I remember when I was growing up in a little town outside of Des Moines, IA called Bondurant. Often after school, on weekends, or on break from school. My twin brother and I would approach my Mom and say, “We are bored, we don’t have anybody to play with” (forget the fact we had each other). Kids by nature get bored, but my brother and I learned to be creative and entertain ourselves. We teach our children to do the same without the aid of having a constant screen in front of their faces. When one of my kids complain about being bored, I say well sometimes life is boring.
Unfortunately kids are not being taught that today. Without bemoaning technology (as I am a lover of it, and do see it’s purpose and usefulness) I don’t see that in our culture today. Kids often are not taught that boredom is ok. It is normal. But instead we have TV, iPods, PSPs, etc… and as a result we have kids who do not learn contentment. They don’t learn to cope with boredom. They demand entertainment, and it impacts relationships… for instance ever know kids who didn’t want to go away from home because there was “nothing to do” (read: They don’t have 100 channels or a Playstation).
This has been brought into the Church as well. For instance, Jim Rayburn founder of Young Life once said (and became a catch phrase among youth pastors), “It’s a sin to bore a kid.” And since youth ministry (and even the church at large) became more and more entertainment based… thankfully that is starting to be rejected (though not quickly enough) as not sustainable. We will never be able to entertain kids as well as Hollywood and what you used to attract kids is how you have to keep them.
It’s simply not sustainable, and frankly not healthy. So I wanted to share an interesting passage in Michael Horton’s book, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World. It runs totally counter to how our society acts today. In a nutshell boredom is good, but we try, in our culture, to avoid it at all costs.
For us, however, it is not the depth and richness of our experiences and relationships, but the quantity and perpetual “zing” we get out of them that matters. We are terrified of being bored. Educational videos and lessons for children are advertised as “fun” and that is a crucial criterion for everything from worship planning to evangelism in the church.
Let’s face it: a traditional Christian service of public invocation, Bible reading, prayer, preaching, and sacraments is not ordinarily fun. “It’s like watching corn grow,” as they say. There is no excuse for pastors to be so aloof, lazy or distracted from their congregation that there is no connection. Nevertheless, on an average month of Sundays, every believer should find church a little boring. I find marriage a little boring. And raising four children. And going to work every day. I am even bored by travel, although as a boy I went through the “I want to be a pilot” phase. It’s old hat now.
If we made all of our decisions based on how highly it scored today on the fun meter, we would never commit ourselves to relationships and the processes that take a long time to see any results. Our culture is falling apart over this one. The result is that we demand cargo ships full of meaningful, life-altering, transformative, explosive, and unique experiences every day and are losing our appreciation for the role that a child’s has in the grand scheme of things. Every date night has to be the Love Boat, every family vacation must fill albums worth of memories, and church can’t be church; it has to be a “worship experience” that alters one’s cell structure every time, (pg. 230).
He points out that this attitude in it’s extreme comes with dire consequences that, I believe, we are seeing in our younger generations today.
Imagine what would happen if we determined what we would learn, teach, or endure on the basis of what William James called “its cash-value in experiential terms.” Children would not learn the alphabet, the multiplication tables, primary colors, or the basic grammar of the Christian faith. School would be recess all day: filled with games and free play. There would be no great food, friendships, marriages, families, buildings, farms, athletes, or concerts. Ironically, the pursuit of instant gratification and perpetual amusement creates its own self-enclosed world of boredom. Spoiled children (of whatever age) are never satisfied, (pg. 231).
May we recapture as a culture a realization that there are benefits to boredom. We are simply entertaining ourselves to oblivion and will collectively lose the sense of what is truly great. And within the Church, Horton writes, “Our fear of God must become greater than our fear of boredom,” (pg. 232). Yes it must.