What is Acedia? 6 Ways to Overcome Spiritual Sloth

Young woman praying the rosary in Church.
Photo by lulitobal on Cathopic

In the silence of the confessional line, guilt weighed heavily on my conscience. Reflecting on what I was about to confess, I questioned, I knew that sin was wrong; why did I do it? After moments of contemplation, the uncomfortable truth emerged—I gave into temptation because, at that moment, I didn’t care.

Have you ever experienced the inner struggle of knowing something is wrong, yet doing it anyway because of a deep lack of care? Maybe you know that you shouldn’t indulge in unhealthy foods too often, or that you should be sticking to your budget. And yet, it happens: You indulge or overspend. This battle is known as acedia, one of the seven deadly sins. Often referred to as sloth or spiritual apathy, acedia is a spiritual condition that fosters a lack of concern toward matters of faith, neglect of one’s spiritual duties, and a lack of attention to nurturing a relationship with God.

I’ve faced the challenge of acedia in my own life, longing for greater motivation, care, and genuine enthusiasm for my spirituality. There have been times when my interest in prayer and attending Mass dwindled, and connecting with God felt akin to speaking to an absent presence. It was as though I grappled with a deep emptiness, and mechanically went through the motions without a true sense of conviction or engagement. Acknowledging the problem of the experience of acedia was the first step, but the real task was actively addressing it and revitalizing my Catholic spiritual life. Here are six practical steps I’ve taken to overcome this spiritual indifference:

1. Prayer 

I committed myself to a structured prayer routine, reserving specific times for certain prayers and attendance at Sunday Mass. This helped me maintain discipline and focus, preventing acedia from taking root. 

I soon discovered the importance of remaining steadfast, even when consolation is absent. There are times I’ve missed the comfort and emotional reassurance that usually comes with prayer and receiving the Eucharist, or longed for the sense of peace, joy, or connection God typically provides. Just as one diligently exercises a muscle, my commitment to have heartfelt conversations with God and immerse myself in contemplative prayer allowed me to cultivate a deeper connection with Christ. Over time, the feeling of being spiritually empty gradually lifted, replaced by a profound sense of care and trust in God’s presence. When the consolation finally returned, it felt like breathing fresh air after being underwater for too long.

2. Sacraments

I elevated receiving the Eucharist to the utmost priority in my life, making it the focal point of my week. Looking forward to Sunday Mass gave me a sense of purpose and eager anticipation. I replaced phrases like “I have to go to Mass” with “I get to go to Mass,” fostering a sense of gratitude. Furthermore, I eagerly anticipated confession on Saturday because it allowed me to approach Sunday Mass with a clean slate, effectively renewing my commitment and spiritual purpose for the week ahead. The Eucharist revitalizes my spirit, giving me renewed energy that effectively helps me overcome spiritual sloth. Furthermore, the Sacrament of Confession enables me to confront my sins with humility and seek God’s forgiveness. This contrition breaks the cycle of spiritual laziness, renewing my commitment to virtuous living.

3. Spiritual reading

The Bible, spiritual literature, and the writings of Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and Saint Augustine became deep sources of inspiration. I encountered stories of individuals who had confronted similar spiritual struggles and emerged victorious. Reading Scripture has been particularly spiritually nourishing. I started with the book of Psalms, praying a psalm a day. and among the many, Psalm 20 stands out as particularly inspiring. It’s a song for a leader in battle, and even when I don’t grasp every passage fully, the words refresh my soul, providing guidance and motivation for my own battle against acedia.

4. Virtuous living

Rooting myself in virtue and practicing chastity in my relationships was pivotal in my journey. I talked openly with my boyfriend, discussing physical boundaries and how we can hold each other accountable for maintaining our commitment to virtue and purity. These conversations went smoothly, building a solid foundation of trust and emotional intimacy. 

Even everyday virtuous choices like practicing patience in the face of frustration, like waiting in a long line, dealing with a challenging individual, or choosing to forgive someone who has wronged me play a significant role in countering the vices associated with acedia. These decisions redirect my focus away from self-centeredness and toward loving and serving others. They contribute to a more compassionate and selfless approach to life, nurturing my spiritual and moral growth.

5. Acts of charity 

Embracing acts of love and service toward others impacted my spiritual renewal. Volunteering in my community and supporting charitable organizations such as St. Mary’s Food Bank and Saint Vincent De Paul shifted my focus from indifference to action. Serving others was a gentle yet powerful reminder of the joy and inner peace derived from genuinely caring for the well-being of others.

6. Trust in God’s grace

Spiritual growth requires time and effort. By surrendering to God’s guidance and strength, I discovered that genuine happiness arises from caring deeply for him, ourselves, others, and his creation. I find it helpful to acknowledge that I don’t have complete control over every aspect of my life. I can trust that God’s timing is perfect, even when it doesn’t align with my desires or expectations. When I trust in God, his grace awakens my soul to the truth that taking responsibility for my actions and genuinely caring leads to fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

I have become more resilient in the face of acedia by faithfully adhering to these practical steps and nurturing my commitment to God. My faith life has flourished, and as I awakened my soul to profound care, I experienced a reciprocal depth of care from God. This journey has allowed me to receive the radiant light of his love, directing my path toward a fulfilling and meaningful life.