Immanuel: Exploring the Experience of Boredom

Immanuel: Exploring the Experience of Boredom

The extent to which we are capable of boredom can provide a measure of the power and intimacy of our relationship with God, as well as a wake-up call to refocus our attention. A Christian should never be bored.

Boredom: a reminder, an opportunity

In no way do I want to accuse or condemn. Rather, I want to challenge all of us (especially myself) to constantly cultivate our intimacy with God. That intimacy is why God created us. He made us very much like himself, and from the beginning has anticipated with joy the endless possibilities of ongoing, intimate relationships with his creatures. The death and resurrection of Jesus led to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit intended to channel healing and divine power into this horribly broken world; even more importantly, I believe, God’s goal in giving us his Spirit is intimacy—God with us. He adores us. It is God’s delight to be with us and in us minute by minute, to converse with us, to share our deepest pains and joys.

Our goal as believers in Jesus should be, among other things, to draw constantly closer to God—to be aware of God’s presence, to hear his voice, to be sensitive to his heart as well as to his thoughts. “Pray in the Spirit at all times” (Ephesians 6:18) is a formidable challenge, but is incomparably important. Our goal should be to let God circumscribe every aspect of our lives with his love and power every second of the day, waking and sleeping.

Constant communion with God is possible even when we’re occupied with other people or distracted by intense mental concentration. Compare your experience with a mortal human whom you know intimately. You can sit and converse, you can take a walk together, you can make love if it’s your spouse; or if you’re deeply involved with your work or with some other important project, you can sit in each other’s presence, not speaking at all. But you’re together, and you’re aware of each other, and even when you’re not speaking, you’re taking pleasure in this person’s presence and drawing life and strength and inspiration and joy from that presence; and every once in awhile you stop what you’re doing and look up and smile, share a thought or two, acknowledge the person’s presence in an affirming way.

The same can be true with God. Being aware of his presence, his loving/powerful hand on our shoulders, can make a huge difference in our ability to plow through the activities of our daily lives. And when nothing else requires our attention, we can slip into deeper awareness of God’s presence, into conversation, into sharing—e.g., when we’re walking down the street (for goodness’ sake, leave those earbuds at home!), when we’re standing in line at the supermarket, when we’re lying quietly in our beds just before or after sleeping. When I’m waiting in a doctor’s office or standing in a subway car, I don’t need to find something to read (although that’s certainly OK, and the Holy Spirit will take delight in my enjoying what I read); for when there is “nothing to do,” I can take advantage of those few minutes to enjoy intimate give-and-take with the King of the universe. How cool is that?! I can simply bathe in his presence; I can spend hours thanking him for the endless gifts he has given me; I can intercede for people I know, or perhaps for the strangers sitting around me. I can even engage in powerful spiritual warfare if he so directs: Several hours of the most significant/powerful spiritual warfare/intercession in which I ever engaged occurred as I was driving on Interstate 35 in Texas.

Boredom can be a nifty red flag. On hundreds of occasions I found myself being bored—typically because I was waiting on someone or something—and slowly realized, “This is silly. The Holy Spirit is right here. This is a great chance to draw closer.”

I urge you to take advantage of this built-in spiritual alarm. Most of us would do well to turn off our radios and televisions and cell phones, digital players, etc., leaving our minds still and silent and receptive. Does the resulting silence  leave me bored? Wonderful—it’s a chance to pray and to draw closer God.

What if you don’t seem to experience God’s presence?

You may say, “What you’re describing isn’t real to me! I don’t experience that intimacy with God.” Ah, but you can. It’s promised to us throughout the pages of the New Testament.

Because every individual’s relationship with God is different, I cannot offer a set of rules that will guarantee intimacy with God. But I can point you in the right direction.

It helps to think in human terms, since that kind of relationship is what we know best. What would you do if you wanted to get to know a new friend as well as possible?

•You would spend as much time with that friend as you could. With God, that equates to such activities as quieting yourself and intentionally seeking to draw near to him (he’s always near to you!). You need not spend a lot of the time verbalizing. Visualize Jesus sitting next to you, loving you, not expecting you to say anything, putting his arm around you, offering the quiet, healing power of his presence.

