Is it possible that one of the problems facing our culture today, and particularly our kids and teens, is the lack of boredom? You might be thinking, “this cannot be an issue that we need to give attention to.” In fact, you might be thinking, “I thought getting rid of boredom was a good thing!”
Let me explain.
Our culture today is on a frantic pace to embrace new and exciting things. On top of this is parents filling up their schedules with loads of extra curricular activities. If you throw in smart phones, tablets, Netflix, Youtube and video games, kids today literally have very little time to be bored with access to screens which demand their attention and provides endless content that promises something new and exciting.
However, maybe boredom isn’t inherently bad or a thing to be avoided. As philosopher Blaise Pascal put it, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
Already we should clarify something. The issue isn’t that kids are never bored. They are indeed. The issue is that they are not being equipped to handle boredom or that it is ok to be still, with nothing to do. The real problem created by technology is that it makes it incredibly easy for parents and kids alike to avoid boredom like they avoid getting bit by mosquitoes. Let’s face it, it is easier to turn the tv on or let your child play with a phone than it is for them to embrace stillness. In fact, the accessibility of entertainment seems to suggest that boredom is inherently bad if there is such an easy remedy for it.
However, it may be possible that losing the ability to embrace boredom is adding to a deeper sadness, even hopelessness that the next generation faces. This sadness can even include what is commonly referred to as depression. Consider this quote from Ed Welch:
“Perhaps it is because they have compressed sex, drugs, and money into a shorter period of time and found them unsatisfying. With nothing new to entertain them, they are dreading the decades to come. With no particular purpose, their goal is to tolerate and survive a boring, goal-less existence that will probably be less affluent than that of their parents.”
In other words, the younger generation today is like a kid who finds all their Christmas gifts a week before December 25 and has nothing left to be excited for on the big day. In the effort to avoid the great malaise of boredom, the compression of pleasure is actually limiting the younger generations ability to look out and imagine any pleasures worth living for. The great irony here is that the effort to avoid boredom is dooming the next generation to an existence of boredom. Yes, I agree, this is a little depressing.
Thus, boredom may be useful. Let me argue that only Christianity can convince us that boredom can be truly useful.
Augustine is one of the greatest minds in the Christian church and he suggested that joy is only possible when our minds and hopes are fixed on something eternally wonderful and beautiful, namely God. He said that “true joy is the delight in the supreme beauty, goodness, and truth that are the attributes of God, of which traces may be found in the good and beautiful things of the world. “
C.S. Lewis is helpful on this point as he has thought at length on the subject of joy. He found joy in the observance and delight in the many little gifts of God that are manifested throughout this life. It is important to note that Lewis and Augustine affirm the same thing, namely, that joy cannot be found in the gifts of God if they are separated from God. True joy, by contrast, is a manifestation of God’s glorious character through creation, whether ice cream, frogs, trees, hot, cold, water, sunshine, blue skies or rain. These things do not hold joy in themselves. Only when they serve as windows into God’s glorious character is joy produced!
In fact, these theologians are merely restating something the Apostle Paul has revealed in Philippians 4:8
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We can say at least three things about thinking:
1. Thinking is a learned ability
2. Thinking is a human responsibility/discipline
3. Thinking is necessary to knowing God
True thinking is central to being human. More specifically, true thinking is necessary to see the glory of God in a blue sky or a piece of music. In other words, thinking is the ability and discipline which connects a human being to their creator, the source of endless creativity, opportunity, delight, satisfaction, excellence, and praiseworthiness.
Thinking on the part of a human being is crucially important to them growing in their awareness of the greatness of God and their relation to him. Thinking is key to a person’s practical connection to God and all the possibilities and implications of what it means to be made in his image. Psalm 46:10 says be still and know that I am God. We can say that knowing God is necessary for stillness. At the same time, stillness is also necessary for knowing God.
If a child is endlessly crammed with boredom-saving activities then they are essentially being trained to what Julie Lowe warned about: mindlessness. Who would have thought that mindlessness would be connected to the severe consequences of depression and hopelessness?
As Christian parents we have a responsibility to teach our children to embrace their boredom, to steward it as an opportunity for stillness that leads to thoughtfulness about the glories of their creator. When this connection is made true joy can be experienced in the endless possibilities of being made in the image of a God who is eternally glorious.
May our kids learn the art of thinking and observing. For the eternal joy of their souls in the glorious character of God!