Defeating Boredom

The boredom problem

American Christians and Americans in general are suffering from a plague of boredom. This boredom epidemic is a factor in our moral, social, and spiritual downturn. It contributes toward wasted lives, fractured families, and what seems to me to be a rise in depressed persons. We live in a nation where people work, do what they are constrained to do, and then view DVD after DVD or spend hours with video games.

Evangelical and fundamental Christianity is also suffering from a plague of boredom. It seems that more and more people are bored in our services, tired of the Bible, and cannot focus their attention upon spiritual things for very long.

Decades ago, most Americans belonged to clubs, had people over for dinner, read, and developed a variety of hobbies and interests. Then came the TV, and the more technology we add, the worse it gets. Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone, documents that baby boomers are half as likely as previous generations to read the paper, vote, belong to a club, or have people over for dinner. And Generation X is purported to participate half as much as the boomers (or one-fourth as much as previous generations).

According to Richard Winter in his book, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, the more we entertain ourselves with movies or the Internet, the more bored Americans become. Most people have no strategy to reduce boredom from life.

Approaching the problem

Are you bored with life? Bored with your marriage, your Bible, or your God? I propose that our approach toward life is the greatest factor in determining whether we find life as a Christian boring—or filled with wonder and interest.

I would like to elaborate on this by first sharing what I consider to be the wrong approach toward addressing boredom, what I call the Path of Least Resistance. If we do what our instincts tell us to do, we might find our choices result in negative consequences.

We often apply Proverbs 14:12 to salvation—and it is certainly applicable—but consider applying this principle to life in general: “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (NKJV). For some of us, doing what comes naturally is counter-productive.

Although defeating boredom is not as serious as the salvation of our soul, both overlap in one way. Hell—the destiny of the lost—is often described as a place of fire. But the Scriptures also describe hell as a place of darkness, of gloomy loneliness, being bored for eternity. Note Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:30. “And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell is not only a miserable place; it is a boring, monotonous place.

In my observation boredom has spiritual implications in this life. Being bored invites trouble; bored kids in school disrupt the class, bored spouses are tempted to stray, and bored employees are often not the best workers. Bored people are increasing the temptation to fall into sinful ways as an escape from boredom.

People deal with boredom in a variety of negative ways. We may embrace an abundance of passive entertainment (DVD after DVD), buying of things we do not really need, relentless eating or drinking. The use of illegal drugs, pornography, and other addictions are often ways to alleviate boredom.

Understanding the cause

This raises the question, “What causes boredom?” Richard Winter (Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment) offers a few suggestions, and I have added my own ideas to the list. They include:

  1. Under-stimulation. We need bite-sized challenges that stretch us but do not intimidate us. We need attainable challenges.
  2. Over-stimulation. Movies are notorious for desensitizing us to the point where simple pleasures seem boring. Thus, playing cards or board games or walking around the neighborhood now seems so boring. Richard Restak, in his book, The New Brain, documents that what we see is processed by our brain as really happening. Our moods are affected for days or weeks because of movies we view—and we are often unaware of this cause and effect relationship. It eventually takes more and more glitz or guts or drama to hold our attention.
  3. Repetition. We need variety, but some people fear change so much that they shun variety. They would rather be bored than try a different spice on a piece of meat or take a different route home from work. Fear is imprisoning.
  4. Disconnection. Some folks do not relate to what is going on; they are not part of a team. We can recognize such people in church when they speak of the church as “them” and not “us.”
  5. Depression. Depressed people are unmotivated and usually filled with anger and frustration, which is the most typical (but not only) cause of depression. When you are depressed, you are both bored and boring to others.
  6. Attention deficit. This is a circular problem, and the debate is on as to what causes what. I personally believe some people are born with a weakness when it comes to ability to concentrate. Our behaviors make the problem worse or better and both under- and over-stimulation make matters worse.
  7. Confinement. Being confined in prison or shut-in creates an environment where boredom can thrive.

Please note that bored people can become boring people. Generally people are bored because they have few interests, and people with few interests are generally uninteresting to others—except for those who have overlapping interests. The more varied our interests, the easier it is to connect to others and the less boring we are.

Toward the solution

If our approach toward life is the greatest factor in determining whether we find life as a Christian boring or filled with wonder and interest, then what is the right approach? Because many lost people are neither bored nor boring, I need to narrow the question down to “What is the right approach for the believer?”

