by Becky De Oliveira—
I used to get bored. “Mom,” I’d wail, “there’s nothing to do!” My mother would always retort, “Clean your room.” This was not even remotely satisfying as a response and just made me wail harder. My mother was unmoved.
I continued to experience boredom until I was 21 years old—a full three years into a college degree. Living in Walla Walla, Washington, I’d often moan about how there was “nothing to do in this pathetic small town.” I never reflected on the meaning of my boredom—what it might reveal about my character. It seemed a given that the world should be doing more to keep me entertained and occupied. It was the world’s fault (Walla Walla’s anyway), not mine.
And then I found myself on a Norwegian train for 34 hours—all the way to the Arctic Circle (a town called Lønsdal) and back down to Oslo—with nothing to read, no paper to doodle on, and nothing to munch on except stale bread and a jar of gummy raspberry jam. I spent these hours gazing out the window and adjusting my position (dismally seated upright in a two-seats-per-row configuration) whenever my backside or legs began to feel numb. I watched Norwegian children scurry up and down the aisles with bottles of Coca-Cola, huge poppy seed muffins, and bags of chips from the snack trolley and considered the possible ramifications of distracting the kids long enough to steal their food, which tended to land on the floor anyway. I was dehydrated, but made frequent trips to the restroom anyway—just to have something to do. At some point along the way, I realized that my boredom was a fatal character flaw. You will probably never see any of this again, I thought. Soak it up. Pay attention. So I started to really look and to feel. Even now, I remember the landscape. I remember how it felt to be so hungry.
A few years ago, I was again traveling to Norway and I ended up in the Copenhagen airport waiting for 13 hours for a connecting flight to Stavanger. This could have been a boring situation—but lucky for me, I was in my 40s and permanently cured of boredom. As airports go, Copenhagen’s is pretty interesting. I had 10 Danish krone (about a $1.50) that I had received in change for something I’d bought on my SAS flight from Chicago, and I created a little game for myself in the airport. First I went through every shop, every newsstand, slowly, and made a list of everything I could afford to buy for 10 krone. That list is as follows: an apple, a pear, a banana, a packet of yeast. There were a number of items that were just out of my price range (potato chips, morning buns, candy bars). I’ll spare the suspense: in the end, I bought the pear and it was delicious. I ate it very slowly while watching all the interesting people scurrying past. I had a pretty good day.
Nowadays, I never say I’m bored. This is partly because I have raised two children and my part in this particular life sketch has changed—my line is, “Clean your room,” and I utter it with the conviction that many a classically trained stage actor would envy. But I also never say I’m bored because I generally don’t feel it—and if I begin to feel the stirrings of anything approaching boredom, I deal with it like a hypochondriac reaching for the bottled zinc at the first sign of a scratchy throat. (Perhaps I even clean my room.) I remind myself that life is a gift and my presence here in this moment is nothing short of a miracle. If I can’t find some interest in the world around me, what’s the point?
I wonder what a cure for spiritual boredom might be. So many of us struggle with our relationship with God—perhaps looking for novelty, for something exciting (but not too exciting!) to happen. We expect a lot from our lives and from our spiritual journeys—adventure, romance. It can be difficult to accept the daily plodding quality of fulfilling duties, faithfully and with joy. I appreciate this verse: “I am not saying this because I am in any need, for I have learned to be content in whatever situation I am in” (Philippians 4:11, ISV).
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.