Boredom vs. Duty
Everyone gets bored. There isn’t a parent alive who has not been plagued by a bored child. Not a boring child, but a bored one. “I’m so bored!” comes the moaning cry from one who has iPods, TVs, DVRs, a car, friends, malls down the street, and so forth. And there isn’t a parent alive who wasn’t once a bored child who is now a bored adult. Surrounded by stuff to do and things to see and engage in, still we’re plagued with boredom. And the answer to boredom never seems to work. Go outside; read a book; build a bird house; just do something! The laundry list of stuff to do is limited only by our imagination. Funny how boredom isn’t so easily overcome just by stuff to do.
In fact, stuff to do never gets rid of boredom. It merely postpones it. No matter how engaging the stuff to do is, as soon as the stuff to do is done there is nothing to do and we are once again bored. So people try to fill boredom up with all manner of things. From toy trains to playing sports to getting wasted to getting high to going to the gym to having an affair to being all around punks that smash mailboxes and torture small animals. Everyone is trying to fight the relentless foe called “boredom”. But the weapons with which we fight are fleeting at best. They are really nothing other than hobbies; things to do to keep us from being bored. Some of them, some hobbies – like model trains – are harmless (unless you spend all your savings on little people, houses, and tracks), and some – like gambling – can be very destructive. But they’re all there for one purpose: to stave off boredom.
But boredom can’t really be defined simply by having nothing to do. That’s surface boredom. Everyone can find something to do. And we have all experienced boredom even while doing stuff. We can be bored at and even by our work. We can be bored with sports. We can be bored with our families or our home life even while we’re busy with a million things to do. No, boredom goes deeper than simply sitting on the couch unwilling to go outside or pick up a book or play chess with a friend.
At the heart of boredom is rebellion.
Is the sun bored with it’s coarse soaring through space? Is the earth bored with its revolutions and rotations? Are fish bored of swimming? Are cows bored of lowing? No. They’re not bored. They’re doing as their Creator told them to do. The sun finds its purpose in shinning and spinning. The earth finds its purpose in going round and round the sun. Fish find their purpose is swimming in the big blue. Your dog who lazes around and lazily tosses his toys around isn’t bored either. Just pick up his tennis ball and you’ll see how un-bored he is. He is waiting on his master. But he isn’t bored. Being bored is a purely human experience because rebellion is a purely human experience.
Humans are bored because humans rebel. The shark that eats the hapless swimmer isn’t rebelling, it’s living out the fate of fallen creation: destruction and chaos. The sea that produces a tsunami isn’t sinning or rebelling, it is doing as man has let it do: it is working in chaos, which is the result of our rebellion. In Adam’s sin creation is cursed. Creation, set in order by God, is plunged into chaos by man. Now creation is simply doing what chaos does: destroying itself.
But men rebel. Men are bored. We are not content, as the sun is content, to do our duty. In Eden our duty was the same as it is now: subdue the earth, have dominion, be fruitful and multiply, care for creation. It’s the same duty Noah was given after the flood. But man has rebelled. We have cast off our duty and have searched for fulfillment somewhere else. We have searched for satisfaction in forbidden fruit. We have searched for satisfaction in loving ourselves. But that’s not our duty. Our duty is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
A husband gets bored with his wife because he loves himself more than he loves her. She won’t satisfy because he’s in it for himself, not for her. So he seeks satisfaction wherever and from whomever he can get it. A wife gets bored with her husband because she wants more than him out of life, so she neglects family for novels or a career or the bottle. Fathers and mothers neglect their sons and daughters because they buy the lie that there’s nothing in it for them. They have other things to do. Even now as I write this my two- and four-year-old are asking for chocolate milk. No big deal, but I am angered that they want to pour, stir, laugh, and get straws while I am not getting to do what I want to do. I am bored of engaging my children because I don’t love them as I ought. I wanted to ignore them so I could write about the evils of boredom. Sin is everywhere and always because we are always rebelling. Sometimes it’s more obvious than at other times, but it’s always there. Boredom is why we want to be left alone by our children (as I even now want desperately to be left alone and finish writing this!). We love ourselves and they disrupt our self-serving love.
And boredom leads to hatred.
If our children can’t satisfy, if our wife can’t satisfy, if our husband can’t satisfy, what’s the point of engaging them? What’s the point of listening to the insentient chatter of your four-year-old? What’s the point of flowers or trying to be romantic or teaching our children the faith? We might as well just do the bare minimum and feed and clothe them; say we love them but don’t follow through by actually loving them (be doers of the word and not hearers only). We begin to seek to avoid them rather than be in communion with them. They become nothing but a drain on us. We are bored with them so we begin to hate them; to resent them. We buy the lie that they are what keeps us from being fulfilled.
Repent. They are not the problem; you are. You can’t find final fulfillment in this life because this life is fallen, chaotic, and headed for destruction and because you are a sinner, a rebel. You don’t do your duty. It is true that doing our duty won’t satisfy. But that’s not because of the duty we have or because of those to whom we owe our duty, but because of us and our sin. We are rebels one and all.
So what’s the answer to boredom? Christ. He is the answer because He is the resurrection. Just as He is the answer to death, so He is the answer to boredom. And as we must wait for the resurrection of all flesh and so we wait for our deaths to be answered, so we must wait for boredom to be answered by the return of our King. For now we press on toward the goal, doing our duty because it is ours to do, not because we will find satisfaction in it or because we are better for having done it. We fight the good fight. Daily Prayer and Catechesis is hard. Training our children in godliness is much harder than hoping some of it rubs off in Sunday school. Attending the Lord’s gathering on the Lord’s day (and as often as it is announced) can be burdensome and boring. Watching TV is easier than doing the dishes. But so what? It is your duty. And God is merciful.
Your Lord has promised that whoever looses his life for His name’s sake and for the sake of the gospel, will gain it. The one who looses his life is the one who lives for other people, thus dying to himself. He will receive it back in this life a hundred fold now in this time – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands – with persecutions, that is temptations and failures, and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29, 30). The more you do your duty, the more your heavenly Father will train you in righteousness so that you do find contentment and satisfaction in your duty, thus finding contentment in others. You will learn to love as you have been loved. This is the mercy of your heavenly Father. And when our rebellion rears up and boredom seizes us and we begin to ignore and hate, we repent. We go to confession. We live in daily repentance, drowning the old Adam with all sin and evil desire. We await with all creation in eager anticipation the revealing of the sons of God when we will love as we have been loved and see one another face to face, finding satisfaction, fulfillment, and contentment in God and our neighbor.
Boredom will inflict and infect us as long as we are in this mortal flesh. So we repent and seek to do our duty, asking for grace when we are bored and asking for mercy when we rebel. The weapon against boredom isn’t stuff to do. We fight boredom by doing our duty in repentance and faith.