Monday, October 29, 2012

Our reluctance to put up with boredom

The human psyche has an aversion towards the mundane. We constantly search for activities that excite and titillate, thrill and delight us with new and novel experiences.  Marketers, knowing this, dedicate their time and resources just to give their customers what they want, thus creating an unending cycle of consumerism.

What lies at the heart of this yearning is what many moralists would call the fear of boredom.  We are dependent on distractions and entertainment, because it gives us a false sense of purpose.  The addiction to novelty is what causes us to use people and love things, when we should be loving people and using things.  The instant gratification culture, made even faster by the Internet and portable electronic devices, doesn’t help either. When we loathe developing a discipline of waiting and delaying gratification, the spillover effect becomes evident in other areas of our lives. 

To distract us from boredom, in an attempt to remove us from our aloneness, many have even turned to sex.  When this happens, it turns a sacred and Godly act into a recreational social activity, or worse, a means for fame and popularity, making it into something utilitarian, self-serving and life-sapping.  The fear of boredom can indeed enter into so many other areas of our lives and can even cause us to lose our moral compass.  

At the heart of it, we have lost the ability to stay in the boredom and dullness that, ironically, is necessary for true growth and maturity.  Mature married couples as well as mature chaste singles know this to be true.  What is fidelity but the willingness to ‘hang in there’ when all excitement and thrills of romance are a thing of the past?  Staying faithful to one person with their wrinkles and age-spots without wanting to be delighted by the younger and more attractive options is not an exciting thing.  Staying faithful to an hour of prayer in the adoration room where the Eucharist waits is hardly something that is called a ‘thrill’.  Many don’t see it, but even singles who are mature and stay chaste reflect an uncommon ability to live in the boredom and monotony of a disciplined waiting, and this too, is fidelity.  But the real virtue in fidelity despite the drab and familiar is that we are responding to God’s fidelity and we are imitating God’s faithfulness.

God, because he is complete in himself, has no need to be thrilled and delighted, enticed and titillated to remind him that he is alive and that he exists. When we go to the Adoration Room in faithful prayer, God has no need to make himself more than he is.  Jesus doesn’t need to break out of the Tabernacle and do a "Gangnam Style" dance to keep us entertained or to make himself “relevant” in any sort of empirical way.  God is not interested in entertaining us, because entertainment and excitement belong only to the level of our physicality.  We need to realize that we are far more than just our physicality. A maturity in our spiritual lives will help us discover that we are spiritual beings as well. 

It is when we are able to develop a taste for the silent, the mundane and the unvaried, that the other aspects of our lives to also start develop and mature.  The Missionaries of Charity (which Mother Theresa headed) begin their day with an hour of silent adoration before the Eucharist. There is an intrinsic connection between their prayer and their work for it is only after the hour of adoration that they start their day, with compassion and charity, to become Christ and to ‘adore’ him in the most rejected in society. When we discipline ourselves to sit with the mundane and ordinary, we allow our spirituality to develop and mature.

The discipline to stay in the unexciting, the ordinary and the drab changes the eyes of the heart to be able to see something healthy in the sick, something alive in the dying and something very rich in the poor.  A dedicated and regular prayer life is thus one of the best ways to readjust our vision – of life, of ourselves, and most importantly, of God.


  1. Hi Fr Luke

    If I saw Jesus jump out of the Tabernacle and do a Gangnam style dance, I would run out in fright! I burst out laughing imagining it.

    Thank you for explaining so clearly about how true maturity and growth come about with sticking through boredom. It is a necessary reminder in this challenging day and age we live in, where society sees fidelity as "boring" and "passé".

    Best regards

  2. Dearest Fr. Luke,
    Many a times, we hear youths, yes, even children complaining about boredom, and if explore deeper, a lack of firm sense of purpose is usually the root cause for their boredom. When these aimless youths grow into young adults, they usually either despair or seek desperate attempts to avoid important questions through endless mindless distractions. They fear silence and being reflective if it means facing the reality that underneath it all is nothing at all.
    As St Augustine’s famous words still hold true today – My soul is restless till it rest in God. Our spiritual DNA (as you coin it) is seeking for God in the silence, for the God who speaks to us in the silence of our hearts, and if one does not know who it is they are seeking for, silence is a scary thing.

