Acedia: Help for the Weary SoulMay 19, 2021
In An Unhurried Life, I talked about an unholy form of unhurry the ancients called acedia. I said,
“Derived from the Greek a (for “not”) and keedos (meaning “to care”), acedia is ultimately a failure of love. It’s a place of apathy toward life and a kind of spiritual boredom; it’s that umpteenth lap somewhere between the enthusiasm of the starting line and the celebration of the finish line. Whether midday, midlife, halftime or halfway through a big project, we’re tempted to give in, give up or distract ourselves” (p. 41).
I think acedia has become a particularly big issue in this isolating season of COVID-19. There has been an element of monotony even in the midst of so much pain and crisis. Many of the leaders I meet with for spiritual direction or coaching describe themselves as deeply fatigued. That might be a simple matter of the physical, mental, and emotional drain from so much rapid change, but it also might have sunk into our wills as a kind of engagement weariness in the middle of everything.
Even as I write this little note, I’m celebrating my sixtieth birthday, which is also the one-year anniversary of when the COVID-19 shutdown began here in California. When it began, so many of us thought this stoppage would last only a few weeks, maybe a month or two at the most. It’s been a year now, and it’s still unclear what will happen next. What is a return to normal going to look like? When will that uncertain normal even arrive?
In the midst of my own temptations to lose heart and to let my weariness sit in the driver’s seat of my life, it’s been helpful to take moments and actually be still in the presence of the God of peace, who gives the gift of soul rest. Soul rest is what I’ve needed, and that’s different from the rest that comes from a nap, a good night’s sleep, or a vacation. Soul rest is personal and relational. My soul truly finds rest in God alone (Ps 62:1).
Knowing that acedia is a failure of love, we can learn to rest in the reliable love of the Father for us. We can let our souls rest even in the most restless settings or situations. I’ve been learning to translate isolating moments into solitary moments with God.
Acedia assumes that the grass actually will be greener anywhere other than my current situation. But love is here and love is now because the God of love is present to us here and now.
When we feel drawn to starting over, it’s good to ask ourselves whether this is indeed a life-giving invitation to something truly good and new. If we discover it’s actually more about escaping or avoiding, we eventually might find ourselves facing as many challenges as in the old place.
- How have you been feeling weary in soul? What has that looked and felt like?
- What might it look like for you to take even five minutes to sit still, be quiet, and let your soul rest in the presence of God? The first thing that will likely happen is a bunch of distracting thoughts, but don’t let that surface turbulence keep you from sinking down for a moment or two of soul rest in God’s loving and faithful presence.