Peeling Off the Dragon Scales

Life is exhausting. You can say it about a lot of things: motherhood is exhausting; marriage is exhausting; being single is exhausting; work is exhausting…

There are days where the temptation to curl up on the couch with a blanket for hours on end, uninterrupted, sounds like the greatest of paradises. Apathy whispers at us, that extra drink to numb looks enticing, we itch to buy one more plane ticket, and a television binge seems like just what we need.

There are those days when life seems insurmountable, or other days where it seems painfully monotonous, still others that feel empty and void, and escaping, by whatever means, seems like such a good answer.

The early Church father, John Cassian, called this tendency acedia, or spiritual sloth, one of seven deadly vices. It is often confused with laziness, but as Rebecca DeYoung argues, it’s much deeper than that:

We are right to think of sloth as resistance to effort–but not only, or even primarily, in the sense of being physically lazy or lazy about our work. Rather, it is resistance to the discipline and transformation demanded by our new identity as God’s beloved children, created and redeemed to be like him. The slothful like the comforting thought of being saved by love, of being God’s own, but balk at facing the discomfort of transformation–the slow putting to death of the old sinful nature–and the discipline it takes to sustain that transforming relationship of love over the long haul.
-Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies

When I find dissatisfaction, frustration, and weariness in my roles as a Christian, wife, mother, friend, etc, I’m really resisting God.

When I feel those nagging moments of God’s Spirit working in my heart and I know he’s telling me I need to die to myself, to root out an idol, and to dig away and kill those pet sins of mine, I run away. I try to fill the silence so I don’t hear him, with whatever is handy at the moment, and I blame it on anything but my own disdain for discipline.

I’m weary of doing one more load of laundry, not because laundry is terribly exhausting, but because I have grown an attitude that tells me my time is worth more than caring for my family by insuring that they have clean underwear. I don’t admit this prideful attitude to God and ask for his work in changing me; instead I wallow in my weariness.

I balk at the repeated efforts of teaching my children to love one another, feeling my days are unproductive, but in reality, it is my own impatience that has caused my irritation. Still I do not turn to my God and let him root out this sin from my heart; instead I browse Instagram.

I furiously run through my day, checking off lists and feeling like I haven’t achieved half of what I need to, anxiety filling up my head and convincing me something terrible will happen or be missed, when really I’m seeking to live out my day on my terms, not God’s and I haven’t sought his will even once. Even still I do not turn to him and let him lead me in my day resting in his will; instead I languish on the couch exhausted by the stress I’ve heaped on myself.

Cassian called it acedia, some call it sloth, but whatever you want to call it, it’s a terrible waste. I can spend my whole life trying to escape, but the reality is: all those things I’m trying to escape aren’t the problem, I am.

Fortunately, God offers solutions to the problem that is, well…me. He offers himself, over and over again, his Spirit prods and pokes at me and digs at those sensitive places in my heart that harbor selfishness, pride, and impurity, until I relent and let him change me. It’s just like my favorite scene in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace, who has been turned into a dragon by his own greed, fails to turn himself back into a boy and he submits to Aslan’s doing it for him:

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”

I am just like Eustace, and I try to uselessly dig away that dragon flesh on my own because I fear the claw that has to dig deeper.

But when I do, finally, let God dig deeper, though it can be so painful, just like a claw digging right into my heart, the result is always that I come to find greater joy, not just in what I was trying to escape, but ultimately in my God, as he transforms me little by little.





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