Have you ever squandered time? We all have! Because of the current COVID-19 situation across the world, many of us are now confined to our homes and facing impending boredom. Once we’ve watched everything on Netflix (twice), what’s left to do?
Interestingly, earlier cultures didn’t have a specific term for “boredom.” It’s a fairly new word that was likely invented to describe a new experience. In ancient times, just surviving required so much work that boredom was far from anyone’s mind. But with the invention of new technologies, people now have more free time. Today, in 2020, we have more leisure time than any other generation in history! So, why are we so unsatisfied?
Blaise Pascal was a French math genius (he invented the first calculator) and also a perceptive philosopher. As he observed the people of his day spending more and more time on activities such as gambling and hunting, he saw how those pursuits never led to happiness. He has a name for these experiences: diversions. Diversions are not bad in and of themselves. But they often act as distractions.
Here are Pascal’s words: “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
The introverts reading this statement may object! However, Pascal’s point is simply that when we are forced to sit still without any distractions, we realize just how unhappy we are.
He continues, “The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy…”
We think our happiness will come from the many distractions available to us. When those distractions are taken away, we become miserable! Don’t think so? Try sitting in your room without your phone for an hour. How about two hours? Nothing except you and your thoughts (and no sleeping allowed!). Do you think you can last?
Pascal goes on to say, “All our life passes in this way: we seek rest by struggling against certain obstacles, and once they are overcome, rest proves intolerable because of the boredom it produces. We must get away from it and crave excitement…”
Modern psychologists agree with Pascal. It is often the pursuit of things that distract us from our unhappiness. Once we get the things we’ve been chasing (the new gaming system we wanted, the graduation we worked towards, the girl we’ve been trying to impress, etc.), we are soon bored again and looking to the next thing. Pascal summarizes it this way: “We prefer the hunt to the capture.”
So, what should we do? I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” Philippians 4:11-13.
Paul knew that his relationship with God was the one thing that could not be taken away from him. In life or death, Jesus was with him, and that brought him true contentment.
In our current situation, we may fear boredom with all this extra time at home. Leaving aside the fact that this anxiety is a serious case of #FirstWorldProblems, let’s instead redeem the time by focusing on our relationship with Jesus. Let’s re-discover how to pray and read our Bibles. Let’s practice gratitude for all God has done for us, and let’s focus on encouraging others during this time. In all this, we will grow closer to Jesus and become more like Him in the process. We may just find what Paul did: contentment instead of boredom.
Pensees by Blaise Pascal
Christianity for Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft