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When was the last time you were bored, with nothing to do? Probably not recently. Reach for your smartphone and you can instantly browse social media, read, text, email, take photos, or watch videos. Incredible.
However, the prospect of widespread self-isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic may cause increased boredom. Smartphones help alleviate and eliminate boredom. This is positive, but also negative.
By picking up your phone, your focal awareness is on your device and what you are doing with it. You are attached to it. In doing so, your peripheral awareness plummets, hence the phenomenon of people on their phones walking into each other.
Next time you are bored, try not reaching for your smartphone. What might happen? Outside, after adjusting to alack of stimulation, you would become more visually aware: buildings, trees, birds, cloud formations.
You might become more observant of people nearby: their disposition, style of clothing or state of mind. You would more likely engage in conversation. Finally, you would become more self-aware.
Without being absorbed by your device, you would become conscious of your own thought processes and emotions. Such is the power of detaching from constant stimuli that smartphones represent.
Boredom has its benefits.
The ubiquity of smartphones and the increasing pace of life has, ironically, led to the rapid rise of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a slippery word. By all accounts it represents turning down life’s noise in order to become more aware of surroundings and of self. This is undoubtedly beneficial.
Mindfulness is also a core Buddhist practice, and for some this emphasises emptying the mind and suspending judgement over passing thoughts. Importantly, this differs from silence as practised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which focuses on the mind as a gift from God.
Emptying the mind to be potentially open to any idea, without discernment, is dangerous. By contrast,Christians are instructed to take captive unhealthy thinking — thoughts that are unkind, envious, impure, vengeful, self-centred — and bring them to Jesus in prayer. Jesus’ followers are taught to hold tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9). In silence, Christians focus their thoughts on God and on ‘‘whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy’’ (Philippians 4:8).
Christians believe Jesus is the definitive revelation of God and the model for human living. Intriguingly, ‘‘Jesus often withdrew to remote places to pray’’ (Luke 5:16). For Christians, solitude and silence often go together — a combined fasting from people and noise. Jesus practised a rhythmof engagement and withdrawal.
Withdrawal enables practitioners to hear more clearlyfrom God and to be more mentally and emotionally self-aware, so that their response to people is richer and beneficial. Early church leaders spoke of withdrawing not from the world but for the world.
In the podcast Fight Hustle End Hurry, author John Mark Comer speaks of teaching people to practise Christian silence and solitude. He said most people’s first experience of this is anxiety, often followed by emotions of depression, anger, insecurity and shame. Why? Silence and solitude strip away life’s scaffolding. Ceaseless stimuli and ambient noise are peeled back and set aside.
People tend to do whatever they can to drown out these feelings through noise of life: music, social media, reading, Netflix, busy-ness and so on. People miss the hustle.
But the valueof withdrawal is what lies beneath; that mental, emotional and spiritual part of our being rises to the surface. These could include joy, gratitude and hope, or anger, sadness, fear or grief. Slowing and stopping allows what is subterranean to surface.
Being aware of subconscious forces which can drive and direct a person is essential to personal empowerment.
Once thoughts and feelings come to the surface, you can face them, think things through and talk to Jesus about them. Doing this should lead to that distinctive Christian realisation that ‘‘you are more sinful than you could ever dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope — at the same time’’ (Tim Keller).
In processing these thoughts and feelings with Jesus’ help, their power over you can subside.
You can see them more from God’s perspective. The outcome is peace and compassion, greater emotional freedom and joy. These stem from a rested confidence in God and your identity in him.
I am thankful for my smartphone, yet its pull is potentially perilous. How best to proceed? The New Testament advises: ‘‘‘Everything is permissible for me’, but not everything is beneficial.‘Everything is permissible for me’, but I will not be mastered by anything’’ (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Smartphones are beneficial to the extent that users are not addicted to them.
How about you? Try switching it off for a day. The benefits of boredom come from slowing down: disengaging from the hustle.
This leads to being more content with your own company and greater self-awareness and empowerment.
It also allows for breathing — space for the soul; time for prayer.
Such is the rhythm of engagement and withdrawal Jesus invites you into.
- Dr Adam Dodds is a senior pastor at the Elim Church in Dunedin.