My daughter is going through a new phase in her life just in time for her sixth birthday. The phase? She gets bored.
When my daughter was younger, she was easily entertained. If we went to a doctor’s office or a meeting, or any other place that was not child-friendly, she would find something to do. She looked at a book or magazine, colored in an activity book or simply engaged in role-play. Now, if there is nothing really stimulating to occupy her, she proclaims, “I’m bored!”
When she says this to me, it is hard for me to relate. I don’t have time to be bored; frankly, I would not mind being bored now and then. The truth is that we all get bored even if we fail to notice it. We live in a high-paced society in which distraction is at a premium.
During the occasional moments in which we experience a lull in our obligations, we immediately enter the realm of boredom. We start fidgeting. Either that or we fall asleep.
To be bored is to be idle, and to be idle is to feel utterly useless. And who wants to be useless in a culture that prizes productivity and results? When we measure our identity based on what we do, feeling bored is like taking two steps back. This is just a feeling, but perhaps something else is awry.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Boredom is the root of all evil.” To some extent, he is right. When we are bored, not only do we feel useless, but we also have the time to sin, and sin more creatively. We try to provide teenagers with things to do so that they don’t get bored and engage in dubious behavior.
What about adults?
Adults are not exempt from boredom and, in turn, are not exempt from sinning as a result of boredom. A pastor in North Georgia, Fred Craddock, once wrote about a pastor who went to his first NASCAR race. There, the pastor watched as the cars raced in circles for two hours. He became bored with the whole event and secretly wished that something exciting would happen — maybe a crash or car fire.
When the pastor came to his senses he realized what he was wishing for: He wanted to be entertained by the peril of others. The race car drivers ceased to be human. They became mere resources for the pastor’s appetite for pleasure. They were pawns that would help him escape boredom.
Boredom is something we all have to live with, but it does not give us an excuse to do what we want. Instead, we must work hard to turn boredom into an opportunity to align our thoughts onto the will of God.
This means that when boredom comes our way, we must not fill our time with something to do “just because”; rather, we can ask God to fill the vacuum that exists with the rich blessing of his divine presence. Jesus was, after all, the one who said that he gives life, and life more abundantly.
In boredom, we are realize that we are empty, broken vessels who choose how we are mended and how we are filled. This does not mean we are useless or unproductive, it just means that we have come to the place in which our earthly aspirations cease to provide us with a vivacious sense of life. But nothing and no one can take God’s place when it comes to meaning-making.
My prayer is that we ask God to do the mending and ask Jesus — the living water who quenches even our boredom — to fill our empty souls.