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FIRST-PERSON: Try a little boredom

GRAPEVINE, Texas — Aren’t we restless people? It seems our restlessness has expanded with our ability to hold endless long-distance conversations — or to be distracted within a few feet from one another.

That’s what I think when I see people sitting at a nice restaurant punching their phones under romantic candlelight.

Some make a fuss about this latest technology and how it changes our brains, but I don’t think that is a new thing. We long for something more.

On the surface this “connectedness” seems like the opposite of contentment. The apostle Paul’s famous statement in Philippians 4 of contentment “in whatever circumstances I find myself” sets a high standard for satisfaction. Does that mean that Paul would have been equally happy with or without an iPhone X?

While I don’t rage against our current level of technology, I do think we’ve crossed a line of immediacy and unlimited access that’s revolutionary. What we’ve lost is down time or boredom, if you prefer.

Boredom was the bane of childhood by the middle of July each year. Parents were oppressed by whiny kids who didn’t like any of the choices available. There was “nothing to do.” The choices have exploded in number and scope but I still hear of children with nothing to do. At this stage of life I’m never bored; the mid-summer experience of childhood looks remarkably like peace from this view.

Let me recommend boredom to you. This is the time when you can hear the still, small voice in your head. It’s the time when you are convicted, encouraged and reminded by the Holy Spirit of those things you’ve learned during busier times. Quiet periods can be the times when you plan or think creatively about things you’ll need to do another time. With practice it can be a time when trivial things like viral videos no longer break in to your awareness.

My boring time is often during a road trip, driving or even waiting for a plane. My coworkers experience this by receiving several annoying calls from me as I have ideas or just-remembered commitments to address. It’s productive and reflective. The urge to reach out to someone distant can be curbed until you actually have something to say. The need to be affirmed or amused by others can be set aside for increasing periods of time, with practice.

Unless you learn to do this I’m not sure how a person even prays or worships. I’ve seen folks come to worship with Bluetooth devices in their ears; others text sermon quotes or send photos of the music service. How do they stay where they are mentally if they never stop thinking of all those people “out there”? It’s an honest question because I know mature and godly people who do things like this.

The desire for more is not bad. Improvement is a byproduct of a specific dissatisfaction, as is innovation. These are God-given urges that reflect His image in us. We were made to improve broken creation. But maybe the constant amusement available to us is like junk food that fills up our desire for something more without satisfying the appetite.

Here are some ideas:

— Unless you’re a Navy SEAL or on call for a heart transplant, consider leaving your phone in the car during church or at least powered off.

— Ban electronic friends from meal times, that is, if you are eating with someone in whom you have a measure of interest.

— Try turning off the radio for an hour or so while driving. Just think about stuff, listen and pray (with your eyes open please). A bonus might be that you begin to notice all the ominous sounds your car makes to warn you of its impending demise.

— Kill the beeper that announces new emails. No doubt, it’s Pavlovian.

— Read a book (one made of paper) written by someone who died before you were born.

— Take a walk without ear buds.

— Consider a tech-free night each week, especially if you have kids in the house.

— Stop texting while you’re driving. OK, I know none of you do but somebody sure does.

There is no irony in the fact that this column is posted online and that you may be reading it on your phone. I have no essential beef with the newest tech, but I am concerned at the price we often pay for non-stop stimulation. If our marvelous inventions are worth using, they are worth using wisely in moderation and to our spiritual benefit.

    About the Author

  • Gary Ledbetter