The importance of boredom

Something unexpected and disturbing happens quite often when people gather around a loved one who is dying: They get bored.

In my work as a part-time hospital chaplain, I've seen it many times. In response to an urgent phone call, family and friends rush to the hospital. Almost always, they arrive in what they were wearing at the time of the phone call. Rarely do they stop and grab a book or a deck of cards or anything else they might need for a long ordeal. Immediacy and concern for the loved one are their only thoughts.

They arrive. I get them in to see their loved one as soon as possible, depending on what nurses and doctors need to do first. A few people rush to the bed right away. I give permission to those who are more hesitant, encouraging them to touch and talk to the patient. And for the most part, they do. They hold a hand and stroke the hair of the patient. They pray. They say how much they love the patient. They tell stories. They weep. They lapse into long silences. But regardless of what they're doing, they retain an intense attentiveness to the patient. Every breath is seen. Every fluctuation on the monitors is noted. In fact, they quickly become experts on the monitors. Their entire posture leans inward toward the patient and for a long time, many refuse chairs to sit on.

But then it happens: They get bored. And they feel guilty about it. Inside themselves, I can almost hear the accusing voice say, "My loved one is dying and I can't wait till it's over and done. How terrible of me! I'll never see her again and yet I wish she'd hurry up and die."

I've been with families who were so exhausted from the intensity of it and frustrated by the boredom of it that they asked me to pray for the patient's death.

We were not created for emotional marathons. We're emotional sprinters. And boredom is rest from our emotions required for soul health. We simply can't sustain our intensities indefinitely. We need a break. And boredom is the break we need.

Boredom is one of God's best gifts to us. Boredom is empty mental and emotional space. It's a blank piece of paper inside of us, requiring nothing from us but inviting us to write something on it.

Boredom is the mother of all creativity. If there is no blank emotional and mental space inside of us, there is no room for being creative. In fact, it's that very emptiness inside us that longs for something to fill it which drives us to be creative.

Boredom is also the source of our best praying. The empty space gives us perspective on our lives which an overly full heart and mind simply can't have. But with that wide open place inside of us, we can range about, viewing our lives and reviewing ourselves with God.

But my iPhone has killed so much of my bored time. With all its apps and games and newsfeeds, I can fill every vacant moment and drive my boredom far, far away. But with that boredom gone, I lose the emotional rest I need, the creativity I might enter into, and the praying my soul craves.

So, foster boredom. Latch on to it. Don't be ashamed of it, even in the face of death. Breathe a sigh of relief and sink into. Let your mind range widely and your heart with it. Be led into creative corners and into soul-healing prayers. Cherish every bored moment.