Our church was selling its old pews a few years ago. One wag suggested we advertise them with the tag line, “You’ve slept in them at church. Now you can try them at home.” His fellow wit added, “And we can throw in one of Shayne’s CDs to sweeten the deal.”
Of course one of the most common complaints people have about church is that it is boring. It may be a mistake, however, to conclude that people are bored because church services are uninteresting. The opposite, could in fact, be true: that services are uninteresting because church people are bored. As Chesterton said, “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
Americans fear boredom. (There’s even a word for that: thaasophobia.) David McCullough tells the story of the American writer Barnaby Conrad who, in 1958, was badly gored in a bullfight in Spain. Shortly thereafter the actress Eva Gabor was having lunch with Noel Coward in a New York restaurant, and the two were overheard talking about the incident.
“Noel, dahling,” said Eva. “Have you heard the news about poor Bahnaby? He vas terribly gored in Spain.”
“He was what?” asked Coward in alarm.
“He vas gored!”
“Thank heavens. I thought you said he was bored.”
Boredom isn’t all bad. It can force people into creativity, but more often it makes people easy prey for distractions and temptations. A church service can never be an antidote for a boring life, but a life of purpose and adventure can be an antidote for boring church services.
The word “boredom” was not part of common English usage until the 18th century, and didn’t make its way into the Oxford English Dictionary until midway through the 19th. Curiously, it was when labor-saving devices and attention-grabbing distractions were becoming more readily available, that people began talking about being bored. And now, in the age of constant connection and instant gratification, boredom has reached epidemic levels.
Boredom is difficult to avoid when one’s purpose in life is comfort, prosperity, or security. Caught in the stale life of self-promotion and self-protection, people look for relief in exotic vacations, wilderness treks, action movies, pornography, and gambling. But relief is often costly and always short-lived.
The long-term solution to boredom is not to go looking for distraction but to commit to a purpose. The philosopher Peter Kreeft pointed out that “The rich fop Francis of Assisi was bored all his life―until he fell in love with Christ and gave all his stuff away and became the troubadour of Lady Poverty.” Francis escaped boredom when he found a purpose.
In Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow has his main character describe boredom as “a kind of pain caused by unused powers, the pain of wasted possibilities or talents…” Boredom does not so much result from a lack of worthwhile things to do, but from a waste of God-given abilities.
Those God-given abilities are often wasted by people who do not know they live in a purposeful world occupied by a purposeful God. Even people who believe in such a God are sometimes bored, their boredom resulting (in part) from an indistinct or distorted view of God’s involvement in the world and in their lives.
From what we can tell, Jesus was never bored. Neither were his apostles. Neither were the saints. These were people who lived in a God-bathed world, with a God-given purpose for which they employed their God-given abilities. And they taught others to do the same.
Jesus told people, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Full of joy, yes. and sometimes trouble; work, weariness, and sometimes tears; but never full of boredom.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 1/2/2016