Boring Isn’t Always Bad

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A guitar that only costs $150 new is not a good guitar. It doesn’t sound that good, it is not very easy to play, and it has few if any of the decorative features that make a guitar beautiful. So why do guitar manufacturers make so many of them?

There is only one reason why there are $150 guitars: because learning to play guitar, especially at first, is boring and tedious, and that is true whether you are playing on a $150 guitar or a $3,000 guitar. The majority of beginning students start to play and after a few months or even weeks get bored and stop practicing, and the guitar ends up collecting dust or stowed away in a closet. Better to have a cheap guitar stuck in a closet than an expensive one.

The issue isn’t with the guitar, however, it’s with the person. The answer to a person who is bored with practicing the guitar isn’t buying a better guitar. The nature of learning a new instrument is that it is tedious and boring, and nothing can change that.

Only those students who are motivated enough to work through the tedium of those initial lessons ever get to the point where they can play the music they enjoy. I’m guessing that’s only one out of ten beginning students.

It is not just in the early stages of learning something, when everything is foreign and strange and unnatural, that boredom is a component part that must be worked through; it is also when one is accomplished, when everything is familiar and commonplace, that things often become mundane and tedious.

In our entertainment culture, our tolerance for the familiar is getting lower and lower. We are used to being stimulated by multiple sources all at the same time as our lives are dominated more and more by screens—the movie screen, TV screen, the computer, tablet and smartphone screens. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Pinterest all bring stuff to us as fast as our broadband will allow.

I use most if not all of these things and recognize their value, but also their inherent dangers. The problem with overstimulation is that it dulls the very thing that it stimulates, requiring greater and greater stimulation in order to achieve the same level of entertainment.

We get bored with the same level of stimulation that used to excite us.

What used to entertain us now bores us.

We constantly need more.

Not for nothing, I’ve just described what happens with a drug addiction.

Think about that.

We don’t know how to be bored, how to remain in that place where we are not entertained or stimulated. We don’t see the value in boredom, or at least see the necessity of it.

Rather than seeing boredom as something to be avoided at all costs, or as an indicator that something is wrong, we need to see that it is a component part on the way to something of greater value.

There is much about spiritual growth that is old and mundane. We study the Bible, a book that is thousands of years old and parts of which make us feel like we are learning a musical instrument or a new language for the first time.

There are also parts of which we are very familiar, so familiar that we are tempted to simply scan them because we already know what they have to say.

And to be honest, for me prayer has always been like learning a strange, foreign musical instrument. I’ve never felt like I’ve ever gotten beyond that beginning lesson book where I’ve struggle to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” My only comfort is in the statement by the celebrated Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who said, “We do not want to be beginners [at prayer], but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!”

In worship we still do things that haven’t been “fresh” for over two thousand years: communion, baptism, the reading of Scripture, singing religious songs, listening to a message—pretty much everything in a typical worship service, regardless of style or denomination.

As a pastor I want to make all of these things as engaging as possible; and while I fully accept that responsibility, I am only willing to go so far.

To go farther would not only distort the very nature of these spiritual disciplines, but would simply feed the modern addiction for more and more entertainment and more and more stimulation.

Image by © CanStockPhoto

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