Pastor’s Friday Comments (08.28.20)

Because the level of restrictions, fear of the unknown, and uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic were in the forefront of our thoughts and our conversations back in March and April, most of us probably didn’t give much consideration to what has become for many a real problem: boredom.

No matter how busy you are – suddenly having to be a tutor to your kids, trying to work at home while living with other people, figuring creative ways to do your job – you’ve still got a lot of discretionary time, time that you once spent going out with friends, watching your kids play sports, shopping in crowded stores. 

Therapists have worried that the isolation connected with pandemic restrictions could lead to depression and anxiety, and for some it obviously has. However, in a recent editorial in The New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychology, asked whether the fears of an upsurge of pandemic-induced mental illness are warranted – or if we are confusing boredom with depression. He commented, “Many of my patients who have struggled with depression and anxiety have, surprisingly, not experienced flare-ups of their psychiatric illnesses over the past few months. They do, however, say that they feel bored and frustrated. Lots of friends and colleagues, too, say that life has taken on a stultifying quality of sameness.”

I certainly don’t want to disregard the possibility that some people are struggling with depression, but for most of us I think it is that “stultifying quality of sameness” that is getting us down. There is very little change in routine from week to week and few opportunities to shake things up.

The best answer I can offer to this ennui is the same one I have been advocating for months now: behave yourselves (wear a mask, social distance, avoid crowds, take appropriate measures if you have COVID symptoms) and advocate that everyone you know do the same. If we can do that, as other countries have shown, we can, if not return to normal, at least get out and move around more.

In the meantime – a phrase that implies you’re waiting on “this time” to end – surely, as Christians, we can find positive release from boredom. Christianity is all about relationships, both with our Creator and with creation. Those relationships don’t end just because life changes.

This might be a good time to recognize that we don’t always have to be doing something. It’s okay just to be. Find a quiet place to meditate and pray. You can find plenty of online resources to tell you how to do it, but you’ll get a lot of benefit out of just sitting or walking. Not reading, not over-thinking, not piddling, just being. It will be a struggle at first, and, if you’re living with someone else, you’re going to be worried that they are judging you for your idleness, but you’ll get over it. If you want a tangible indication that it’s good for you, take your blood pressure before and after thirty minutes of stillness. You’ll be convinced meditation is worthwhile.

For Christians, that meditation will probably lead to praying, but maybe not the kind of praying you would expect. We usually think of praying as telling God about our lives and informing the Deity about what should be done about our problems. If we’ll just shut up for a while, God will have a chance to speak. There might be a message you need to hear, even if it is nothing more than “God loves you.”

Boredom also affords you the opportunity to connect with those other relationships, especially people you aren’t able to see right now. Don’t text; make a phone call. Don’t send an email; write a letter. (It takes a little longer to get there, but you would be surprised at the impact getting something in the mail besides political flyers and sales brochures has on a person.)

There are plenty of less “spiritual” ways to combat boredom. Take up a new hobby, exercise, finish that book you started months ago. They’re all fine. But don’t let this opportunity for idleness that has been forced upon you go to waste. In Ephesians 5:15-16, the Apostle Paul exhorted, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” This is the only time we’ve got. Let’s make the most of it.