The Power of Boredom in a Culture of Distractions
By Danielle Rhodes
It was another lazy Saturday. My husband, Jarrod, and I were in the midst of some TV show marathon, while our son played on the floor with his toys. All of a sudden, a familiar and extremely annoying feeling washed over me. I immediately became agitated, glared at Jarrod (as if it were his fault) and uttered two little words that I haven’t spoken in years: “I’m bored.” Jarrod glanced at me, somewhat bewildered, and shrugged his shoulders. I paced for a few minutes before deciding to go sit on our porch swing and let my mind wander.
It is the general consensus of most people that boredom can be awful! I spent many hours as a youth worker planning every moment of an event in hopes of avoiding that dreaded lull. It seems that this task is only getting harder. We serve a generation to whom entertainment is constantly available and readily accessible. We feel like we have to compete with the entertainment of smart phone apps, iTunes, and texting with friends. May the loudest distraction win! But that’s not a game we can win. We don’t want student ministry to become yet another distraction.
During my recent battle with boredom, I discovered an amazing truth: boredom isn’t bad. In fact, when used correctly, it can become an amazing ministry tool. Here are a few pointers to help our over-stimulated students (and ourselves) embrace boredom:
1) Boredom is real. This point seems obvious, but as we will discuss later, the phrase, “I’m bored” can mean many different things. Yet sometimes, “I’m bored,” means just that. For example, you wouldn’t take the average 14-year-old student to a graduate school physics lecture. It’s beyond their capacity to understand and, therefore, is irrelevant and boring for them. You’ll get the same response if you take them to a second grade classroom. Listen to your students. Explore faith and disciple them by doing a little homework and discovering what they are gifted in and passionate about. Use their boredom as guard rails to determine if you’ve gone over their heads or if you aren’t challenging them enough. You’ll probably find that some students get bored easily, while others have a longer attention span. It’s impossible to cater to every student we serve, but adapting your presentation and activities to fit multiple personality types can encourage and challenge a wider range of students.
2) Overstimulation is not the answer. In a desperate attempt to keep students from losing interest, youth events are jam-packed with flashy lights, loud music, crazy games, and the latest Christian trends (not that any of these things are bad in and of themselves). But when every event is packed full to bursting, we train students to believe that they must always find something exciting for an experience to be meaningful. The gospel of Jesus Christ is exciting . . . when you understand it. Getting to that place of understanding isn’t always a smooth emotional high. Our faith journeys frequently move between joyous and devastating, exciting and painfully dry. How are we preparing our students for the inevitable “dark nights” that come before the dawn?
3) Read between the lines. As I mentioned earlier, “I’m bored,” doesn’t always mean, “I’m actually bored.” Sometimes it means “I’m confused” or “I’m tired” or “I’m distracted.” The only way to decipher the meaning of this phrase is to know your students. Don’t just assume you know what’s causing your students to zone out—ask them. You might discover that something devastating is happening at home, keeping their mind far from your lesson. You might discover that others want their friends to see them as aloof and cynical, so they adopt that persona—in truth, they’re self-conscious and could use a self-esteem boost. Use boredom as an opportunity to dig deeper with your students.
4) Encourage creativity. When I announced to my husband that I was bored, I was actually demanding that he find something to entertain me. With his shrug, he refused—and in that refusal, my mind was freed. Unorganized idleness can lead to mischief, but structured idleness can lead to great discoveries and innovations. Guide students by suggesting open-ended, yet positive alternatives to wallowing in boredom (like taking a walk, writing in a journal, or creating art). Many gifts have been discovered during battles with boredom.
5) Discover the spiritual disciplines. I am definitely not an expert in the spiritual disciplines, but a few of them have worked really well in my faith walk. For example, the disciple of silence is one I often go to when I’m feeling bored. It allows me to embrace my boredom as opposed to running from it. I often start by reciting Scripture to myself, which slowly leads me to praying and listening for the Lord’s direction. There are enough spiritual disciplines that at least one is sure to connect with any student during a lull. Help them use boredom to grow as disciples rather than hopping on the phone to be entertained.
Remember, no one in the history of the world has ever died of boredom. Embrace the lull. Use boredom as an opportunity to encourage creativity and spiritual growth in yourself and in our students.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry […]