When we face a grievous loss – of a loved one, a job, a marriage, or health – depression can be an inevitable and appropriate response, providing a time-out to allow for healing. But what if one responded to such a loss with a casual yawn, as if none of it had mattered in the first place? That is the horror of acedia…
(Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me: New York, Riverhead Books, 2008, pp.23-24)
Acedia is the noonday demon, the soul on novocain. The clock seems to stop, the day stretches out forever as a vast wasteland of boredom. Work is a waste of time, other people uncaring, and everything good is somewhere else. Why bother with any of it? Listlessness sets in. This demon is subtle, bringing with it the delusion that vacating the present life situation isn’t only desirable, but noble. The question then arises: don’t I owe it to myself to leave behind this meaningless life?
Sometimes, things need to change. A harmful situation should be left immediately, but acedia isn’t about that. Acedia is throwing away the good and holy life God has provided. Acedia is not moving toward something good, it’s seeing everything good in the here and now as useless and boring. The “if only” thoughts arrive: if only I had a more caring spouse, if only others recognized my gifts, if only this place had a better view and congenial neighbors…A change of scenery won’t help because acedia lives in the discontented soul, not in the external location.
Cullen Story, professor and extraordinary pastor, used to give students and ministers a way to distinguish between acedia’s temptation to leave a life situation and God’s call to move forward: Until you love the location and people God has given you, you aren’t ready to leave.