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August 7, 2012

The Gift of Boredom

My frantic pace cannot be helping my relationship with God.

My mother died a few years ago. She’d lived a long and happy life, but she was old. Although she was once extremely industrious—having raised five children and helping my father start a business while developing her skills as an artist—toward the end she spent most of her days sitting or lying down.

As she was dying and slowing down to a snail’s pace, my life, in contrast, was crazy. For example, I remember spending a slow and tedious weekend with her. Then on Monday I was thrown back into my ridiculous schedule. After an hour-long commute each way to work, I fixed a large meal for a group of people and entertained until late in the evening. The next day, I had a doctor’s appointment after work and ran errands to do all the things I don’t have time for during the day. As I straggled into work on Wednesday, I almost laughed aloud at a Bible study I had to edit called, “The Gift of Boredom.”

As I read over this study, I realized how valuable such a gift is. It made me think of the time I’d spent with my mother the weekend before. Because her schedule was so relaxed, I relaxed too. When I sat with her, we often had times of silence and my mind drifted over many things. I felt bored when I was with her because her life was such a contrast to mine, but it forced me to slow down and listen to God. In my harried world, this was a much-needed time.

Now that she’s gone, I’m having trouble slowing down in the same way. I tend to pack every minute with activities. Even when I have a devotional time during the day, it’s often filled with reading and journaling that fills my mind with more thoughts and conviction of things that I should do. And I often want God to do something amazing in those times. I want to be wowed by some new insight or challenged to some great ministry that will change hundreds of lives when what I really need is just to be quiet and listen. And in order to do that, I need to be bored—something I tend to avoid like the plague.

This fear of boredom floods over into every part of my life. I find that I have trouble even watching TV without doing another task, such as folding laundry or doing something on my computer. Just sitting and watching often seems beyond me. There has got to be something wrong with that. Productivity is necessary, but for me it’s an obsession. I need to realize that sometimes doing nothing is the most spiritual thing I can do.

What do we miss by not allowing ourselves a moment to be bored? I think of the apostle Paul, who comes to mind as the greatest church planter ever and the author of much of our New Testament. And yet he spent the majority of his ministry years in prison. If he’d been constantly caught up in the day-to-day running of a church, would he have had the mind-numbing boredom that produced the depth of a book like Romans or the joy of a book like Philippians?

God allowed some of our greatest scriptural heroes to have years dominated by boredom. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem about Moses (who spent much of his life in boredom in the wilderness):

Earth is crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

I’m terribly afraid that I spend way too much time plucking blackberries. I need to take off my shoes and sit still long enough to notice the bush is afire with God.

JoHannah Reardon is the managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com. She blogs at www.johannahreardon.com and is the author of seven fictional books and a family devotional guide.

Related Tags: boredom, learning, peace, quiet, rest, stillness


Boredom. Funny that it is the whiniest cry from children and, teens. Of course my mom always had a cure for boredom when we were kids...chores.

Like you,JoHannah, I cared for my mom in the waning years of her life. In order for me to do so, God had to so something I would not have done on my own...remove me from my job so I would have time for her. When, once upon a time as a teen, I would have been bored hearing the stories of her childhood, in these past years, I couldn't get enough of them. In my heart and to God I purposed to parent her in the way that she did not parent me...so lots of foot-rubs, back-rubs, hugs and mostly just listening. And I wasn't bored...and I would give anything to have those days back.

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