To winterize or procrastinate

Unbelievably, gold leaves are already spilling over the edges of our gutters. A/C window units - now silent - have yet to be moved to the basement. The entire yard cries out for a deep clean. The peeling back deck still needs that new coat of sealant.

The other day I saw a friend (I'll call him John Smith), a fellow dad of several young kids. "How are the Smiths?" I asked.

Without a second's pause, he answered, "The Smiths are tired."

I'm not sure if it's my over-40 age bracket, the kids' schedules, the traffic on I-66 or my inbox, but I do know that the Johnsons are tired … or at least I am. I'm not sure which way is up. Or where September went. Or if I'm supposed to pick up the boys from tonight's Little League practice. Or if my daughter's first quarter algebra exam is this Friday. Or when I can get to those gutters.

The fall schedule has become like an app-cluttered smart phone -all kinds of commitments running in the background, draining the battery by noon.

"It will not always be summer; build barns." I saw this quote from Hesiod on an elementary school marquis over the summer and smiled at the bit of ancient wisdom.

"It will not always be fall," I can now say. "Clean gutters."

In candor, I had to clean the gutters on a frigid December day last year. High up on the ladder with winter gloves and a paint scraper, I dislodged thick globs of frozen mud and leaves. Happily, none of our neighbors drove by at that moment. Hesiod would not have been proud of me.

But I also know that I am using my "busy schedule" as an excuse to avoid winterizing. Give me an uncluttered, fall Saturday afternoon, and I'll eventually roll up the sleeves. The "rewards" of getting it done are weeks or even months away, but moving into the "zone" of getting it done is its own reward.

My zone (on a good Saturday) is a rhythm of working patiently on long-term, preventative stuff that pays a high dividend - like the pleasures of not putting on winter gloves to de-ice my gutters or not dealing with a burst pipe in the middle of a December night. In the zone, I submit to the natural law of the seasons and homeownership.

But too often, so-called "busyness" keeps me from entering the zone.

This avoidance of gutters happens constantly in the life of faith - when my "busy schedule" becomes an excuse for avoiding deeper maintenance of the soul.

This clandestine alliance between busyness and sloth is outed by theologian Josef Piper. In his Leisure: The Basis of Culture, he claims that our "culture of total work" and "fanatical and suicidal activity" are the result of our acedia, or sloth: "the lack of will to action." Lacking the willpower to still ourselves in prayerful contemplation before the Lord, we use even more busyness to assuage our restlessness. One more new app. One more activity.

Meanwhile the gutters and air filters of our interior life - confession, daily prayer, examination of conscience - jam up with leaves and dirt in our "culture of total work." We work so hard and yet, the rainwater crests the gutters and runs down the sides of our homes, pooling in the basement.

We work even harder, only to find ourselves further estranged from our unexamined hearts. Hearts that have grown cold and unfamiliar with the rhythm of repentance and mercy. We are shaken from our sloth only in mid-winter, when the biting winds of our unrepentant hearts force us to find gloves, a paint scraper and a ladder to deal finally with the issue of our gutters.

One recent evening, I pulled into the driveway and looked up at the gutters yet again. Enough, I thought. A few minutes later, I was on a ladder. A neighbor drove by and waved as I worked. I heard my 3-year-olds screech from within the house, pleasantly muffled. The sun's slip behind the Blue Ridge mountains seemed somehow slower.

"Now that we have come to the setting of the sun," I recalled the line from even-song, "and beheld the light of evening, we praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

The Smiths are tired. The Johnsons are tired. Winter nears, and the light of short evenings comes ever more quickly. And the merciful Father still beckons in a quiet voice, inviting us to unmask our busyness and sloth, and find true rest.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015