cycle. While my intentions are always pure in seeking a sense of accomplishment, the truth is, I know I'll never do everything I want to do. I'll never solve every problem and I'll never feel good enough. I'm forever seeking that golden ring of achievement beyond reproach, especially from myself.
I once had a conversation with a good friend who asked, "do you think you will ever feel satisfied?" And I wanted to answer yes, but when I thought about it, I couldn't think of a condition or state when I would feel like there was nothing left for me to do. There are small moments when I feel a glimpse: when ALL the laundry is done. When I received an award for my book. When I sold my company. When another parent compliments me on one of my kids. I feel for a moment like I've accomplished something meaningful. And then I start reviewing the list of what else I need to do. I'm constantly trying to outrun the shadow of sloth.
What drives this feeling in me is a desire to change the world, to leave this place better than I found it and to be a good example to the people I'm raising into adults. One of those young people is traveling on the YRUU trip over spring break to the Hopi reservation, and her trip has sparked anew my own To-Do list for service and activism.
The opportunity for activism was one of the things that appealed to me when I attended my first Unitarian Universalist service. Not just the opportunity, but the explicitly stated value of action for UUs. Here at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, our mission is "Living with integrity, Nurturing wonder, Inspiring action." Inspiring action is one of the three components of our mission. How better for me to inspire action than by example? How better for me to change the world than with others who want to do the same?
If one of the core values held by Unitarians is action, then sloth may be our most deadly sin. And more, I wonder, if Unitarians are attracted to action as a spiritual practice, is this feeling of never doing enough common in our membership? From the friendships I've made in this congregation and from my relationships with the ministers and staff here, I would guess that I'm not alone in my feeling that I always have more to do.
As I think about this pressure to do more, and as I look at the teens preparing for their mission trip, I am reminding myself that my action, my contribution, my efforts are measured not by one rally, or signed petition, or service trip, but by the values I hold and the way I engage with the world every day. Today, that might mean having a dance party with my 7 year old or finishing the laundry or giving my husband a break and cooking dinner for once. Tomorrow, that might be me attending a rally or speaking at an event for women in technology or mentoring a young person interested in game design. All of these things will in their small way make the world better. I need to keep reminding myself that showing up with good will and intent and living my values are ultimately what makes the world a better place.
Maybe Vegas has it right. Just like the allure of Vegas in allowing us to dip our toes into sin a little bit without abandoning our values and responsibilities, relaxing every once in a while might just be the break I need to remind myself that even if I don't accomplish everything on the list, allowing myself time to play, rest, reflect and take a deep breath aren't symptoms of sloth but are actually necessary to make me whole, balanced and able to take on tomorrow's to do list and the world.