The Gospel Opportunities in Teenage Boredom

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Boredom is a fascinating concept to me. Activities that bore me bring great life to others. Practices that used to bore me in my teens (such as running, cooking, meditation, and journaling) have become rhythms I cherish and protect today. The many faces of boredom present themselves when we talk to our students. You ask them if they’ve read one of your favorite books that has shaped you as a person in some way and their response is, “No, I hate books, they are so boring!” Yet at the same time, they will swear up and down that watching someone else play video games online is captivating.

What is boredom? How do our students become bored? How long has boredom even existed?

I imagine if we were doing youth ministry in the 1800’s that boredom might not even be an issue we youth workers would have to address. One could make the argument, ironically, that boredom really found its origin in our advancement of entertainment and leisure. The more opportunities that have been afforded us, the easier it is to become bored when we aren’t constantly captivated. Has there ever been a time in human history when this is more true for the students we minister to? I doubt it. Our students, at their fingertips, have more access to information, entertainment, and opportunities to be captivated than any generation before them. How in the world can they ever claim to be bored?

Prolific Russian author Leo Tolstoy once said that boredom is “the desire for desires.” This is why I think our students can become bored so easily, because our world is full of desires that scream to them constantly through their devices “want me!”

Understanding boredom through this lens also gives us a significant opportunity to understand the hearts of our students without them opening up. If reading a renowned novel bores them, yet watching a YouTube personality for 10 minutes holds their attention, they are telling us something about themselves that they might not be able to even communicate! Their desire might not be for information, but rather for distraction; distraction from the chaos of the world and the endless to-do lists that have been cast on them to perform well in each area of their lives. Or maybe their desire is to escape into the lives of someone else who they’ve convinced themselves has it better.

To desire is a thing of the heart. To desire, ultimately, is to love. In his book Desiring the Kingdom James K.A. Smith says “To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. Our (ultimate) love is constitutive of our identity… our ultimate love is what we worship.” If boredom is the desire for desires, and our ultimate love is what we worship, what an opportunity we have as youth workers to preach the gospel in this intersection!

When students proclaim their boredom to us, embrace it and begin to ask away! Don’t dismiss their boredom with disagreement, rather begin to ask questions that help identify what they may be desiring in their boredom. Why does that YouTube video capture your attention so much more than that book? What is that video giving you that the book does not? What’s going on in the moments of your life that you seek to relieve yourself from boredom? If a student tells you they’re bored, watch very closely for what follows! They might be telling you inadvertently what their heart desires most, they might be giving you insight into what it is they worship, or at the very least are interested in worshiping. Additionally, in a performance driven world marred by brokenness (especially now), an attempted relief at boredom could be a desperate search for relief in general. A viral video of a cat playing the piano is often more mentally digestible than an hour long debate on racial injustice. Playing video games is much more relaxing than contemplating how you might be able to affect change.

Knowing our rivals to worship helps us defeat them so much quicker. What form of modern entertainment could possibly contend with the love and grace Jesus provides? What story could be more captivating than the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? What invitation could entice our students more than the invitation to rest in Christ’s work on the cross? What can possibly offer more relief than casting our yoke upon Jesus and learning from him? To whom, where, or what could we possibly escape where the loving embrace of our God won’t meet us? Who or what this side of heaven is more deserving of our desire and love than Jesus Christ? Nothing and no one. Our desires will be most fulfilled and our love will find its fullest expression in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

School ended abruptly this year and our students might have a hard time finding jobs this summer. Rest assured the sentence “I’m bored” is going to come your way either in-person or over text. My encouragement to you is to allow your ears to perk up a bit when you hear that from your students. They are, whether they know it or not, are giving you a chance to direct their desires and love towards Christ! Seize that opportunity!

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