Life is boring. We jazz up our Facebook timelines to make it seem like our live are interesting, but back in the real world we spend most of our time waiting for something bigger, better or more exciting to happen.
For example, right now I’m sitting in an airport. I’m surrounded by travelers struggling to fill the minutes and hours before something bigger (hopefully a plane) arrives.
- The lady next to me has been picking at a muffin and staring into space for about 20 minutes.
- The old man behind her has fallen asleep with his head tilted back and his mouth wide open.
- There’s a 50-something woman playing a seriously intense game of Candy Crush on her iPad.
Unfortunately, the airport isn’t all that different from the way we live our everyday lives.
We endure the steady drone of our daily routines, hoping that at some point, something bigger and better will come along. That our metaphorical ship (or plane) will come in.
Somewhere in the back of minds we know that around the globe, there are millions of people facing extreme poverty, violence, serious illness and other challenges. Although it feels like life is boring to us, the kind of boredom we experience is a luxury to them.
But in every person’s life, there are long stretches of time between the peak experiences, spaces between the alreadys and the not yets, that test our resolve to live balanced and spiritually healthy lives.
Facing your noonday demon
If it’s any consolation, boredom isn’t a modern problem. For millennia, people from nearly every culture have shared our sentiment that much of life is boring. In the early church, the desert fathers called the problem of acedia (boredom or listlessness) the “noonday demon.”
Here’s what one of the more notable desert fathers, Evagrius Ponticus, said about it:
The demon of acedia (also called the noonday demon) … makes it seem that the sun barely moves and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside [his room], to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour (3 p.m. — the time when monks ate their only meal of the day).
Then he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that [love] has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred.
This demon drives him along to desire other places where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself.
Did you catch that? Evagrius says that boredom isn’t just a lack of excitement. It’s a threat to our spiritual well being. And he’s right.
When it feels like life is boring, I daydream. My daydreams usually involve an imaginary future, an alternate reality in which I live in a different place or work a different job or lead a different life altogether. But the more time I waste thinking about these things, the less attainable they feel. Gradually, hopes and dreams give way to hopelessness and even self-pity.
When boredom doesn’t lead me to fantasize about the future, I brood over the past. I relive glory days. I dwell on past decisions. I recite a laundry list of instances when other people have slighted me, hurt me or taken advantage of me.
But none of it changes anything. None of it is healthy for my soul. When life is boring and I’m fantasizing about the future or dwelling on the past, I’m wasting my most valuable resource: the here and now.
Finding joy in present moments
It took way too many years to realize that God doesn’t live in the past or the future. He lives in life’s present moments — even when it feels like life is boring.
It’s tempting to see the tedious stretches in our daily routines as things to be endured. I know because I’ve been there. But it’s in those moments that life is lived.
More importantly, it’s in those moments — those present moments — that we can encounter God.
1. Practice stillness.
One of the reasons we struggle with boredom is because we haven’t learned how to practice stillness and solitude. You don’t have to live in a hermitage or a one-room shack in the deep woods, but it’s important to turn off your TV and smartphone to spend a little time in prayer, stillness and solitude each day.
2. Invest in the present.
Living in the present moment is a choice. Instead of dreaming and worrying about the future or reliving and regretting the past, decide to become more emotionally and mentally invested in the right here, right now.
3. Be more mindful.
By choosing to become more invested in the present, you create opportunities to become more mindful of God’s presence in the world around you. Gradually, mindfulness will transform your daily routines into spiritual encounters, moments in which you experience God in your relationships, in your activities and in creation itself.
A lot of life really is boring (or at least it can be) and if you’re constantly striving for something bigger and better, your days will be filled with dissatisfaction and disappointment.
But with the right attitude, boredom — the “noonday demon” — can also be an invitation to a richer and more mature spirituality filled with experiences of God in present moments.