Recently, whilst on a family holiday, I was carrying my son around the garden and was hit with that all too well-known feeling – I’m bored.
I’ve titled this article ‘The restorative power of boredom,’ but I probably need to explain what I mean by boredom in this context. I’m not talking about the abiding sense of boredom with life that some people experience; that emotion that is harmful and causes people to leave their families, to scream at their colleagues, or to fight the police.
What I’m talking about are the trivial moments of non-action that contemporary society now calls ‘boredom.’ When a child complains to their parent, “I’m bored,” they don’t mean “I’m abidingly bored with my social situation and need to fight the police.” They mean “I’m experiencing a time of inaction that is uncomfortable.”
Boredom as a period of non-activity
We live in a world that offers non-ending entertainment: Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Stan, iTunes, Podcasts – it’s possible to be so constantly entertained that we become bored within a few minutes of stopping an activity.
This is the boredom I was experiencing in the garden that day – after all, we had been walking around for about 10 minutes, and the flowers had remained the same flowers! They didn’t light up, or change colours, or engage in verbal abuse towards one another on Facebook for my entertainment.
Boredom and it’s pitfalls and opportunities
There are some significant pitfalls to boredom, though. For example, I would suggest that the story of David and Bathsheba in may have been born out of boredom. talks about how idleness can lead to sinful activities, and boredom can lead to laziness, which the bible clearly condemns ().
However, if we respond to boredom in a Godly way, it can be a wonderful opportunity for rest, reflection, creativity, and recovery.
Boredom and sabbath rest
What I’m basically advocating for here is a short time of sabbath rest even as we go about the activities of the day. God made the earth in six days, and on the seventh day He rested, thereby sanctifying that day (). In response to this, we are commanded to take such a day of rest from our work as well ().
I would suggest that Jesus’ reminder should be considered when talking about Sabbath. While Sabbath is commanded in Exodus, “” (); The Sabbath is a gift of rest, and a reminder of God’s sovereignty over all things, but it’s not something to be legalistically abided by.
Sabbath is meant to restore us, not burden us. It’s a time of non-action where we can rest, reflect, create, and recover; and ‘boredom’ in the sense described above can be the same - if we allow it to be.
My boring journey
In recent times, I have been attempting to rethink the way I behave in times of boredom. For example, when I’m in a waiting room, instead of reaching for my phone to scroll through Facebook or picking up a magazine to read some over-blown article about a celebrity’s antics, I try to sit and reflect on my day before the Lord, I observe those around me (in a non-creepy way!) and pray for them, or I just take the opportunity to let my mind rest.
When I’m playing with my son, instead of also reading an article on LinkedIn, I try to simply observe his play – taking joy in the wonder he experiences, watching as he concentrates on how to make his hands do what he wants, engaging with him through eye contact and changing the words to pop songs to relate to whatever we are currently experiencing (a habit my wife finds annoying now, but Joshua still loves it!) I simply try to savour the time I get to spend with him.
The restorative power of boredom
On this journey of reframing boredom, I have realised that boredom truly can have a restorative power. We can’t be totally passive about it; boredom can cause our minds to wander to sinful thoughts, and it can be experienced due to our slothful attitude. Yet, when we choose to harness its power for good, it can be a blessed time of recharge and joy.
It can cause us to take stock of the activities of the day, to take time to pray to God about these things (or those around us), and it can assist us to be more fruitful and effective when we re-enter the hustle and bustle of our world which never rests or stops.
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html