by Shawn Tucker:
Now, before you give the seemingly easy answer, “No!,” think about this for a minute. If you happened to serve a mission, were there times when you felt bored and felt guilty because you were bored? As a parent, have you ever felt bored around your children, like say listening to a long, tangential, and pointless story? And have you ever felt bad that this darling little child and her world and experiences are so excruciatingly dull for you? Or how about another experience—have you ever had a child complain that he was bored? And what did you do? Did you give him that “righteous indignation” look and then send him to do chores? After all, isn’t boredom just a fruit of one of the seven “deadly sins,” namely sloth? Isn’t boredom just the result of our failure to be properly and anxiously engaged in a good cause? And of course there is Spencer W. Kimball’s quote about having never been to a boring sacrament meeting. There is even a New Era article about “How to Never Have a Boring Church Class Ever Again.”
Maybe it is our Protestant work ethic or the idea that we have precious little time here in mortality that must be used properly or the problem of sloth, but whatever the cause there seems to be an association between boredom and sin. This seems to be the underlying question: “how could a righteous, faithful, hard-working, and enthusiastic member of the church ever be bored?”
Okay, so I will admit it, I am often bored. After about 3 hours of general conference, I tend to find it boring. Unlike President Kimball, I have found many, many sacrament meetings boring. One of the most difficult things about being a missionary for me was being bored. And finally, when my children complain about being bored, I usually tell them to clean the bathroom.
The New Era article mentioned and linked above provides some great strategies for addressing boredom. In addition, getting involved in a task or service or many other activities can replace boredom with enthusiasm. But I think that there might be something more going on with boredom. So here are some ideas.
- Being bored is painful. Repeat those four words aloud to yourself. Did you notice how just saying that being bored is painful is actually helpful. It is helpful to acknowledge that one is passing through a difficult emotional experience.
- There are times when we should not feel guilty about being bored. And that is because...
- Boredom is a common, painful, and perhaps essential part of mortality. Just as light complements darkness, boredom complements excitement, vigor, and enthusiasm. It seems unreasonable to expect to have a constantly burning enthusiasm even toward the most worthwhile of pursuits. C.S. Lewis’ demonic adviser in The Screwtape Letters tells his underling how to use naturally-occurring troughs in one’s spiritual enthusiasm to make us discouraged, disappointed, or even disillusioned (2nd letter, 3rd paragraph). Satan cannot use boredom or spiritually dry times in such ways if we anticipate that such times are part of mortality’s necessary opposition.
- Find effective ways for responding to boredom. If the first steps in responding to boredom are acknowledge its pain and to separate it from guilt, then the next step might be to devise ways to respond to it. This is important because I have found many ineffective ways of responding to boredom. Some of those include blaming an ill-prepared teacher or speaker, distracting myself in ways that distract others (read: checking NFL scores during sacrament), or just flipping through cable channels or trolling the internet. Any of those activities can numb the pain of boredom. But these are all ineffective ways of responding to boredom, and on a fundamental level they go against my values. So how can I respond in accordance with my values to the pain of boredom?
- Prepare for boredom beforehand. I train my children on how to respond to difficult situations beforehand. I talk with them about how they will answer questions about the church and about how they will respond to different temptations. This principle seems to apply to boredom as well. It is much more effective for me to plan ahead and decide how I will respond to boredom. Preparation helps me to respond better.
- While acknowledging the pain of boredom, pray for help to respond according to my preparation, and acknowledge that this, like other pain, may not go away quickly or when we would like. Yep.
- I do a great disservice to my children if I fail to acknowledge the pain of their boredom. I am coming to the conclusion that simply making my children do chores or read a book or pay attention harder does not help them understand their experiences of boredom. It doesn't help them understand the place and the role that boredom’s pain may have. It also does not give them effective strategies for addressing it. Hopefully something that I’m learning will help me train them better.
Shawn Tucker grew up with amazing parents and five younger, wonderful siblings. He served as a missionary in Chile during the Plebiscite and the first post-dictatorship election. After his mission, he attended BYU, where he married ... you guessed it ... his wife. They both graduated, with Shawn earning a BA in Humanities. Fearing that his BA in Humanities, which is essentially a degree in Jeopardy, would not be sufficient, Shawn completed graduate work in the same ... stuff ... at Florida State University. He currently teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. He and ... you guessed it ... his wife have four great children. Twitter: @MoTabEnquirer. Website: motabenquirer.blogspot.com.
Image credit: Jesús León (used with permission).