The Art of Doing Nothing

It’s summertime! It’s time for vacations, trips to the lake, cookouts, and boredom. Yes, that’s right – boredom.

Anyone who has school-aged kids or has memories of being that young knows what I’m talking about. It takes about exactly 36 hours of summertime for our children to look around and say, “I’m bored!”

And then the look of exhaustion falls over my wife as she imagines the energy she will expend entertaining 2 rambunctious balls of energy 18 hours a day for the next 10 weeks.

Our culture offers us non-stop entertainment 24 hours a day. Boredom often seems like the enemy. But is boredom always bad? In a recent article for Relevant, Kristin Tennant says maybe not:

Can you remember the last time you were bored? And I don’t mean bored in a scanning-Instagram-while-waiting-for-a-friend sort of way, but truly bored—with nothing to do.

I was great at boredom as a kid. “I’m bored!” was probably the most common of the slightly whiny phrases my parents put up with. But now, that feeling I dreaded as a kid—of flat, empty, unchanging time creeping by like a stretch of Nebraska interstate—fascinates me. I know what it’s like to pass time being lazy or frivolous, but I can’t imagine what it would feel like now to be truly bored.

She goes on to suggest that boredom may actually help our spiritual lives:

Doing nothing goes against our drive as individuals and the entire grain of our culture. Most of us may not even know how to leave room for nothing, let alone how to do nothing. Even the way we phrase it—”doing nothing”— suggests that nothingness is still an act, something we do (worthy of putting on our to-do lists).

And maybe it should be put on a to-do list, or scheduled in blocks of “nothing time” on the calendar. I’m honestly not sure how one gets really good at being bored, but I think we stand to lose a lot if we don’t figure it out.

We lose access to our best creativity and problem-solving skills. As the article by Lindstrom points out, “When we’re at our most bored we’re forced to push our creative boundaries, and unearth the root of whatever problem we’re working on.” It seems possible that as we increase our emphasis on efficiency, we decrease innovation and the ultimate effectiveness of the outcome.

We also risk losing touch with ourselves. Without boredom, you lose the things that would make you, you—even if you had been born 100 years ago and didn’t have a smartphone for passing the time. Although the life you live is impacted greatly by where and when you live, the person you were created to be is not dependent on those factors. More space in your life can help you uncover and better understand who you are.

And finally, as Christians, filling all our minutes leaves less room for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Listening to God, following His detours, and being available to His people—they all require more open-ended time and space. As author Ann Voskamp said in her talk at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, most of us are rushing through our days, “blurring moments into one unholy smear … In all of our rushing, we’re like bulls in china shops: We break our own lives.”

If we want our lives to be holy and whole again, we need a little space … for nothing.

What Tennant is arguing for sounds an awful lot like creating margins.

I admit that I’m not very good at boredom. My technologies afford me the ability to avoid it at all costs. But maybe, just maybe, allowing space for unfilled time can be key to our mental, emotional & spiritual health.

Are you good at being bored? What things do you use to keep boredom at bay? Do you think a little boredom could be beneficial to your life?

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