The Sluggish Woman


I'll never forget meeting the pastor who married us, because when he heard my name, immediately he told me it meant "industrious".  First I thought, "woah, you know the meaning of my name?"  Then I thought, "what does industrious mean exactly?"  And finally, "if there is anything I'm NOT, it's industrious!"  For years after that I wondered, "Why did God name me, Emily if I'm not naturally a hard worker?"  But what was interesting, is that this very curiosity lead me to study what the bible said about being industrious, which in the end convicted me deeply about my love for sluggish living.  Six years after being informed about my namesake, I see God's work in my life, helping me become the woman he purposefully named me...Emily, the industrious.

My ears still perk up whenever I hear teaching about hard work versus lazy work.  Over the years I've read about and listened to many women whom I would consider to be industrious, and my heart has been taking notes.  Daily, I see obstacles to completing the tasks set before me with vigor and excellence, but I continually encounter stories of women who accomplish more than I can even imagine.  Why are the most God-fearing women seemingly also the highest-capcity, hard-working, and accomplished women?  Is this a coincidence or is there some connection between our sanctification, righteousness, and a desire to work hard?  I've come see that the more we believe our identity in Christ, the more we want to make the most of our time on this Earth, doing much work for God's glory instead of using our time for vanity and pleasure.

At first I wanted to rebuke our generation because when I look at women of history (or women around the world), without modern conveniences, health, and safety, I'm AMAZED at what they achieved on a daily basis.  We whine about the fact that it's hard to keep our children's 10,000 toys picked up or keep our dishwasher unloaded, when many children have had to learn to make toys from nature while their mothers sweat away at the dish bucket.  But before I jump on a soapbox with a rebuke I know I desperately need to hear, I'm going to pause and turn to scripture.  Because honestly, that's far more helpful (and far more correct) than using the lives of others as a measuring stick for holiness.

So, let's examine the sluggish woman...

What does the word "sluggard" mean?
The word sluggard is primarily found in the book of Proverbs.  It is the Hebrew word "'atsel" (sounds kinda like ought-sell) which literally means to lean idly or have slack.  Another translation uses the word "delay" to describe the actions of a sluggard.  Our commonly used modern-day term is "lazy" which literally means to do something slowly.  This term brings many pictures to mind, most of which we would like to believe do not pertain to us.  I mean, lazy people are couch potatoes (insert picture of an overweight man watching TV with greasy chip hands)...right???  But if you look at the biblical definition for the word and then examine without the mental picture of a couch potato, it becomes far more universal and convicting.

What might a "sluggish woman" look like?
This is my own application and interpretation of how the word picture of being sluggish (as presented in the book of proverbs) might apply to women today.  I have provided references if you find yourself wanting to dig deeper into the wisdom from these passages to better understand the context.

A sluggish woman:
  • Sleeps a lot more than is necessary or places an unhealthy value on her sleep (Prov 6:9, 26:14)
  • Does not complete the tasks she has been given to a high degree of efficiency or excellence, thereby cursing or letting down the task giver (Prov 10:26)
  • Covets the lives and accomplishments of others, although she gets nothing from it (Prov13:4)
  • Experiences hardship as a result of being slow to act (Prov 15:19)
  • Struggles to complete even the most mundane and simple daily tasks (Prov 19:24)
  • Doesn't do her work when she should or when the time is right (Prov 20:4)
  • Has desires that ultimately lead to death (Prov 21:5)
  • Overreacts to poential obstacles and / or makes excuses for her inactivity (Prov 22:13)
  • Eats more than she should (Prov 26:15)
  • Is not teachable and thinks she is justified in her delay to complete her work (Prov 26:16)
I don't know about you, but more than one of those things pertains to me on most days.  I see a different type of couch potato in that list.  I see a woman who has plenty of time to browse her blogs, catch up with Facebook, eat extra snacks, respond to emails, go to the park for a play-date and check her instagram all while complaining about her inability to get her other practical duties completed.

What are the implications of being a "sluggish woman"
A sluggish woman is sluggish in her heart more than her actions.  Her heart says, "How can I delay this work?  How can I get out of this work?  How can I do more of what I want and less of the stuff I don't really enjoy?"  Instead of diligently completing the tasks set before her with a high degree of excellence, knowing she is working unto the Lord, she sits and sits and sits, investing her time in breaks and leisure and "me time".  Or  maybe she does other good things, but is slow to do the tasks that really matter and take self-discipline.  I can't really say  how this reveals itself in each woman's life...because for some, they are really busy and check a lot of things off the list while in their hearts saying, "If I get this done as quickly as possible, then I can relax.  The goal is to get my work done so I can do whatever I want."  This attitude (while looking good on the outside) is just as poisonous as the woman who writes her to-do list and then forgets it the minute she walks away.

No matter what it looks like on the outside, we can see from the study of Proverbs that the sluggish woman is going to come up against great hardship, sorrow, and even death (apart from Jesus).  It's not that we should work hard just because God said so*, but because it's for our good and for our joy.  Proverbs 13:4 says that the soul of the diligent will be richly supplied...it will fill up to overflowing!  I know when I choose leisure and laziness over diligence, I'm failing to believe this principle.  Instead, I believe that the instant gratification of putting off hard work will give me the rest and refill I need...but it never does.

As always, remember that conviction is different than worldly sorrow and condemnation.  Conviction leads to repentance, restoration and running back to God while condemnation leads to a greater feeling of guilt and separation.  God calls us to repentance, because he loves us.

So if we aren't supposed to be sluggish, what ARE we supposed to be?  I think the answer is industrious - believing the principle that our souls are deeply rewarded when we work hard.

*update:  Actually, we do need to do things "just because God said so" because the bible calls us to obedience even when we don't understand the reason behind it.  What I should have clarified is that God is not like a mean parent, just ordering us to do things for no good reason.  He has great, wonderful, and perfect reasons for us to do things - and in this case it's to bring us joy through diligent work.
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