Monday, November 13, 2006

On the value of boredom

(This is my column from the November issue of ChurchActs, my diocesan newspaper)

I have a recommendation for you that you're going to think is boring. But this is good boredom, productive, maybe even profitable boredom. So you need to think about it.

Boredom seems to be at the top of the list of “Things that must never happen to me” today. Our American culture has longstanding problems with the idea. Whether you call it downtime or idleness there is a distrust of the concept. “Idle hands are the devil's workshop” is a piece of alleged wisdom that has been handed down for generations. I would remind you that the devil has done some pretty good work with busy hands too.

There are studies out there that boredom is good for you. It actually gets different brain cells fired up, often the ones associated with creativity. That increased brain function can help you feel calmer, relieve stress, help you learn better and make you feel more in control. So a little boredom may be a good thing for you.

So what's this boredom I'm talking about? It's also an old concept in the faith community and one that is making something of a comeback these days. It's called Sabbath. I'd bet most of us can come up with the definition of “A day of rest”. The real question is how many of us really try to live out that concept anymore. The idea of a day of rest (a recommendation from God, no less) is really about time off from your regular life. Time off from your job, school, your everyday routine. The problem for many of us is that even our “rest/play” time has become a job. It's one thing to round up some kids from the neighborhood for a game of some sort and another to have scheduled practices, games and tournaments. So what I want you to think about is simply time to do nothing. A total break from all the things you usually do. Time that you're going to think is pretty boring.

Taking this time, this sabbath, is important. It's important because it will make you stronger. Sabbath time is meant as more than just goofing off time. Sabbath is holy time, time to share with God. It's a space in your life that isn't pressurized. Time to think about you and God, about what God wants for you and from you, and how you're doing. Out of that will grow strength, calm, and a deeper relationship with your creator. You'll also discover that it'll stop being boring pretty quickly.

So how do you do this whole sabbath thing? Trying to take a whole day off right from the start is next to impossible. So let's start small. Carve out about 5-10 minutes every day (all in a chunk) that you can set aside. Time when folks won't bother you, when you can turn off the cell phone, the TV, the computer and just sit. Don't worry about having something “to do” right away. Just start up a conversation with God. Ask the questions that bother you, talk about what really made your day, pray for the people in your life who need it. Pray for yourself. Pray for the people who make you happy and the ones who don't. After you've done that for a couple weeks add a longer sabbath once a week. Take a half an hour and do something more intensive. Read a short portion of the bible (where do you start? As Episcopalians we have a daily reading schedule available to us. It's called the Lectionary and there's one in every prayer book. Check out the section marked “Daily Office”, we're in year 2 till the end of this month, then we flip over to year 1 again. Easy!), read some other book that has to do with faith or that makes you think. Then spend the rest of the time thinking about what you read, what does it mean, why on earth did they keep that in there?

Once you've gotten started you'll find there are all kinds of other things you can do to really make your sabbath time rock. You may even get to the point where you can do a whole day of rest. From my own experience I think you'll find that things become clearer, that life becomes easier to handle and that you'll be happier.

And you certainly won't be bored.


( A note to Parents: It is vitally important that we help our kids make time for God in their busy lives. If your child wants to find a Sabbath during the day help them clear that time and protect them from intrusions. Sabbath doesn't have to be only solo time. Finding a family sabbath time can be a great practice for everyone to share.)

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