Rip Van Winkle Redux

I meant to write this post last week, but I just didn’t have the energy. What with getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, eating, and a bunch of other stuff, I just couldn’t get myself to do it.

That’s meant as a joke, but it’s really no joking matter. What Paul Mitchell describes as the “Complicated Life of Lazy Boys,” I would term malaise or lethargy or something. Laziness or chronic inactivity–more accurately lack of productive activity–struck me a couple of years ago. I had my work in front of me. I knew what I had to do, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it.

Rip Van Winkle

When you find yourself in that state, anything is possible except for the productive and needful. You can even involve yourself doing productive and needful things for other people. When I was in college, back in the days of typewriters, I had a roommate who flunked out because he didn’t do his own work but instead spent his time typing papers up for other people. Rip Van Winkle, in Washington Irving’s story, has this affliction:

The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor. . . . He would never refuse to assist a neighbor even in the roughest toil, and was a foremost man at all country frolics for husking Indian corn, or building stone fences; the women of the village, too, used to employ him to run their errands and to do such little odd jobs as their less obliging husbands would not do for them. In a word, Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; bust as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.

I understand you, Rip. I understand you, but I don’t want to be you. Rip went out hunting one day and just never came back. Years later, he wandered back into town and spun a tale of meeting spirits in the mountains and sleeping for decades, but any close reader of the story will realize that Rip almost certainly just checked out of life.

How many men in the church have just checked out? Have done their equivalent of tending to other people’s business or going hunting. Sometimes that “other people’s business” might be the church’s business. Since I’m a layperson, I can point out that some people’s hobby is their church work. For others it is golf or gaming, Netflix or napping. We have to fill our hours with something to salve the pain. Mitchell speaks to this:

What do we need for real joy? Well, what is real joy (for the lazy hobby guy)? It is joy that gets us through life. Not the joy of living, but of surviving. What does that surviving-joy look like for the lazy man? Avoiding more and more work — escaping into a hobby. Hobbies can be good gifts from God, but men were made to work. Proficient entertainment cannot replace profession in the fight to live. “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4).

In Jesus’ day, the problem, I think was less acute. If you didn’t work, you might well starve. Today, with food pantries and AFDC, with jobs where productivity isn’t always all that immediately visible, we can convince others or even ourselves that we have not taken a draught from Rip Van Winkle’s cask until we’re pretty well inebriated by the brew. And some of the topics that I take up in this space–running, cooking, and the like–can actually be part of the problem instead of the solution.

With the affliction well described, we need to consider the cure. But not today. I just don’t have the energy.