You can find part 1 of the series here.
This reflection series is inspired by 1 Peter 2:2-3.
Today we’re reflecting on Boredom.
I love to eat. I love the taste of food and I love the satisfaction of being full. However, there comes a time when I find myself continuing to eat and I have to ask myself if I am actually hungry. There is a point at which the stomach no longer cries out for sustenance, where the mind overpowers the natural urge of hunger and encourages the hand and mouth to work as one in order to fill a psychological emptiness rather than physical hunger. Eating to sustain a level of activity more than to fulfill a bodily need.
For me, this happens when I am watching a TV show or movie. At some point, the popcorn is finished and there is still more than an hour left to sit and watch. At this moment, there is clearly no dire physical hunger to be satisfied. Yet, for me, there seems to be imbalance. My ears, eyes and mind are still busy digesting the movie, but my mouth and hands feel left out. At this moment, I choose to satisfy this boredom with something else to snack on.
For others, the need to snack has an emotional trigger. Eating provides a sense of pleasure that dulls the lack of pleasure elsewhere. Perhaps a tough day at work where nothing went well leads to the sensation that throughout the entire day nothing was deeply satisfying. For some, that guarantee of satisfaction comes from food. It doesn’t matter how bad the day, ice cream will always taste like ice cream. Ice cream will always taste sweet. Ice cream will always taste creamy. Ice cream will always be cold and soothing to the soul. Ice cream, in moments of despair, is a friend that will never let you down.
Many believers have at one time felt that being a Christian is the most exciting and fulfilling thing imaginable. They wish for the steady stream of Bible studies and Christian fellowship to never cease. This is an exciting time, and I pray that each Christian experience these moments more often than not. However, the contrast to this sense of being alive in Christ can quickly shift to one of stale, unsatisfying boredom.
The reasons for the shift differ with each person. But the fact remains that, at some point, there will inevitably be obstacles to maintaining the excitement once felt in being Christian. More often than not, the reason behind the plateau is the unfortunate truth that we seek activities and people to define life in Christ in the first place, rather than Christ himself. In other words, we’ve sought to satisfy our hunger elsewhere.
While we may seek to be satisfied by the people or things that surround us, the irony is that these “hunger agents” have never demonstrated the hunger-satisfying power we attribute to them. Church groups and activities can be an amazing source of growth for a Christian. In fellowship one can more completely experience the nature of being born of the Spirit. The mistake is looking to these people and activities to define Christian life, a naïve notion that they will always be there and that they will always satisfy us.
The truth is, they won’t. Churches will change. People will move. Activities and groups will evolve.
A common experience for many Christians is to be so over-the-moon-in-love with Jesus at a particular church, but the moment the church changes, or something in the routine is adjusted, the love loses zest, even value. An individual who experiences this “loss of life” might choose to take a more internal and isolated approach to Christianity, moving away from church entirely.
Following this “divorce” from the church, the re-entry into the world can be shocking, one that takes quite a bit of down and up shifting, now apart from the Christian life. Living outside of the presence of God reveals harsh realities that are, at times, too heavy to bear. Suddenly the answers that explained everything within the church, in the presence of God’s Word, no longer make any sense. There is a sense of being lost and unsure of things. At this point, a person can make one of two choices: return out of the need for God alone, or out of the need for things, people, activities: in other words, distraction.
Encountering the world and returning to God because of who and what He is? A miracle, a true “Prodigal Son” homecoming. Being sold into slavery and redeemed is the Joseph story that some of us need to experience in order to truly realize what being a Christian is all about. This is grace at work in our lives. To experience grace is to experience God. This is a victorious moment for the Christian as well as for the Father in heaven. There is nothing more exciting and satisfying to him than seeing one lost sheep finally return home.
Returning to God because of the comforts of “Christian Living” is a different issue entirely. The reason to make the return to God in this manner has nothing to do with God at all. Much like snacking with no physical hunger to satisfy, this is trying to satisfy a false craving. In this case a person is returning in the search for some emotional or physical gratification, without necessarily desiring God. When we do this, we are aware that, in returning, certain things will be as reliable or predictable as the sensation of sweetness found in ice cream.
Many of us have a tendency to use church: worse, we have a tendency to use God. We wander about trying to control our world and solve our own problems and then, like a swimmer coming up to get air, we find that we cannot handle it, and we go back to God. The time spent in “Christian life” this second, third, fourth, one-hundredth time around will seem like holding your breath underwater. At some point, you will need to emerge abruptly and gasp for air. We find ourselves going back and forth, never being satisfied, and never knowing exactly who we really are.
Christians like saying that there are “seasons of spiritual growth.” While this is true, the danger is that some tend to use this as an excuse to explain this seesaw manner of communion with God. Using this logic, a swimmer could say that swimming has its “seasons” as well: “Some seasons I hold my breath, some seasons I come up for air.” These clearly are not “seasons of change” or “growth.” These changes are intermittent, predictable, and necessary in the act of swimming.
Being a disciple of Jesus is staying underwater and miraculously learning how to breathe while submerged. Being a disciple means transformation, repentance, change.
Craving God in the way that we crave snacks when we are bored or depressed is misunderstanding the Gospel entirely. The Gospel preached by Jesus Christ is neither a break from the action, nor action to relieve us from a break. The Gospel is a way of life that, if allowed into the heart, will satisfy the need for satisfaction and activity before we can even realize that we desire either.
Come back next Thursday for part 3.