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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Boredom as a Spiritual Discipline

            I have noticed that I’ve become rather screen dependent.  I get done work on the computer and I want to watch TV or go to a website that appeals to me.  I’ve caught myself thinking, “Oh, seven minutes until supper is ready.  What can I do to fill that time?”

            It seems I’m worried about getting bored.  There is a glut of entertainment in my life and I use it to avoid silence and inactivity.  Why am I afraid of being bored?  Study and personal experience have shown me the value of spending time in silence, being exceptionally mindful of myself and my surroundings.  Still, I act as if I’m trying to avoid those things at all cost.

            This is one of the reasons I’ve avoided getting a smart phone.  That would open up all kinds of additional entertainment options.  The last thing I need is more distraction.

            So I’ve gone looking for what God’s word and God’s people have to say on this subject.  This morning I’ll share my initial findings.

            Four years ago, Rachel Young wrote an article for the Presbyterian Outlook, entitled “Embracing the Boring in Your Spiritual Life.”  She wrote, “Could there be value in boredom?  We shy away from boredom at all costs. This spring, I spent a week with my parents while my father was in the hospital. Sitting in a hospital, waiting for someone in surgery and then in recovery, is as mind-numbing as it is anxiety provoking. But I came well prepared, with my laptop and smartphone. I did not lack work to do or entertainment to access. Even so, boredom creeped in after many hours of sitting in the same windowless waiting room or, later, sitting in my father’s hospital room. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Boredom nudged me to pay attention to my father and his needs, as opposed to focusing all my attention on my phone.

            “Manoush Zomorodi, in a 2017 TED talk, asserts that moments of boredom can lead to moments of brilliance. When our brains are on autopilot, they have the chance to make new neural connections. I suspect this is why some of my best ideas come while I’m in the shower or swimming. My brain has time to think!”

            I’ve found out that boredom is a subject that has received a surprising amount of attention from social scientists.  In one study, volunteers were placed in a room by themselves for 6-15 minutes.  They were given nothing to do.  A button was provided that would administer a harmless but painful electric shock if pressed.

            Twenty-five percent of women preferred a shock to boredom and hit the buzzer.  Sixty-seven percent of men pushed the button to relieve their boredom.  That gives you an idea of how keen we are to avoid boredom. (YouTube)

            The unique challenge of a message about boredom is to avoid giving all of you a chance to experience boredom as I give the message.  Or do I have that wrong?

Treat boredom as a spiritual discipline, a part of being still before the LORD.

1. We tend to see boredom as a thing to be avoided and a problem to be solved by diversion and activity. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)

            Boredom is a problem when it leads to laziness, selfishness, or sin.  As the Teacher explains in Ecclesiastes 1, repetition and frustration create the problem kind of boredom.  The writer of this book is King Solomon, the man in all of history who had more distractions than he had time to pursue them.  Despite the distractions, Solomon had time to make observations about life UNDER THE SUN and think about some conclusions.  What he shares in this book is practical and philosophical, but not particularly religious or theological.

            His conclusion about life in this world is summed up in the word MEANINGLESS, which he uses some 35 times in these 12 chapters.  It’s base meaning is “vapor” or “bubble.”  Here in chapter one, he sees life as MEANINGLESS because of endless repetition.  In vs. 3-8, the natural world, with its daily and yearly cycles, is TEDIOUS BEYOND DESCRIPTION.

            In v. 8, human nature is also TEDIOUS because people are never SATISFIED, never CONTENT.  This chapter is also a condemnation of trendiness, being a slave to the newest thing, always hoping it will be meaningful, yet always disappointed.

            In vs. 9-11, history is also TEDIOUS because there is never anything TRULY NEW; all of it has been done before. (FUN FACT = the Hebrew language does not have a word for history.  The word translated as HISTORY in v. 9 literally means “that which was.”)

            The bottom line is that activity, in and of itself, is not the answer.  Indeed, it is MEANINGLESS.  If we search for meaning in this world, we will be disappointed every time.  What the Teacher does very effectively in this book is to urge us to look outside this world - to God - to find true meaning, significance, and satisfaction.

2. Inactivity and boredom can be useful to clear away the clutter of activity and diversion to make room for God.

            Be STILL, listening for God to speak to you. (Psalm 46:10)  “BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD!  I WILL BE HONORED IN EVERY NATION.  I WILL BE HONORED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD.”

            BE STILL means stop doing what you’ve been doing.  Stop relying on worldly things and your own pathetic coping mechanisms.  Instead, put your trust in the Lord and rely on Him.

            KNOW THAT I AM GOD = to “know” something in this way is to learn by experience.  You have to experience the Lord’s goodness for yourself.  When you trust Him and He delivers you from a difficult circumstance, then you will KNOW He is GOD and is perfectly trustworthy.

            The reference to honor is the third step in this process.  When you reject reliance on worldly means, then trust God, you experience His deliverance, which makes you want to worship Him, to be grateful for His works on your behalf.