The right approach to life is to orchestrate life to recapture its wonder (as Winter points out) under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Matthew 6:33 is the best starting point: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NIV).

God’s Name is wonderful (Judges 13:18), so is His Word (Psalm 119:18) and so is His light (I Peter 2:9).

From that foundation, we now can seek to enjoy the decent things of life. Though Philippians 4:8 includes the Bible and the things of God, it is tragic to limit the implications of this verse to only the spiritual: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Other wonders include the wonders of creation (Psalm 145:5). When is the last time you took a walk in the woods or along a creek? Do you make trips to the zoo, go bird watching, or try to identify tree types? We joined a tour group for a trip to the Creation Museum in Florence, KY. We so enjoyed the planetarium presentation as we explored the wonders of space. Awesome.

Much wonder and richness in life comes from relationships and being involved with others. In Hebrews 1:9, Jesus is said to be exalted above His companions. Some Christians try to tell me that do not need friends, or that their spouse is the only friend they need. Funny, Jesus had companions yet some of us think we are above Him.

Bored people are often lacking in their social interest. Amanda Gardner penned an interesting article for HealthDay Reporter (Dec. 27, 2010). It discusses the human brain and its connection to being social:

The size of your amygdala, an almond-shaped portion of the brain involved in emotions, may be as strong a marker for having rich and varied social relationships as how many “friends” you have on Facebook, researchers say.

Scientists report in the Dec. 26 online edition of Nature Neuroscience that people with larger and more complex social networks also have larger amygdalas.

…As it turned out, the more extensive and more complex a person’s social network was, the larger the amygdala. This was true regardless of the age or gender of the participant.

On the other hand, there was no link between number of social contacts and the size of other parts of the brain.

So are people more social because they have a large amygdala, or the other way around? Brain expert Richard Restak has documented that the brain is in constant flux and changes shape based upon our behavior. I believe some people are born especially social, but all of us can learn to become more social, and thus enrich our lives. We may have to force ourselves to attend events, but it eventually becomes more natural and we soon find ourselves to be more social.

We are to make a point of enjoying life (I Timothy 6:17b). Many Christians pray a prayer like this before a meal, “Thank You, God, for the food You give us to strengthen our bodies so that we may serve You.” This is sad, in my opinion. God gives us food to enjoy, not just to subsist. How much better the Jewish blessing, which blesses God instead of the food: “Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Solomon knew what he was talking about in Ecclesiastes 9:8-9a, “Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun…”

So what changes might we need to make? We can watch fewer movies and develop a variety of interests, prioritizing our walk with the Lord first. We can collect, play games, engage in outdoor recreation, the performing arts, woodworking, photography, restoring antiques, artwork, paper craft, international cooking, gardening, fishing, reading fiction—on and on the list goes.

We can choose to do different things or the same things differently. Variety is the spice of life. And if we become interesting people under the Lordship of Christ, think of the implications for family life, church life—even evangelism. Let’s take our stand together against boredom!

[node:bio/ed-vasicek body]

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There are 17 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ed, thanks for your analysis of the problem of boredom. I find the subject very interesting (ironically) because boredom is hard for me to understand. How in the world does anyone have time to be bored?

Your article suggests some causes but the whole phenomenon is so strange to me, I still can't quite get it.
What I'm always tempted to believe is that anyone who is bored is just really lacking a sense of curiosity or imagination (or both).
(I occasionally taste boredom a little if I find myself trapped in a situation where I can't do what I would like to and it's too noisy, etc., to just sit and think--which is usually entertainment enough for me.)

Maybe people who are often bored are missing a sense of purpose and meaning. They just don't know why they are here and what larger calling is the purpose of their life. Once you know what your life is for, it's always a big enough thing to keep you occupied far more than you actually physically can be occupied.

I don't know... can you be born again, be engaged in God's vocation for your life and be often bored? Doesn't seem possible to me.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Michelle's picture

Aaron, be grateful you are rarely bored!

For many, many others, boredom is a very real issue. I do not think it is caused by a lack of "curiosity or imagination (or both)." I love studying God's creation and tinkering (experimenting!) with ooey-gooey in my kitchen (Do I want to embarrass myself by confessing that I have a composting worm farm that I keep just because I find it cool how God has it planned that rotting food can be recycled into something useful?). I go online to study about the stars and beyond. We as a family travel extensively; we just returned from Spain over Christmas. But I am very frequently bored!