    I have recently read a book titled “Absolute Relativism” by Chris Stefanick, foreword by Cardinal Raymond Burke.
    This book addressed what Pope Benedict XVI spoke strongly against – the profoundly disordered moral state in which the world finds itself. Relativism, as explained, is the idea that there is no universal, absolute truth but truth differs from person to person and culture to culture. In other words, truth is relative to what each person or culture thinks. Everyone can make their own truth as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. The moral compass of a relativist has nowhere to point but to himself.

    Coincidentally, after reading this book, I saw this quote from an old friend’s FB post that really speaks volumes about how relativism is taking hold – subtly and seductively into a false sense of freedom.

    I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
    ~Robert A. Heinlein

    If one is to embrace this mindset and using one’s own values and perspective as one’s own yardstick, indeed, the Christian’s values and all that Jesus taught can seem “extremist”, “rigid” or “close-minded”. And even gift of chastity and fidelity can be seen as “repressed purity”, “sexual frustration” and to be frowned upon.

    The relativist’s mantra will be “If it feels good, do it.” Indeed, it is so easy to be seduced into this “feel good, be good to yourself; do what you desire mentality”; and the consequence is alienation from God as in choosing this mentality, inwardly one is saying, my way (desires) is better than God’s (will for me), God is reserving something good from me – the oldest sin – sin of Adam and Eve. Frustrated longing disorients us from God's intent and purposes for our lives.

    Fr. Robert Barron notes that freedom is not actually the ability to do everything my little heart desires, nor is it the ability to avoid suffering. Rather freedom is being able to discipline my desires so that I am free to do the one thing that is God's will for my life in the present moment, even if that one thing and the present moment are both terribly unglamorous, and even painful.
    Jesus had died for redemption of this sin and alienation, the baton has indeed been passed from the apostles to us, who saw TRUTH, embraced TRUTH and love TRUTH, to tell others of this REAL TRUTH, REAL WAY and REAL LIFE.

    Life is too short to be bored. ;)
    Thank You Fr. God be with you always.

  3. To have a thrill fulfilled is simply to deepen our passion and yearning for it........and sadly this is the vicious cycle of frustration that we perpetuate when we live only on our physical level – or at the level of our senses. We are never ‘’at home’’ even to ourselves, never at peace, incapable of resting in the present moment or any place (for that matter)..............we are seeking to be filled full because we realize the shortness of our lives, the fragility of our humanity.
    We think our exterior search for superficial trivialities will cure our interior restlessness. But our living experience tells us and many prominent teachers of spirituality have affirmed that we are born with something missing in our lives........ just like you said, ‘’God, ( only)......... is complete in himself, has no need to be thrilled and delighted, enticed and titillated to remind him that he is alive and that he exists.’’ In a similar vein, Fr Rolheiser said, “At the end of the day, we are all, each in his or her own way, single, inconsummate, waiting..............for someone or something new to come into our lives and give us a completeness that we are now missing......................(for) None of us has the complete symphony.............”

    Knowing, then, that as human beings with limited energies, easily tired and distracted, we cannot be interesting, lively or emotionally invested all the time, we need a rhythm and a routine to sustain us in our everyday life – a high and a low....and to be able to hang on in the troughs. Perhaps this is what is meant when you said that, “It is when we are able to develop a taste for the silent, the mundane and the unvaried, that the other aspects of our lives also start to develop and mature.” So it would seem that whilst we go about our normal activities, underneath, this inchoate sense of waiting or keeping vigil is very necessary.

    God bless you, Fr

  4. Dear Fr. Luke,

    I believe that the absence of silence is a major obstacle to the development of our spiritual lives. And the world keeps telling us that we absolutely need to have this (or that) latest gadget in order to be relevant. This incessant “connectedness” is, paradoxically, keeping us from real communion with each other – and filling our senses with so much input that we don't have the time to truly reflect on the important issues of life, be it spiritual or otherwise. We have become so addicted that even to shut off our cellphones for an hour on Sunday morning seems SO difficult to do. Perhaps from now on penance should be meted out in the form of abstinence from our gadgets for a period of time!
    God Bless,