Growing as Young as God

by Derrick G. Jeter

My home is filled with stuff—too much stuff, in fact. I have televisions and computers and video games and DVDs and iPods and board games and bikes and sports equipment and doodads for crafts and books—lots of books. I also have a dog and two cats. My children have built in playmates—five in all—and two fairly intelligent and cool parents (if I do say so myself). Will someone please tell me then, how in the world my children can be bored?

I’m sure my children are like most kids, which gives me some sense of comfort in knowing that other parents are suffering the same fate. When my kiddos were newborns the world was a magical place. You could see it in their eyes and in their toothless grins. Everything was exciting. But just about the time they could open their mouths and utter something more distinguishable than grunts, things changed. The first words they spoke I’m sure were either “mamma” or “papa,” but I know the next words were “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored!”

This will definitely knock me out of the running for Dad of the Year, but when I hear the mantra, “I’m bored,” I’ve resorted to saying, “Well, you′re bored because you’re boring.” This probably ranks me just above Hitler and Stalin in the compassion department, but we can’t all be saints. I do have a question, however: what is it that produces such boredom, not just with my children but with all kids these days? What is going on in our culture, a culture that provides entertainment at every turn, that leads to such restlessness?

Perhaps the answer is found in entertainment itself and what gave rise to our entertainment society. After World War II there was a boom of appliances that made everyone’s life easier and more efficient. Doing household chores became less time consuming and laborious. Cars were affordable, allowing dad (usually) to get to work and home quickly without waiting on public transportation. These and many other factors contributed to an increase in leisure time for the average American; time the average American looked to fill. Unfortunately, we fill that time with passive entertainment and not productive activity. Boredom, after all, is the result of a purposeless application of time.

In post-war America there was an explosion in the entertainment industry, particularly with the invention of the television. No longer did a man or woman have to leave their home, and interact with others in society, for entertainment. The only activity required was to get off your couch to turn the channel—unless your father was like mine and owned an early remote control: “Derrick, come here and change the channel!” About 100 years before the invention of the television, Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard is attributed as writing, “Suppose someone invented an instrument, a convenient little talking tube which, say, could be heard over the whole land. . . . I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged if it were used.” [1]

Kierkegaard was not far off. It seems we have become mentally deranged for we can no longer sit quietly and think. We have become a culture of boredom because, in the words of Leo Tolstoy, we are consumed with “desire for desires.” [2] And we desire ever increasing and graphic stimulation from without. We have a whole generation who are uncomfortable within their own skin and in their own company; they lack imagination, not because they are stupid but because they are bombarded with noise and rarely have time to think. Perhaps that’s why some conclude that my ability to sit with a good book all by myself is boring. To these I often say: “I’m in good company.”

We were made in God’s image, which among other things, means we were made to work, to produce, to create. Yet, for many, such thoughts bring on a weariness of soul; they’d rather flop themselves down somewhere and serf the channels on TV or serf the internet. This then becomes the very definition of ennui—deadness of soul. And as philosopher, Peter Kreeft observed: “Boredom . . . is a modern mood. Indeed, there is no word for it in any ancient language! In this mood, there is neither a reason to die . . . nor a reason to live. This is the deepest pit of all.” [3]

But it is worse than that, it can also lead to a break down in society. In ancient Rome many of the emperors took a bread and circuses approach to controlling the populace. Keep the mob well fed and entertained and the government can do whatever it wants. This idea was played out in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In Huxley’s futuristic novel clones are constantly besieged with sights and sounds and not allowed to think for themselves. As a result, they are often bored. Nevertheless, the solution to boredom isn’t solitude, creativity, or meaningful relationships, but meaningless sex, drug abuse, and silly activities. What we find in the brave new world is not a free society but a slave society. Without sustained and committed relationships, contemplation and conversation, the citizens in the brave new world spend their lives engaged in constant, mindless busyness. They are rats running in a caged wheel. And their only pleasure is the desire to fulfill the fleeting desires of their flesh.

In 1944, C. S. Lewis wrote a warning about the loss of wisdom in his generation. In The Abolition of Man Lewis said that we are making men without chests—the seat of wisdom. While the head (the mind or reason) and the stomach (the appetites and desires) thrived in his day, what was missing was the chest. Today, we have removed the head as well as the chest, and we are left with only the glands and the groin. Ours is a generation not of brains but of eyes, ears, and glands; not of thought but of feeling; not of objective truth but of subjective experience; not of seriousness but of frivolity; not of importance but of triviality; not of wisdom but of foolishness; not of heroes but of celebrities; not of truth but of lies; not of the eternal but of the temporal; not of clarity but of confusion; not of the sacred but of the secular and sensual.

Is it any wonder why our kids are bored? They no longer have heads or chests. They desire desires, but their desires are too small and ghostlike. They don’t desire the really big thing, the only real thing. They don’t desire the only thing that never gets boring: the reality of God. Can we turn that around? Can we help our kids get off of the purposeless wheel of boredom? Yes, we can. Here are a few practical ideas that can help our children discover the wonder of the world and the fingerprints of God, which cover His creation.

  • Develop the life of the mind by reading good books.
  • Learn to enjoy solitude by “un-plugging” from our electronic world.
  • Appreciate simple pleasures with gratitude. “The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things,” Augustus told Lorena in Lonesome Dove, “like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.” [4]
  • Feed the soul with the Word of God and prayer.
  • Work hard and creatively, then rest.
  • Have a purpose in life greater than yourself.
  • Keep things in perspective by focusing on the important, not the trivial.
  • Realize that life moves slowly sometimes. “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
  • Serve someone less fortunate than yourself.
  • Develop a sense of mystery.

God has spent an eternity in purposeful creativity and not once has He ever uttered the words, “I’m bored.” Could it be that God, like my children when they were newborns, looks out on the world and see it as a magical place? G. K. Chesterton thinks so.

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. [5]

If we could simply roll back the clock and grow as young as God, then we, and our children, might spend our days saying, “Do it again!” and not, “I’m bored.”

[1] Søren Kierkegaard, quoted in Malcolm Muggeridge, A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky, e-book (Framingham, Penn.: Plough Publishing House, 2007), 58, http://www.plough.com/ebooks/pdfs/ThirdTestament.pdf, accessed May 13, 2010.

[2] Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: Barnes and Nobel Classics, 1997), 423.

[3] Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 10.

[4] Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 330.

[5] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994), 61.

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