On boredom

“Bored now.” In my case, two dangerous words that invite all sorts of trouble (because I’m foolish that way). Then comes Eugene Peterson talking about boredom (click here for video):

We live in a culture that’s so distracting that we don’t have time to be by ourselves and find out what it’s like to be by ourselves. We’ve got to create time to do that. … Boredom is really at root a basic symptom of immaturity. How do you counter that immaturity without going through the boredom? The boredom is a necessary part of life. There are plenty of people who get divorced because they’re bored, but the real reason is they haven’t grown up. There are many pastors who leave their congregations because they’re bored, but the reason is that they haven’t grown up. We have to learn how to deal with the everydayness of our lives if we’re going to become anybody who is able to live with some kind of — courage is your word here — through a lifetime. So I don’t think there’s any magic potion for it, but I do think it takes attentiveness.

The classic Christian discipline for dealing with boredom is sabbath, and it’s the most defied commandment of the ten in our culture. It’s probably defied by Christians equally as much as by non-Christians. For my wife and me, the most important single decision we ever made was to keep the sabbath. It had effects just across the board. … We defined it by two words: pray and play. So we played and we prayed, but nothing necessary — nothing we had to do. So the kids got a vacation too — they didn’t have to do anything … not even their homework. … To this day, I still have a difficult time keeping the sabbath. I’ve been doing it for 40 years now and every time I have so many things I want to do, so many ideas, calls I want to make, and I just have to deliberately say no. It takes me two or three hours of being bored before I start to pursue what’s around me — the person in front of me. … I think that’s a start.

A whole new way of thinking about this — boredom could have been underrated all this while. What was I — what are we — afraid of? In our jobs, in our relationships, are we looking for a rollercoaster ride, some light entertainment, or are we looking for a real vocation, a real friendship?

I think I can face the slow, steady slog — that patch of gluey grunt work in any serious endeavour — with a bit more perspective now.


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