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Seeking Boredom

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Fewer things are worse for a kid than boredom. "I'm bored," is the announcement that something is really wrong with my present circumstance and that you should take pity on me and (quickly now!) do something about it. I remember uttering these words as a kid; now I hear them from my own. But boredom is not something I struggle with as an adult. I hardly ever feel bored. On the contrary, I find myself always doing something and end my days with more things I wish I could have done.

In his book, The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch tells us that the word boredom is less than three hundred years old, making its first appearance in the 1850s. It's not that modern life is more boring than earlier days. Couch argues that it is the distractions and entertainments surrounding us, along with our feelings of busyness and being overworked, that explain why we get bored.

In my backyard, with its mottled shades of green, suddenly I spot a cardinal flitting from one tree to another. He is vivid red and gone in a flash. If I hadn’t been gazing out the window, I would have missed him.

During a moonless night, a meteor suddenly streaks across the sky, just barely catching the corner of my vision. Only by lying on my back for minutes or hours did I make myself available to see that brilliance. But the entertainment we serve up to our children, and ourselves, constantly fills the screen with movement as swift as the meteor’s and colors as brilliant as the cardinal’s. It is purposefully edited to never require too much concentration or contemplation; instead, it grabs our attention and constantly stimulates our desire and delight in novelty. But in doing so, it gradually desensitizes us as well.

This is an astute observation. I find it to be true on those days when I go on a walk or ride my bike to church. Slowing down on purpose and putting myself in a different position causes me to see things that in the fast-paced action life usually runs in, I seem to miss. If we don't remove ourselves from the virtual world, we will find ourselves unable to enjoy what Crouch calls "the abundance of the ordinary." That strangely-designed house a block from my own. Creative landscaping in my neighbor's yard. A dead garden snake on the road. 

Crouch has many more interesting things to say about boredom (see chapter six in his book). It's interesting to consider what we may be losing in our quest to eliminate boredom from our lives.

Sometimes I will go outside and sit on my porch, with no book (and certainly no phone) in my hand, and try to sit there as long as I can, just watching. I'm trying to be bored. Because maybe just then I'll find myself able to enjoy real life, ordinary life, the way God designed me to do. And perhaps I'll find myself enjoying him more, too.

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