I know this has happened to you. You wake up one morning, and for no particular reason it is February in your soul. Blue Monday. The tide is out. Nothing is visible except mud flats. There isn’t much pain, just a great and aching emptiness. And restlessness. The excitement has ebbed away from your life. Only a littered line of memories is left along the shore to mark the receding tide of your passion. You think about your job, your marriage, the vacation you are going to take in August – everything seems stale and tasteless. Nothing matters much. You have no burning dreams or lively hopes. Not even outrage. You go through the day automatically, by the numbers, without feeling. Same old rat race, (from “What to do When You’re Bored and Blue,” by Sam Keen.)
In short, you’re bored. Or, if you prefer the classier French word, you’re suffering from “ennui.”
Boredom is our number one social disease, according to Sam Keen, who wrote a book about it. And it’s growing in epidemic proportions. Boredom wasn’t even given a name until Lord Byron coined the term in 1819 in Don Juan. Not that people didn’t suffer boredom before the last century; it’s just grown so rapidly with the increase of leisure in modern times. With all the technological diversions of entertainment provided for us today, from television to computers to the movie screen, boredom should be as rare as tuberculosis, but, if anything, it is more rampant than ever. In the vernacular of the day we are “bored stiff,” “bored to tears,” “bored silly,” bored out of our skull,” and “bored to death.”
My proposition is that rather than being bored to death, one can be bored to life. Boredom is not all bad. Boredom provides balance. Friedrich Nietzsche recognized this truth in his poetic statement:
What is the task of all higher education?
To make a machine of man.
What are the means to this end?
The student must learn to be bored.
Some teachers are real good at that, but on the other hand, most students are easily bored. But the truth is solid: life isn’t lived on one high level of excitement. As Nietzsche, himself, said, no one can stand more than three days of happiness in a row. Nothing would be exciting, if life was at a fever pitch all the time. Life needs rest, as well as zest. All the great lives have contained uninteresting stretches . . . all great books contain boring portions, and, as hard as it may be for you to believe this, folks, even sermons have some boring parts (I speak here of the sermons of other preachers!)
But finding the boring parts of life is not difficult; it is to the more elusive task of finding the “gusto” that we need help. To do that we turn to the most unboring day in the life of Christianity – the Day of Pentecost …the birthday of the church.
The day began in boredom. One can almost picture the apostles milling about Jerusalem after Jesus; the excitement of their lives has departed. It is blue funk. They’re in a state of ennui. They are a part of the bored horde. They are in a state of psychic doldrums, waiting for a wind to come up to give them propulsion toward a destination that they themselves cannot identify. All of a sudden that wind comes up: “And suddenly a sound from heaven like a rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The Holy Spirit had come. Goodbye, boredom; hello excitement! “And there appeared to them tongue as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (verse 3).
In Psychology in Living Dr. Wendell White writes of a man who reached the next world suddenly and prematurely because of an unfortunate explosion. When a pleasant attendant asked for the third time in a few hours if he could do anything for the new arrival, the man answered.
“No, no,” and then suddenly, “well – yes, I believe I would like to play some golf now. Will you show me the golf course?”
“We have no golf course here.”
“Oh,” the man replied, and added, “What are those men at the end of my cottage doing?”
“They are just completing work on it. We weren’t expecting you yet.”
“I’ll go over and help them.”
“No,” said the attendant, “they will complete it for you.”
“Well, then, I’ll plant my vegetables now. I always grew some of the finest on earth.”
“I know you did, but here your vegetables will be cultivated for you.”
“All right,” the man replied, “I’ll grow flowers. I have always enjoyed doing so.”
“We have a flower gardener for you.”
“Why, of course, I should have realized that up here there is something else for me to do. What is it?”
“I don’t understand. No golf, and I’m not to do any work. If I’m not to do anything here, what’s heaven for?”
“Oh, mister,” said the attendant, “you’re not in heaven.”