            Be STILL, waiting for God to act on your behalf.  Exodus 14:13-14 =  BUT MOSES TOLD THE PEOPLE, “DON’T BE AFRAID.  JUST STAND STILL AND WATCH THE LORD RESCUE YOU TODAY.  THE EGYPTIANS YOU SEE TODAY WILL NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN.  THE LORD HIMSELF WILL FIGHT FOR YOU.  JUST STAY CALM.”  Moses spoke these words as the Egyptian army had trapped them against the shore of the Red Sea.  We know that God kept this promise in a spectacular way; He parted the waters of the Red Sea to allow His people to escape, then brought them back together again to destroy their pursuers.  WATCH...SEE...SEEN = These verbs promised a personal experience of God at work and that is certainly what they got!

            JUST STAY CALM is more forceful in the Hebrew; “Keep quiet!” is more in keeping with the emotional tone.  Though he might not have known HOW God intended to deliver them, Moses had enough faith to trust that God would deliver them and from that perspective, urged the people to calm down.

            Psalm 37:7 = BE STILL IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD, AND WAIT PATIENTLY FOR HIM TO ACT.  DON’T WORRY ABOUT EVIL PEOPLE WHO PROSPER OR FRET ABOUT THEIR WICKED SCHEMES.  This section - vs. 7-11 - urges us to not FRET about evil people.  Instead, we are to BE STILL and WAIT PATIENTLY for God to deal with them.  Notice how stillness and patience go together in this verse.  This facilitates a focus on God that is not possible if we busy ourselves running around in frantic worry over things best left in His hands.

            Mark 4:39 = WHEN JESUS WOKE UP, HE REBUKED THE WIND AND SAID TO THE WAVES, “SILENCE!  BE STILL!”  SUDDENLY THE WIND STOPPED, AND THERE WAS A GREAT CALM.  This is another example of a time where God acted in defense of His people.  BE STILL in Hebrew is literally, “be muzzled.”  Jesus muzzled the storm, resulting in a GREAT CALM, much to the relief of His disciples.

            Be STILL, clearing away anxiety. (Nehemiah 8:11)  AND THE LEVITES, TOO, QUIETED THE PEOPLE, TELLING THEM, “HUSH!  DON’T WEEP!  FOR THIS IS A SACRED DAY.”  In this instance, the people were upset by hearing the word of God read to them and realizing how badly they had sinned against the LORD.  And so, they wept.  God intends for us to feel remorse over our sin, but to dwell on it after we have asked for and received His forgiveness is to commit an equally grievous error.  That’s why the Levites, the temple assistants, are here telling the people to not grieve, but rejoice in the LORD.

Treat boredom as a spiritual discipline, a part of being still before the LORD.

            Today is Renewal Sunday, our annual reminder to pray for the renewal of the Church and our church, renewal starting with each one of us.  Though we plan and program, renewal is God’s gift.  The best preparation we can make to receive that gift is to be ready for it.  To demonstrate we are the kind of people who are eager to be renewed and will handle it well when God chooses to give it to us.

            I am offering boredom to become quiet and God-centered to facilitate renewal.  It’s an odd thought, I grant you, even counter-intuitive, but it is also biblical and something we too often ignore.

            The message I recall as receiving the most push-back from my listeners was early in my ministry, it was entitled, “Our Busyness is Not Necessarily God’s Business.”  The lady took exception to the idea that some of the things we do to support our families, communities, or church are just busy work that doesn’t honor God.  I explained it doesn’t honor God to do things to please ourselves and it certainly doesn’t honor God to do things that are contrary to His will.  My point was simply that being busy is not a virtue.  Not  everything on our “to-do” list is part of His will for us.  A brief conversation after church was not enough to settle this matter in her mind, so I paid a visit to her later in the week.  We chewed on  the matter a bit more, agreed to disagree, and moved on.  If you read Matthew 7:21-23, you may come to a similar conclusion.

            Though people have various levels of tolerance of boredom and different strategies for dealing with it, we all have a need to be quiet and clear out the overflow of our hearts, minds, and spirits.  The important thing here is how we deal with problem boredom and learn to use purposeful boredom.  We must rely less on distractions and more on solitude and quiet for prayer and mindfulness. 

            “Distractions must be conquered or they will conquer us. So let us cultivate simplicity; let us want fewer things; let us walk in the Spirit; let us fill our minds with the Word of God and our hearts with praise. In that way we can live in peace even in such a distraught world as this.”~ A.W. Tozer

 

RESOURCES:

            Rachel Young article at https://pres-outlook.org/2019/06/embracing-the-boring-in-the-spiritual-life/, retrieved on 22 January 2024.

            Boredom study https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKPwKFigF8U&t=423s, retrieved on 26 January 26, 2024.

            Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 11, The Gospel of Mark, 2005, pp. 439-440.

            Tremper Longman III, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 6, Ecclesiastes, 2006, pp. 263-265.

            John N. Oswalt, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, Exodus, 2008, pp. 385-392.

            Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.5, Psalms, 1991, pp. 299-300, 353-354.

            Information about “be still” in the Bible found at https://lisaappelo.com/12-bible-verses-about-being-still/, retrieved on 22 January 2024.

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