What I do think causes boredom is, as you say, "missing a sense of purpose and meaning." Some people have a bent toward depression and no amount of telling them to "cheer up" or "look on the bright side" or "go outside and enjoy God's creation" will change that. Very little, if anything, that a person in a depressed state does has meaning.

Also, no amount of telling them why they are here or their greater calling in life will pursuade them or change their mind. They need to see first hand, frequently, and quickly that what they are doing matters. Then, I believe, they can stretch themselves a bit and start postponing the feedback until they are to the place of truly living by faith that their life makes a difference.

I think we should not only make a point of enjoying life ourselves, but we should look around at others who are bored and possibly depressed, grab them by the hand -- literally sometimes -- and take them with us. Or just take the time to ask them about something in their life and then LISTEN for as long as they want to talk.

But we won't help others through this journey of life unless we acknowledge that someone can "be born again, be engaged in God's vocation for [their ] life and be often bored."

I need to go; time to feed the worms. Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think I'm probably using the terms "bored" and "boredom" very narrowly. I would never think of suffering as being boring--so, though I see Ed's description of Hell as "monotonous," I have a hard time conceiving of pain as being boring. I'd rather be bored than be in pain... in any case, to me, they don't go together, but clearly to Ed they can.

Similarly, when I've been depressed, I recall not feeling like doing much of anything but I was too angry, anxious, etc., at the time to be what I'd call "bored." So I am probably thinking of a narrower idea than Ed and probably Michelle also.

I do think it's possible for folks who are "doing everything right" to find themselves in a spot for a while where
a) it's not clear what the next step is, or
b) they're stuck

My dad is stuck in a nursing home at the moment. But he is more stuck by his health than his physical location. Because of what's happened neurologically, he can't read, can't do things with his hands, has a hard time following conversations, etc. So that's got to be really boring.

So being stuck seems to me to be a huge factor in boredom. When I look at the rare occasions where I get bored, I'm always stuck in some way.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Charlie's picture

Thanks, Ed. I applaud your choice to call people to a higher plane of sanctification without whipping people for the way they feel. As someone who struggles with almost constant boredom, despite a plethora of interests, I recognize the problem. I also appreciate your suggestions for relief, though I think they will vary in effectiveness.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don't you have to have a quantity of time to get bored? So if we're busy, how can we be bored?
Maybe what we mean by the term is something like "unsatisfied with my activities" or something like "a lack of excitement and fulfillment in what's available to do"?

Charlie, if you have alot of interests, how can pursuing any of them be boring? I'm not trying to find fault or argue here at all, just trying to get my mind around how this works. It's very foreign to me (but "foreign" isn't bad... I like foreign)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Charlie's picture

Well, I may be conflating a number of feelings - boredom, ennui, melancholy, frustration. I've been subject to bouts of melancholy throughout my life, usually not tied to any particular cause (that I can tell). School has always been very unpleasant for me; I spent the greater part of my life under-challenged and slogging through busywork. On the other hand, the classroom is one of the only places where I really thrive. Catch-22.

I have many interests, but I think the issue right now is that few of them issue in immediate tangible results. So, although I do things, I'm not sure that my life is progressing visibly, which can lead to frustration. Also, several of my greatest interests are very solitary. Not that many people are invigorated by studying late medieval metaphysics or the development of Protestant prolegomena or the applications of chaos science to providence. So, many of the things that I care about deeply I am unable to share with others. Thus, I do not receive the same emotional, motivational support for my work that many people get for theirs.

So I think that it can be a cycle. Unconvinced that a certain course of activity actually moves my life along, I lessen my efforts. Of course, this can only result in less accomplishment, which reinforces the original (though probably erroneous) assumption that the activity is drudgery rather than real work.

I do think that social interaction is a good defense. I've noticed that weeks when I miss church or my community group is canceled are worse than others. As I reflect on this, though, I also remember that a solid physical exercise regime drastically reduces these thought patterns. I've been out of my exercise pattern for weeks now.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ed Vasicek's picture

Boredom and depression are massive subjects if we think about it. My article deals with alleviating common boredom for people who are bored as a rule.

