Sobering Questions from Ants
by Jacob Hudgins
As Solomon addresses his son in the book of Proverbs, he points to an unlikely source of wisdom. “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise”(Prov 6:6). When we have the disposition to learn, we can find wisdom in strange places—like the anthill. While we might dispute being characterized as a “sluggard,” this passage raises some sobering questions for us.
Do I have to have someone force me to do what needs to be done—for myself and others? Ants are not this way. “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest”(Prov 6:7-8). Ants do not rely on productivity systems. They don’t only work hard when the boss is around. The need for external motivation (or even the threat of punishment) is a weakness of character. There is wisdom in being self-motivated.
What more would I achieve if I didn’t care about who notices? Ants are not working to make a name for themselves. “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest”(Prov 6:7-8). There is no one to impress in the anthill. They do their work without “employee of the month” or “lifetime achievement” awards. The female ant Solomon notices “prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” She does a job because it needs to be done. How much more would I get done if I was not concerned with looking better in the eyes of others?
How much of my lack of achievement is due to laziness? “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man”(Prov 6:9-11). Descriptions of sluggards in Proverbs are funny, but it is easy to lose the point (and miss ourselves) in the exaggerated descriptions of laziness. Small choices here and there (“a little sleep, a little slumber”) add up over time. Instead of sleep, it may be persistent distraction or procrastination. Solomon’s point is that when we are lazy, we will achieve less—and be headed toward poverty. When I am frustrated that I am not accomplishing all I would like, do I need to be more like ants?
Wisdom means seeking to learn from all kinds of sources. Ants show us the power of self-motivated, task-oriented diligence. How do I match up?