3/28/2006

Idleness

John Calvin had an incredible work ethic. On top of preaching 5 times a week on average for much of his time in Geneva, he wrote commentaries on most of the Bible, various other theological treatises, including the magisterial Institutes, and many volumes worth of letters.

By most accounts Calvin was a classic over-achiever. Despite his high workload, he would frequently lament his weakness and sloth. His seal bore a hand holding a flaming heart (borrowed from Augustinian iconography) and the words pompte et cincere in opere domini (promptly and sincerely in the work of God), highlighting the importance of diligence for him.

In fact, this diligence most likely shortened his life significantly. While on his deathbed and in incredible pain, a friend recommended that he take a break from study to rest himself. Calvin replied angrily, “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when He comes?”

Calvin probably took his work ethic to an unhealthy extreme. But there is much that we could learn from his life of self-sacrifice. Working too hard is not a vice most of us are likely to struggle with, and the exhortation to not have the Lord find us idle when He comes is something we would do well to keep in mind.

This Lent has me thinking a lot about idleness. It seems that no matter what time-wasting activity I give up, I find something else to take its place. Emily and I don't own a TV, in large part because we find that TV makes it much to easy to spend large amounts of time doing neither what we ought to do nor what we enjoy doing. But this hardly works to my credit if I simply increase my time on the internet to compensate.

Emily and I are on a crusade to live well. We talk often about how the most fulfilling things in life are also the easiest to avoid in favor of something empty and mindless, and about how strangely difficult it is to live well. Sometimes it feels like we are fighting our bodies, and despite our attempts it seems that we are not making much headway.

This is why I am glad for the church year, which gives shape to time. If I wasn't called by the Church to prepare myself for Easter through fasting and self-sacrifice, I might never notice that subduing my body to my will by means of the spiritual disciplines, and my will to Christ, is in fact the best way to live. May the Lord not find us idle when He comes.