I, too, sometimes get bored, with all my interests. Sometimes I am just not in the mood to do anything. None of the interests I have seem to grab me. I think much of that is probably genetic and personality driven. At times like that, my curiosity level is low (Aaron is onto something; I think nurturing curiosity makes a big difference as a rule). But, other times, I am just blitzed and watch Food Network or listen to Old Time Radio Shows. I go through binges when I read murder mysteries, and then I put them down and don't read them again for a few years.

We are such walking chemistry sets with our own unique genes that we cannot develop a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, people in Alaska are more prone to depression because of a long time without sunlight. Who knows what other yet undiscovered factors influence us? We don't know what we don't know!

My main idea, though, is that we must be proactive to reduce (not necessarily eliminate) boredom in our lives. Varied interests and reasonably limiting mindless visual entertainment and then developing interests and a social life are proactive ways to reduce boredom.

I think some of us NEED some boredom as part of processing life. Just as some enjoy food more when tey are good and hungry, so some of us need boring times to peak interest later. Others like to graze food all day, and so, in my illustration, some are rarely bored.

"The Midrash Detective"

J. D. Coleman's picture

Quote:
I think some of us NEED some boredom as part of processing life. Just as some enjoy food more when tey are good and hungry, so some of us need boring times to peak [sic ] interest later. Others like to graze food all day, and so, in my illustration, some are rarely bored.

Dr. Ron Horton offers a similar suggestion for purposes of depression, etc. in his book Mood Tides: Divine Purpose in the Rhythms of Life

As Ed mentioned, there are lots of reasons for boredom, certainly exacerbated by our culture of entertainment. Instead of finding fulfillment in doing things, people tend to sit back and wait for something to happen. As a result they get into a self-pertpetuating cycle of apathy and boredom. I see it all the time in the Jr. / Sr. High students I teach. But boredom is far more complex than that. Nor is it necessarily a problem.

I noticed that several readers commented that they have many interests, yet still feel bored often. Perhaps that is God's way of stimulating them toward productivity. It seems to me that creative people often go have "bursts" of creativity and corresponding lows of ennui or depression.

Anyway, read Mood Tides. It offers some helpful perspectives. Rather than condemning all negative emotion, it helps us see how God often uses it in our lives.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think we've been waiting for someone to write a review for SI on that one.

Charlie wrote:
... invigorated by studying late medieval metaphysics or the development of Protestant prolegomena or the applications of chaos science to providence.

I actually think that sounds fascinating. Seriously. I lack much background in it but I've found that it's often very interesting to just "pick the brain" of someone who's deep into some completely unfamiliar area of study... and they seem to enjoy trying to get me caught up.
It's too bad you're way down south. We could have coffee while you reduce my almost total ignorance of late medieval metaphysics.

JDColeman...& Ed... you both make me wonder if maybe I need to bored more often!

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

RickyHorton's picture

I'll second J.D. Coleman's recommendation of Mood Tides. Most people want to run from anything negative (boredom, a trial, depression, etc.), but just maybe God has something for us to learn in these things. Can God use boredom to teach me something? Or maybe God could use boredom in someone else's life to teach me. This has certainly been the case when I look at my teens and what they call boredom. Dr. Horton encourages us to look at these "bad" things and see what God has for us in them.

(BTW, Dr. Horton is my uncle so perhaps that clouds my good vs. bad review of his book! As a side note, he wrote the book after his wife died unexpectedly. The book is a great gift for anyone going through a similarly tough situation.)

Steve Newman's picture

This article reminds me of a saying I heard in Bible college and seminary - "It is a sin to bore people with the Word of God." First of all, this is quite erroneous in my opinion. We can always do more to be better teachers and preachers, but, at the end of the day, boredom is in the eye of the beholder. I think that is what this article is saying. Secondly, it seems to me boredom is an issue of contentment. Are we content with God providing what we need? Isn't boredom elevating the desire to be entertained to the level of a need and saying our needs are not being met?
For a more irreverant take on boredom, check out this article:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870339590457602548255483864...

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

people who don't experience boredom? I hesitate to admit this, but oh well. I am never bored. I don't exactly know why- but it just doesn't happen to me, regardless of the environment. If my body is stuck my brain always has someplace else to go.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I am a strong believer in "inherited personality." Some people are rarely bored. But when they get bed ridden after a surgery, etc., they sink into a real nasty depression because they have no experience with boredom. Although boredom and depression are two different states, people who are bored for a long period of time often become depressed, never realizing that they have been bored (because, for many people, boredom is so much a part of their lives).

