Several times lately, while forced to wait for something, even for a short time, I have caught myself picking up my cell phone and aimlessly flipping through email or turning to a game. I’m not talking about long waits, the kind you might have at an airport between arrival and boarding. Nor am I talking about time spent, say, in a doctor’s waiting room or getting your car’s oil changed. On those occasions, having a good book to read or a game to play is a good thing—especially, I think, if the game is one you can play long-distance with a grandchild or an old friend. Rather, I’m talking about short waits—in a grocery check-out line, for example, or even (I blush to say this) at a traffic light.
Last week, the second or third time I pulled out my cell phone while I was stopped in traffic, my better angel broke through, asking, “Angier, what are you doing?” I’m bored, came the answer from somewhere within. “Whoa, girl,” my better angel exclaimed. “It’s time for some reflection and self-assessment. There are healthier ways to respond to boredom than that!”
And so I set off to find a few. For the record, there are a number of interesting articles that address boredom; you might want to search out some that appeal to you. But for myself, at least for now, I am resolving to meet boring moments in one of two ways.
The first way is to consider them an opportunity to pay close attention, for even boring moments are one-of-a-kind instances that will never occur again. When faced with one, I will encourage myself to be hungry for detail—colors, textures, sounds. Stopped at a traffic light, for instance, I can focus on the shape and size of the vehicle next to me. I can notice something about the driver or the passengers—how they grip the steering wheel or hold their heads, whether they sit without moving or bob to music I cannot hear. Instead of distracting myself, I can try to take in as much as I can of what makes that moment unique.
The second way is to experience boring moments as an opportunity to pray. I might pray in confession, owning up to my impatience, for example, or admitting my inability to see God in the annoying person ahead of me in the grocery check-out line with too many coupons. My prayer could be an intercession for the well-being of the cashier or for the teenage employee I see through the storefront window struggling in the scorching summer parking lot to round up shopping carts. It might be for the harried parent in the cereal aisle with a cranky, screaming child, or for the misery of that child. I could pray in gratitude for my car that delivered me safely to the store, or for the milk, eggs, and berries I am waiting to buy.
I claim to want to live this one life I have been given as faithfully and as fully as possible. To do that, I will have to abandon the habit of using boredom as an excuse to numb myself. Instead, I will strive to receive boredom as a call to live creatively. Perhaps then I will discover that what at first might seem boring is actually a whole lot more amazing that I thought.