This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Benefits of boredom

While conventional wisdom maintains that idle hands and minds are the devil’s tools, psychological research has found benefits to boredom.

According to a 2013 study by psychologists at the University of Lancashire in England, being bored isn’t all bad. Researchers asked a group to come up with uses for a plastic cup after spending 15 minutes copying numbers out of a phone book. Another group went straight into the exercise. The group with the mundane warm-up imagined more uses. They were more creative.

One of the study’s authors said that rather than trying to eliminate boredom, perhaps we should embrace it to enhance creativity.

“What we want to do next is to see what the practical implications of this finding are,” Sandi Mann said. She wonders if people who are bored at work become more creative in other areas of their lives.

With smartphones ever present, we expect to be always entertained and “informed.” Luddites contend our phones dumb us down. Why acquire knowledge when Google is in my pocket? Yet a bigger danger could be the threat those tiny computers pose to our collective boredom. When we search our consciousness for something to occupy us, we might stumble onto incredible insights. Look around an airport terminal and count how few people are daydreaming. It’s a mass extinction of great ideas.

If boredom is good, maybe the church reformers of the early 16th century were on to something. Ulrich Zwingli ordered all distracting and idolatrous statues, paintings and treasured relics removed from his church in 1524. The bare Grossmünster church in Zurich, Switzerland, still shows his handiwork today.

Those pieces of art were intended for the noble purpose of depicting religious stories for illiterate masses, but somewhere the message got lost. Today, what helps us hear God and what gets in the way? Are we even listening?

God is mighty but tends to speak softly. “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

Are we quieting our minds enough to hear what God is saying to us? Church should be a time to get away from devices and plug in to a body of believers. Not wanting to be left behind by the cultural currents, some pastors encourage their listeners to tweet and post to Facebook their thoughts during the sermon and other times. If that’s the latest way of taking sermon notes, that’s OK. If it’s a distraction, it’s probably time to locate the power button.

Perhaps what is needed isn’t so much boredom but a general, periodic unplugging from the things that constantly vie for our attention. That’s why there are spiritual retreat centers.

Crowds flocked to Jesus, but he “often withdrew to lonely (desolate) places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16). Even he needed some social networking downtime.

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