I would argue that many people are bored and do not know it, while others are genuinely never or nearly never bored. Go figure.

I guess I sort of lean to the idea that, no matter who you are, your personality catches up to you in some way sometime!

As far as boring people with God's Word, I think we have to try to make a sincere attempt to be interesting and to hold the attention of those eager or at least open to learning or getting something out of the sermon. Even with that, however, we all have our groggy days. There have been many times I've said to myself, "I am glad I am up here preaching because I don't know if I could stay awake down there listening." This is a sad commentary on me, but it is time for true confessions.

Sometimes, too, during extended prayer I have a real hard time staying awake. I wonder if we should borrow the posture of Hassidic Jews and bob up and down while we pray (they do that in an attempt to exemplify, "all that is within me, praise the Lord," but I think it keeps 'em awake). And, in these instances, it is not boredom, but sleepiness because I did not sleep well the night before (sometimes I have insomnia; W.C. Fields knew the cure for that, he said it was to get a lot of sleep).

So sometimes we think people are bored when they are really sleepy or need to move a bit to stay awake. Other times, however, people are just bored with God's Word, most often, I believe, because they know what is being covered (nothing new), they cannot understand it, or perhaps simply because they are unregenerate. Preachers can only aim to hold the attention of those who are open.

Some people turn off just when the sermon starts. One elderly woman was like that when I came to this church. I could tell, as soon as I got up to preach, her face would get a glossy look.
She was gone. She became a shut-in and I brought her tapes of the service, "I didn't realize you were such a good preacher," she said after listening the the tapes. The previous 10 years, I don't think she heard a Word. I think she had been so bored by preaching in her youth that she turned off automatically. Amazing.

"The Midrash Detective"

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

It is definitely worth pointing out that there is a difference between boredom and fatigue, or depression, or side effects of medication, or symptoms of an illness...

I agree that personality must come into it somewhere, and also the formative elements of one's childhood. For instance, I grew up on a farm where there was always much work to be done, few neighbors, no tv, very few games (we had chess and checkers and a homemade Battleship game... and Spirograph). We read constantly, and for most kinds of play my brother and I depended on our imaginations. I spent alot of time in the hospital due to some ongoing physical problems, and I had to find ways to occupy myself (usually involving a wheelchair or the elevator, and sometimes both). I was an academic over-achiever, but was fortunate (in some ways) in that my teachers could usually find some academic dog and pony show for me to prepare for; they let me work at my own pace, then sent to the local jr. high for curriculum, or they just let me hang out in the school library and read when they couldn't find anything else for me to do.

I suppose you could say that I was bored in jr high and high school-at first they didn't allow me to progress further than my grade level, so I'd finish my work and get into mischief. Some of my teachers didn't mind if I read novels after I finished classwork, although reading in Chapel was apparently a bad thing. Who knew? (I typed that with my sarcasm hand) But technically I wasn't bored- I had a great time. Eventually my high school teachers lit on the idea to have me study for speech and debate, and entered me and a few other students in some local tournaments. It's amazing how much off campus studying one can accomplish at the mall...

In any case, while I may have experienced boredom to an extent, it only lasted for about .03 seconds until I thought of a way out of it.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Susan R wrote:
people who don't experience boredom? I hesitate to admit this, but oh well. I am never bored. I don't exactly know why- but it just doesn't happen to me, regardless of the environment. If my body is stuck my brain always has someplace else to go.

Hey, I'm not a freak after all! ... wait, this is Susan we're talking about. http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-basic/blink.gif[/img ]
I'm almost in the same boat. Bored is extremely rare for me.

Quote:
"It is a sin to bore people with the Word of God."

Well, I think yes and no. There is definitely a way to deliver the Word that makes it seem very boring. And we who are in that line of work do have a responsibility to not make the truly powerful and exciting look and sound like watching paint dry.
(Which makes me wonder... would watching paint dry bore me? I've never tried it... which makes it look kind of interesting now)

Steve Newman wrote:
at the end of the day, boredom is in the eye of the beholder.

Agreed. There's a huge affections factor... no appetite for it = endless boredom with it.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

...one word for it. Biggrin

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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