Every Easter I’m reminded of a Keith Green song I used to love that I would sing this time of year. One of the lines are, “Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and you can’t even get out of bed!” Yes! I just loved that judgmental attitude, although I didn’t think it was judgmental at the time, just honest preaching.
What if I really can’t get out of bed? If not physically, then emotionally? Or spiritually?
Do you ever get bored? I don’t mean like a temporary boredom because you can’t think of anything to do today. I’m talking about a boredom that seeps right down into the core of your being and makes life feel meaningless and empty for you.
Did you know that this boredom, this sense of lethargy, sloth, laziness, depression, or this feeling that you just can’t or don’t care about anything, is a normal feature of the spiritual life?
It’s called “acedia”. Literally, it translates as “a lack of care”.
This term’s origins are found with the earliest desert monks in the first few centuries A.D. They would pray, sleep, eat, study, and weave reed baskets, then do it all over again… day after day, year after year, for their entire lives. They would often be struck with this overwhelming feeling of acedia… boredom, depression, and caring for no one and nothing.
It’s an ancient malady.
In Kathleen Norris’ book, “Acedia & Me” (which unfortunately but in keeping with the content is a very boring book), she says:
“… I think it likely that much of the restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today is the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress. The boundaries between depression and acedia are notoriously fluid; at the risk of oversimplifying, I would suggest that while depression is an illness treatable by counseling and medication, acedia is a vice that is best countered by spiritual practice and the discipline of prayer.”
For many people today, “spiritual practice” and “prayer” may not do. Instead, I would’ve preferred she dialed down the Christian lingo to benefit people in other religious traditions or with non-religious mindsets.
For me, it could be running out to take a photograph of the full moon setting over the river early on a cold winter morning, like I did today. Or it could mean taking a long walk in nature, like I did today. Or it could mean drawing a picture, like I will later. Or meditating. Or stretching. Or Yoga. Or reading a book. Or watching a movie. Or making love. Or anything that helps ground me in my own body and maybe even get my body moving.
So, based on Norris’ book, here’s what I would suggest:
1. First of all, determine if it is acedia or real depression.
2. If it is depression, get help.
3. If it is acedia, continue your practices, things you know help you, and gently nudge yourself to be creative, physical, or whatever.
I want to be careful here. I’m becoming increasingly aware that we live in an “-ist” culture: racist, sexist, misogynist, ageist, and this one… ableist. Ableist is where you look down on people who aren’t able to do certain things. You think you’re better than they are because of your physical supremacy. For example, consider the Nike ads that implicitly belittle people who are physically ill, disabled or in less than perfect physical condition with their slogan “Just do it!” What if I can’t just do it? An ableist attitude says things like, “If you exercised harder your migraines would go away”, or “If you worked out with weights your back pain would disappear”, or “If you did power training you wouldn’t be depressed anymore.” I don’t want to suggest that if you just followed some disciplines or exercises, then your acedia would go away. No! But I am suggesting that we can perhaps manage our acedia better if we do or if we can do these things. Anything we can do for self-care may alleviate or even erase our acedia.
I’ve gone through periods of acedia. Sometimes it can last a short time. Other times it can last a long time. But they come and they do go. Hopefully.
But it should help you to know that you are not alone in your boredom or lack of being able or willing to care. This is normal. And it is treatable. It can be managed.
Acedia and me. Acedia and you.
Love you guys!