A corollary to the time factor: I encourage you to spend minimal time watching television or videos, listening to radio or podcasts, even listening to music. I love music, from Mozart to Willie Nelson to Queen. But even Christian music can distract us from developing the intimacy with God that will bring us immeasurably more joy than anything else. Here’s my formula for watching, listening, reading, etc.: Reverse your default mode for doing such things. That is, instead of your default being that you will engage in these pleasures whenever you want, devoting limited amounts of time to prayer, determine that your default will be quiet communion with God. Assign watching, listening, and reading to more limited, defined periods when you believe God would encourage you to engage in those activities. Imagine that Jesus the Messiah, crucified for you, raised from death, now reigning as Lord of all creation, is your permanent houseguest. Great (and honored!) opportunity, no? At any given time, ask yourself, “Am I going to sit down with Jesus in the living room, over a cup of tea (or a beer or whatever), and talk with him, share my life with him, learn from him? Or am I going to ignore my guest and turn on the TV?” Your choice. This is not intended to guilt you into any kind of legalistic behavior—rather, it is to remind you of the incomparably glorious opportunity you possess because the King of the universe is your houseguest, and he has called you his friend, and he is joyfully (painfully?) willing to let you call the shots in determining the amount of one-on-one time you spend together! Please do the mental exercise to extrapolate what I just said to other activities such as playing games, engaging in sports, perusing Facebook, etc.

•When you do engage in various “normal” or “secular” activities, consciously “take Jesus with you,” as an old song suggests. Whether you’re playing guitar or poker or soccer, it’s much more enjoyable when people you love are with you or watching you—how much more powerful to have the High King sitting next to you or in the stands, cheering you on?

•As appropriate, express to God your thanks for the relentless, terrible, immeasurable love he has shown you in creating you and in permitting the atoning death of Jesus on the cross.

•Continually express your thanks for every good thing you can think of that you’ve experienced: human love, health, electricity and running water, indoor plumbing, bird songs, pets, ice cream, enchiladas, maple trees, whatever.

•If you had a new friend and had access to written material about that friend, you would eagerly read it. Spend significant time reading through scripture, then, in order to learn how this new Friend has interacted with humans over the centuries.

•If you discipline yourself to spend quiet, private time with God but cannot keep your mind from wandering, it can be helpful to read scripture, or read hymn texts, or recite memorized prayers in order to refocus your mind and your heart. I begin every major period of prayer by praying the Latin mass, then a couple of Christian songs I have found to be personally meaningful, and finally all three verses of the centuries-old hymn, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.” That all takes about twenty minutes, and by the end of that time I am able to focus my attention much more clearly on the One who sits next to me on my couch.

•If you do not already have the gift of tongues, ask God for it. Maybe it’s not something the Holy Spirit has for you; but I believe many more people could benefit from this gift than those who already do, simply because they have not asked for it—or perhaps they don’t want it, because it might prove embarrassing to them (see the essay “Speaking in Tongues” on this website).  It can be incomparably helpful. It’s the Holy Spirit praying through your spirit, according to God’s own heart, and it’s something you can do almost anytime. How cool is that?!

Intimacy with God doesn’t happen overnight, just as it is not instantaneous with humans. But if you are committed to deepening your knowledge of God and your ability to access his love and power, then stick with it and it will happen. At some point you will discover that you look forward to spending private times with your Friend. You will hunger for it—for Him.

All the way with Jesus

You can’t fool God. He’s really smart. When you are conversing with him, don’t leave out the hard or embarrassing parts as you might when talking with a mortal friend. God knows it all anyway, but it’s SO important for you to bare your heart! Tell him how and why you are hurting, why you are discouraged; tell him you know it’s wrong and destructive, but you really hate So-and-So because of what she did to you, and you can’t get past those toxic feelings. Talk about your addictions, your sins, your fears. It will help you more than you can imagine, and it can begin to open tiny cracks in the ruinous walls you have built up to “protect” yourself, leading eventually to healing and deliverance and blessing.

I have offended many people by saying the following, but I believe it is vitally important: Take Jesus with you into the darkness! Let’s be honest: Virtually all of us do things that we know are evil, destructive, and eventually deadly, but we nevertheless plan them and refuse to repent. There is no “ick factor” with Jesus. Not only has he seen it all, he has borne it all on the cross.

•If you know you’re addicted but are consciously choosing to take “just one more drink,” be open about it: “Jesus, I’m going to pour this shot of vodka, and I’m going to drink it, and there is zero doubt in my mind that I will end up on the floor totally drunk, unable even to stand. Feel free to give me the strength not to do it, but you and I know that I’ll not be receptive to that gift. I need you stay with me in this. Hold my hand while I get drunk. Protect me. Bless me. Forgive me.”

•If you’re about to drive to the North End and buy heroin from your usual seller, be honest about it. Same prayer as above: “I know it’s wrong, it’s horrible. I’m going to do it anyway. Please—stay with me!”

•If you’re about to indulge in watching Internet pornography, be honest: Same prayer.

Jesus loves you without measure. You stand forgiven because of the blessed sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who takes away all the sin of the world and who was sacrificed before the worlds were even created. He suffered because he wanted to be with you, to love you, to know you, to bless you. There is nothing you can do, no place you can go, no matter how dark or scary or deadly, where he will refuse to accompany you if you want him to be there.