Complacency: a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation or condition. (From dictionary.com.)
It’s also, in the spiritual life, an incredibly dangerous word – something to be avoided at all costs. Jesus doesn’t mince words on this:
I know your works: I know that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were hot or cold. So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17)
In high school, I had the great opportunity to work at a pet store in St. Albert, Paradise Pet Center. Initially, I spent a lot of time cleaning aquariums; and later I was trusted more and more with serving customers. Over the three years (and a few Christmases after I had moved away) I worked there, I learned two important “life lessons.” The first of these was the care we put into individual people and circumstances: particularly into customer service. As a locally owned business, our store competed with larger retailers who could consistently offer better prices… so we needed to add value to the products we sold. We did so by making every extra effort to keep the store clean and well organized, to say hello to every customer who walked in the door, and to carry every large bag of dog food out the door for every customer who bought one. The other lesson was the need to work hard. We needed to work hard at customer service and at the duties we were responsible; but we were also expected to put a great deal of effort in becoming more knowledgeable and competent employees. In short, he didn’t just want us to do a job, he wanted to see us get better at it. The people who lasted as employees at this store were those who grew as employees; those who didn’t grow didn’t tend to stick around for long.
These lessons are good for customer service – but they are equally important is a lesson here for the spiritual life. Most people can trace their journey of faith to a particular moment where God stepped in and set them in a new direction, or where they decided to make their parents faith their own. It’s like being “employed” by God – except He makes us His sons and daughters, and Jesus Himself calls us friends. And instead of being given a job where someone checks on our work and pays us, Jesus invites us to move beyond this initial commitment or choice and to become holier (better) people. The problem is, many of us stagnate at the initial decision. We rationalize that we aren’t as bad as we used to be, or as someone is now… we avoid the difficult parts of Christian living and settle where we are. This is complacency… and it would likely have gotten me fired from the pet store. Jesus’ words above are a stern warning as to the way He views complacency. “I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Complacency is dangerous because, as the definition says, we have some ‘sense’ of security- but there is impending danger. In the spiritual life, there is no standing still – only moving forward or going back. If we get complacent, we aren’t going to get fired or suspended… but we may find that we have become lukewarm, desensitized, and a lot further from Christ than we want to be.
Complacency sneaks in when we decide we’re too busy to pray (no such thing), we know enough about God (it’s impossible to completely know the ultimate), or that we’re holy enough (the saints never reached that point.) Pray. Learn. Receive the Sacraments- be fed by Jesus in the Mass and called to better living in Confession. Learn to put others’ needs ahead of your own. Whatever you do, don’t allow complacency to distract you from the life to which you’ve been called. Our world is in desperate need of saints: don’t let your complacency cheat you (or those you know) of who God created you to be: better than you (or I) are today.