Boring! It’s the final condemnation, the complete put-down. Parents hear it after a concert or on a family vacation or in church. Actually, it’s pronounced, “Boooriing!” and it seems to emerge from the depths of disgust. It should be a four-letter word. The epithet never loses its power to terrify. Children, with blunt honesty, hurl the accusation like a hand grenade toward anything they consider undeserving of their presence, but adults, though perhaps more politely circumspect, fear it and feel it and flee it just as much.
In 1958 the American writer Barnaby Conrad was badly gored in a bullfight in Spain. Eva Gabor and Noel Coward were overheard talking about the incident in a New York restaurant. “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.”
The boredom we are given
Since we all experience boredom, it’s worth thinking about. Like the gender of those who suffer it, boredom comes in two basic kinds—the boredom we choose and the boredom we are given.
What can you say about a person who is bored standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or bored in the presence of close friends, or bored listening to the music of Bach or Ellington, or bored watching Joe Montana complete a 30-yard pass? I suppose few would be interested in all these things. But if nothing penetrates the wall of indifference, something has died deep within. One can slumber through life without ever really waking up. Through lazy neglect, the ground of the soul can get too hardened to receive the common showers of blessings that fill a good and marvelous creation.
Such boredom results from turning our backs on what life has to offer; it is the ultimate lewd gesture of contempt. The church has called this one of the “seven deadly sins”—the sin of acedia, the sin Frederick Buechner describes as “a form of suicide.” It is a choice for death, a willing separation from the joys of life.
But another boredom afflicts us, and the church has rarely acknowledged it: the sort inherent in life itself. We do not choose it. It comes from being made for something more than we now experience. If the first type of boredom has to do with an inner dullness to worldly joys, this second type has to do with an inner glory that can never find fulfillment within worldly limitations.
We were made in God’s image, and this means we were made for something more than an existence torn apart by self-centeredness and limited by death. We were made for the Promised Land, we could say, but we’re not there yet and the wilderness can be pretty boring. This boredom isn’t sin. In fact, it’s a witness to our greatness. Being bored with a five-bedroom house at the beach, for example, may reveal a need for nothing less than the spaciousness and splendor of the kingdom of God. Being bored with a loved one may show hunger for an ecstasy for love that can be satisfied only through intimate communion with God.
Whatever the cause, boredom is not pleasant. It is like coming home from the dentist with a mouth deadened by anesthetic: You don’t feel anything, but the very lack of feeling hurts. You cannot wait for the numbness to wear off. So boredom cries out for relief.
Donald W. McCullough, “Anything but Boredom!: Half the Sins of Humankind Are Caused by the Fear of Boredom. But Boredom Can Be the Path to Holiness as Well,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1991), 30.