Boredom is a peculiar ailment. I’ve come to understand boredom in my life as the lack of meaningful work and inspiring ideas. Which is to say, one can become bored in the flurry of meaningless work and overwhelming onslaught of ideas. Sustained chaos conjures up its own brand of numbing boredom.
During my own recent bout with boredom, a friend observed that he stagnates when he is without a tangible list of things to do and people to meet. The images implied in the word “listlessness” are a literal experience for him. I feel much the same. Without meaningful to-dos, it’s easy to begin feeling like a lot of life is a to-don’t.
When the waters around me aren’t moving me further downstream into new places, my imagination stagnates like a salty swamp.
In my experience, imagination stagnation can take many forms: mindlessly binge-watching the latest internet serial drama; telling myself that I will only try to solve the puzzle on my phone app one more time… for an hour; fighting to put together 100 coherent words for a blog post (ahem); feeling disinterested in other people and their meaningful creative work; and the inability to think about what I’d rather be doing.
It’s no wonder that low-grade depression and boredom are eager bedfellows. Lack of creative stimulation starves the imagination and feeds feelings of low worth and inability.
But even the busiest, the most seemingly successful, those who are satisfied with the progress of their life and career can face this kind of listless boredom on occasion. Perhaps it strikes those individuals all the more severely because they are accustomed to making meaning through the high pace of activity in their lives.
As Christian people, we are told to make meaning out of our lives, to discover our calling, our vocation.
Christian vocational discernment is more than discovering one’s lifelong career during the first year of college and calling it good. Christian vocational discernment is a lifelong journey of noticing where God is at work around us, noticing when the light in our eye refracts in more brilliant and colorful ways, helping us to see God and God’s people more clearly.
Christian vocational discernment is not about funneling young people into ministerial professions, but walking alongside all people to discover how God is at work in all parts of their life, including their paid and unpaid work, their community and church commitments, and in their families and friendships.
Christian vocational discernment discards the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and asks, “What do I want to do so that I can be more faithful to what God has already created within me?”
Christian vocational discernment looks at the listlessness of stagnated boredom and the chaos of overworked boredom and says, “Remember why you were baptized? It ain’t for this!”
When I began discussing my experiences with boredom, creative blockage and stagnated imagination, my friends and colleagues were a bit surprised, but carefully listened. Some suggested hobbies, others rest. Mostly, they knowingly nodded.
We’ve all been there. Unsure of what’s next and feeling a bit out of water in the meantime. It was in those conversations that I was challenged to just start writing about my boredom and listen to the silence, to explore new places and share conversations with different people.
It was in these conversations that I realized that boredom wasn’t a time to waste away or thing to be wasted. Rather, my boredom compels me to ask better questions about what God has created in me to do. My boredom compels me to dust off a bit of life’s hubris and become vulnerable again to the possibility that there is good work to do to build God’s kingdom and that I have been invited to participate.