Updated: Jun 2, 2020
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat and find enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
Corona-liturgies and Counter-liturgies
So. Are you bored yet?
Lockdown life is a perfect incubator for boredom. All our usual activities are on hold. We’re seeing far fewer people, and those we see all the time are, well, those we see all the time! Variety is the spice of life, and variety is exactly what we don’t have just now.
And it goes deeper. Have you noticed how much our lives are usually punctuated by ways of marking time? As the seasons pass even the trees point us to time’s passing. Meanwhile, we mark celebrations. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Summer Holidays, and so on.
In normal times even our weeks take on a seasonal character. Monday, back to work; Wednesday that meeting which marks the moment you start looking forward to the weekend; Thursday, House Group; Friday, film night or take-away or going out with friends; Sunday, church; Monday, back to work…
The rhythm breaks up time, helps us to mark it as it passes, and gives us a structure in which we live.
But lockdown has stripped a lot of that away hasn’t it? Look back over the last few weeks and look ahead to the next fortnight and each day sort of blends into the next.
With that lack of rhythm comes a feeling that time has become blank. And boring.
Boredom is an interesting phenomenon. It’s tricky to pin down exactly what it is. Yet, children instinctively know when they’re feeling it. What parent doesn’t dread that cry, “Mum, Dad, I’m boooored”?!
That child’s worst nightmare seems to be boredom. But as adults we’re not much better. We look to sources of entertainment, information, leisure work, and productivity to stave off boredom as though it’s our worst enemy.
In fact, it seems as though society conditions us towards the idea that boredom is forbidden and must be banished. To prosperous Western eyes, to be bored is to be living a life that has become empty of interest and even in some sense less than fully human.
But do you see what has happened? Life has become measured by whether it is ‘interesting.’ Perhaps it’s what we produce at work, more often it’s what we consume in our leisure. But humans can’t be reduced to work output or leisure input. We’re much more than that.
Then, for Christians, there is an extra level of negativity. Boredom often conjures up thoughts of idleness and sloth. Surely the root of boredom a lack of productivity, which is sinful… Isn’t it?
Well, if boredom is actually a mask for idleness, then we should pay attention to that. But I’m not convinced that’s often the case. Nor should we measure godliness by simple productivity. If we do, we’re already running into murky waters. God doesn’t call us to produce things, he calls us to glorify him and enjoy him forever.
So how might we think about boredom as Christians?
Think about the last time you felt thoroughly bored. What was happening inside?
Boredom has a frustrated edge doesn’t it? It’s finding that a task or experience is falling short in some dully frustrating way. Or it’s that feeling of not knowing what to do with yourself. It’s wanting to read and to not-read at the same time.
In the end, boredom expresses a frustration that the world isn’t providing something we want or need, because in some way the world is not enough. Which means that at root there is a longing in boredom; a deep desire that something should change.
And if that’s true, it means that boredom is not necessarily an enemy, but an opportunity.
Why do I say that? Because boredom is a uniquely creaturely experience. God doesn’t get bored. He is supremely at rest in himself and sustained by himself. But we are not. We are sustained from outside of ourselves, and in a fallen world that means we experience frustration, including boredom.
Because, it’s true. The world isn’t enough. It can’t provide all that we need. Why? Because it is fallen and frustrated. We live in a world which is no longer what it was designed to be, and we feel the frustration of that deeply. Boredom may be just one way in which that frustration surfaces.
The book of Ecclesiastes takes a long look at life in our fallen world, with all its difficulties and opportunities. One of the consistent messages is that the ability to enjoy anything in this world of frustration is a gift from God. But the longings and desires that spring from experiencing the frustrated nature of our world are also designed to reach forward. Yes, the world is no longer what it once was, but it’s also not yet what it will be.
The truth that our hearts have the opportunity to meet in moments of boredom is that God has set his plan in place to liberate his frustrated creation (Rom 8:20-21). Things won’t always be this way, that deep longing for something to change has been met in ways beyond our imaginings!
So, when you next feel bored (I know, maybe that’s right now after reading this!) may I suggest something? Grasp the opportunity.
Look at the frustration building within and turn it towards the Lord in prayerful anticipation of all that he is accomplishing in Christ to liberate this frustrated, broken world, and to aedeem you, soul and body.
Perhaps you could try praying something like this simple prayer, ‘a liturgy for a moment of boredom’ if you like:
As my life is lived in longing
for that redemption of all things,
let this moment of boredom
speak to me of that coming day.
Help me to see that all contentment,
purpose and interest is found in you,
and that though I now know that only in part,
I will one day know it in full.
Praying that you would know God’s gift of enjoyment in life, and joy in Him,
Onwards, to glory!