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:
- Under-stimulation. We need bite-sized challenges that stretch us but do not intimidate us. We need attainable challenges.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!