By Hans Zeiger
The other night, while I watched lightning dance wildly among the clouds over Montana's Little Bitterroot Lake, a young man informed me that he was bored. His was an unjust boredom, I replied. Never have we had so many things to do and witness and ponder, and never have we been so bored.
Boredom is relative. One can find great joy and fulfillment in a long afternoon of porch sitting. One can be bored at the task of skydiving or rock climbing. It's what is in the mind that counts.
July is National Anti-Boredom Month. It is a worthy war, but we tend to make matters worse when we set out to solve boredom. An example of this failure is the internet, which seeks to satiate the bored and idle amongst us. GotBoredom.com and Bored.com feature links to games and pictures and movies. CollegeBoredom.com is "helping fight the war against boredom" by publishing "random" quotes, "random" Instant Message away messages, and other randomness. The Boredom Network includes websites dedicated to High School Boredom, Work Boredom, Boredom Ville, Boredom Games, The Boredom Times, and Bored Sh**less.
One might suppose that all of the technology and all of the information and all of the busyness and all of the opportunities of our age would preclude boredom. In fact it promotes boredom.
Our society tells us that we need stuff to do, but sometimes we do so much stuff and have so much stuff that we don't have any time to think about all the important stuff. It is quite possible that the busiest man alive is the most bored man.
Throwing more activities at the problem is not the solution. The solution is less busyness and less clutter. For it has become difficult to see the simple, lasting things for all the bright and gaudy things. We have forgotten that the things of the spirit, and in our vain attempt to celebrate the things of the flesh, we miss out on what is truly exciting and exhilarating.
Take my hometown, Puyallup, Washington. It's home of the nation's fifth largest Fair and year-round activities at the Western Washington Fairgrounds. A river cuts through the valley, there's dozens of parks for recreation, nearby lakes and a creek system. There's a gigantic mall on the South Hill, thousands of youth work opportunities and hundreds of choices of after-school activities, sports, and clubs. Seattle and Tacoma are nearby, Mount Rainier looms over the city, the Puyallup River empties into the vast waters of the Puget Sound. And there are the things common to anyplace, USA: television, internet, radio, books, movies, cars, art, music, food, schools, churches, people.
"Puyallup can be fun, but it can be boring," a 13-year old girl told the Seattle Times recently regarding my hometown. Puyallup's skating rink asks on it's website, "Too boring? Come inside to play!" A report about the quality of life for youth in my town reveals, "Many of the teenage youth described feeling bored."
Boredom is not about circumstances; it is about how we misjudge our circumstances. Boredom is not the consequence of an event; it is a depraved state of mind.
"Mankind can endure anything but boredom," warned Russell Kirk, noting that late Rome, like modern America, was bored. By the Fourth Century, the Roman Empire had become "an empire in which many felt that life no longer was worth living."
Life is not worth living when we forget that we are dying. Only when we know that we are dying can we live, and only when we know that we are spiritually dead can we live eternally. But we blindly assume ourselves to be alive, we surround ourselves with things to see and hear and do, we forget God, and so we make life not worth living.
Boredom is borne of sloth, the seventh deadly sin. Men and nations fall from that sin, says Solomon. "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor."
There's still a lot of hard work out there, but hard work without meaning can be great folly. Mothers, farmers, teachers, priests, soldiers and builders - these are worthy occupations. Traders and gamblers, bureaucrats and bums, internet merchants and porn shop workers - these lack the intrinsic value of the first list.
A plethora of non-essential jobs indicate that economic prosperity is on the rise, but in a spiritual sense, our poverty is deep. We live for the flesh, but the flesh does not satisfy, so we live for the next flesh. It's at 5:00, or it's on the weekend, or it's on the next vacation.
Our needs are met, so we work for leisure. It doesn't always occur to us that work should be a fulfilling and dignifying endeavor, like life itself ought to be.
Boredom is of no advantage to those of us who seek the renewal of our civilization. Boredom is the evil that opposes the command of Paul to "redeem the time, because the days are evil." As Jesus taught, we must work "while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work."