This is the first true installment of our series on the Seven Heavenly Virtues, and it seems to have been unintentionally timely. Those who follow Hollywood are aware that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice only just released, and the film’s heroes are almost icons when it comes to diligence. Perhaps their methods are sometimes questionable (one of the film’s central conflicts), but there is no doubt that the Dark Knight and the Son of Krypton are steadfast in their belief that good men cannot allow evil to pervade the world without doing anything to stop it.
We aren’t saying that you can’t embody the Seven Heavenly Virtues in your recovery if you aren’t putting on a cape and cowl every night to pursue long-winded fist fights with your nemesis. In fact, we generally discourage this sort of behavior. But if you identify a circumstance that must be changed, and you have the ability to change this circumstance without causing any additional harm, then you must pursue the matter with appropriate diligence. Of course, this is easier said than done.
In our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, we began each article by defining the sin in question, then explaining how it affected our addiction and how we could overcome these sins in recovery. For our series on the Seven Heavenly Virtues, we will follow a similar approach. We will explain why each quality is considered virtuous before explaining how this quality relates to recovery. Since the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues are opposites of one another, we will end each article in this series by explaining how you may learn to replace more sinful behaviors with virtues such as diligence in order to keep your recovery strong.
Defining Diligence as a Heavenly Virtue
To truly exhibit diligence as defined in the Seven Heavenly Virtues, one must avoid half-measures at all cost. Diligence is not just about doing what is right, but doing so as thoroughly and completely as possible. A person who prays for a charity to succeed without donating to said charity is not diligent. In fact, it’s arguable that they’ve taken less than half-measures in such an instance. Perhaps their heart was in the right place, and perhaps they simply had no money to offer the cause. But a more diligent person might have at least volunteered their time.
This is not to say that those who are diligent must perform service work at all hours of the day. In fact, the true test of diligence has little to do with charitable works. Going out of your way to help somebody is always admirable, but your true test of diligence will arise when a wrong is committed unexpectedly—especially if it is committed by someone you love. It takes a great deal of courage and fortitude to stand against friends and family, even when we know in our hearts that it must be done.
We discuss this a bit when defining the word “courage” in our breakdown of the Serenity Prayer. The scary part of these situations is that we do not often have as much time as we would like to make the right decision. If someone we know is going to do something illegal or unethical, or if they are about to relapse, we must act quickly. Those who are diligent do not run out the clock and pretend that there was nothing they could do. They see the harm that inaction can cause, and they act as soon as they come to realize that action is necessary.
Bear in mind that diligence is the opposite of sloth, which means that there is more to being diligent than simply performing service work or standing up against the wrongful actions of others. Sometimes, doing the right thing simply means working hard or maintaining a strong program of relapse prevention. Diligent people do not miss meetings, and they do not neglect to call their sponsors when something is troubling them. They throw interventions for people who are going down the wrong path, and they tell their stories when they are asked to do so. If you find yourself being lazy or procrastinating, it is time to see how you can exhibit more diligence in your life.
Diligence’s Role in Addiction Recovery
As noted above, diligence has pretty strong ties to relapse prevention. But this means more than simply going to meetings or calling your sponsor. You must really throw yourself into these pursuits if they are to be successful. When you go to meetings, be sure to share if there is something on your mind. Talk to people afterward and attempt to expand your support network. You might even consider showing up early to make coffee and help set up, or staying later to help clean. If you have been in recovery a while, you could even embrace the Second Concept by accepting a service position.
When calling your sponsor, remember that you aren’t just calling to check in. Call to tell them what’s going on with you. Even the most minor of annoyances can lead to emotional disturbance and relapse if we do not react to them appropriately. And in many ways, the same can be said of the smallest victories as well. You might not think that certain things need to be brought up with your sponsor, but keep in mind that they can see you much more objectively than you can see yourself. There’s no telling what might stand out to them when hearing about your day, so endeavor to be thorough.
Note as well that being diligent in other areas of life can also add to sobriety. If a person is diligent about improving their health, they will see greater risk in undoing their progress through drug and alcohol abuse. If a person is maintaining diligence in their work and their relationships, it will feel incredibly risky to put these things on the line for the sake of getting another buzz. Trying to maintain a sober routine, then diligently ensuring consistency in said routine, can do a lot for the body, the mind, and even the spirit.
In fact, spiritual diligence may be at the very heart of recovery. Believe it or not, faith and hope require no shortage of diligence. There will be times when we have a crisis of faith, when we just want to give up on certain aspects of our lives. Continuing to do the right thing can help us to get over this. We must perform due diligence before succumbing to any whim that might result in a loss of progress in our recovery.
Learning to Favor Diligence Over Sloth
You may have noted that “due diligence” as described above may sound like mere common sense, but can in fact require a fair bit of prayer and meditation. We may not think of these as particularly time-intensive activities, yet it is amazing how often we will feel differently when we enter a frame of mind that suggests we are better off without them. It is in these times that sloth will seem the best option, for there appears to be little use of pursuing something if we feel it will not work for us.
The problem is that sloth has a tendency to spiral out of control. As soon as we give up one aspect of our sober routine, we will begin letting up on the others as well. One morning, we wake up and neglect to do our daily meditation. The next day, perhaps we feel like skipping a meeting as well. The day after that, perhaps we simply get busy and forget to call our sponsors. Before we know it, we are hardly working anything that we could even begin to call a recovery program.
If we learn to see the consequences of sloth before they arise, it will be much easier to prevent them. We have to think proactively. If we find that we suddenly do not want to go to a meeting, we should try twice as hard to not only attend a meeting, but to share and get as much out of it as possible. If we want to play hooky and skip work or school on a certain day, we should try to double our productivity. Basically, any time we consider opting out of doing the right thing, we should increase our efforts to perform at our best. We will often feel rewarded for doing the exact same things we had tried to avoid doing, and we may even forget that we didn’t want to do them in the first place.
Diligence isn’t something we are, it is something we do. In the same sense that a person must experience fear before they can push past it through courage, it is when a person feels tempted by sloth that they will need to exhibit diligence more than ever before. Learn to push through your slothful tendencies and your desire to procrastinate, and your sense of diligence will grow stronger with every success. Whether you are being diligent about righting a wrong or simply about showing up to work on time, you must never allow laziness to stand in the way of virtue. Because if we don’t have diligence, it won’t be long before we see little reason to maintain our sobriety.