Procrastination and the Spiritual Life

Do you work better under pressure? You put things off until the last minute because that’s when you get your best work done? Or maybe you just don’t mind putting things off. You’re a laid-back person, so if something doesn’t get done that’s a sign that you have your priorities in order. And yes, cat videos are totally a priority.

Procrastination is something many people struggle with, but for some it can affect their lives and relationships. It can also seriously affect your spiritual life. Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ reflected on procrastination and the spiritual life, and how solving the problem of sloth is often not as simple as it appears.

“We talked about acedia just a couple weeks ago, the condition of not responding to God’s grace, of not being responsive in the spiritual life like we should. Despairing sometimes, or just becoming completely complacent,” he reminded listeners. “In the spiritual life, acedia is often described as sloth. But when we talk about sloth, we usually mean laziness, which does seem to have some connection to procrastination, doesn’t it?”

Sloth is one of the deadly sins, and sometimes we commit the sin of sloth, we’re lazy or procrastinating, simply because we want to be. But Fr. Matthew also explained that there are other reasons that people procrastinate. Procrastination can actually be a symptom of anxiety, fear, or perfectionism – and so if you find it difficult to stop procrastinating, you might need to dig a little deeper.

“We need to be patient with ourselves,” Fr. Matthew said. “And this is what I find myself thinking about and what I find myself counseling people a lot in Confession, when I can see from an outsider standpoint people who are not as productive as they’d like to be, people who are not getting things done.”

“Usually we have to dig deeper and say there’s something else,” he pointed out. “Because you and I deep down want to be loved by God and want to be loved by others. And yet, when we don’t feel that connection it manifests itself as fear, as anxiety, as perfectionism. It is important in the spiritual life to realize that oftentimes what we perceive as sinfulness has an underlying cause that needs to be addressed before the behavior itself will be corrected.”

But even if laziness or procrastination is a symptom and not a cause, that doesn’t mean that it’s OK. Responding to what the Lord is calling us to and honoring our responsibilities should be the goal, and so it is beneficial to take a look inward to see where we are not living in our relationships in the way we were created.

“I don’t want you to procrastinate things,” Fr. Matthew clarified. “And I certainly don’t want you to put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today. But oftentimes, berating you, chastising you, punishing you for those delays doesn’t fix the problem. Because what’s really going on is something deeper in our hearts. That we’re not as committed to, or we’re not as aware of God’s love in our life as we should be. We’re not aware of how much we’re loved as we should be.”

“So if we want to fix these problems, I think we have to dig deep,” he continued. “I think particularly when it comes to procrastinating, yes of course we have to resolve those areas that our our responsibility. If I’m lazy for laziness sake, I need to work on that. If I’m not taking care of myself the way I should and it’s leading me to be not as effective a disciple of the Lord, then I need to address that. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today, but also make sure you’re working on healing the underlying wound in your heart.”

Listen to the full reflection below:

St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.