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My family used to play "Where's Waldo?" with a three-toed sloth at the zoo; eventually we'd find him suspended like a hammock from a tree branch above us. I used to think he got a bad rap as nature's laziest creature. After all, I don't have the strength to hold myself upside down on a set of monkey bars for 10 seconds. Then a zoo volunteer explained that sloths have curved claws that allow them to dig into branches and hang without effort. Our sloth, it turns out, really was as unmotivated as he looked.

I found myself thinking about that lethargic critter the other day while listening to a recorded Eugene Peterson lecture and arguing with my MP3 player.

Peterson: Pastors are highly susceptible to the sin of sloth.

Me: What are you talking about? Pastors are some of the most overworked people alive.

Peterson: Sloth is most often evidenced in busyness … in frantic running around, trying to be everything to everyone, and then having no time to listen or pray, no time to become the person who is doing these things.

Score one for Peterson.

I'm not a pastor. But I am busy, like almost everyone I know. When Peterson declares that "the pastor's primary responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God," I can readily apply that job description to my roles as wife, mother, musician, and author. The mandate can be stated even more succinctly regarding my task as a human: Pay attention to God. If I don't, I'm guilty of spiritual sloth, no matter how hard I'm working. In truth, there is an inverse relationship between how overwhelmed I am doing things and how much energy I can give to being attentive.

But did I mention I'm really busy?

Part of the problem is that spiritual receptivity requires unglamorous practices like prayer, ...

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Hardworking Sloths: Disguising Spiritual Laziness
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June 2011

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