The Sublime Mundane

Boredom creeps into our lives inconspicuously.

But boredom is a relatively contemporary concept.

Once upon a time, chores were essential to life. You had to wash dishes immediately following a meal because you only had one set. You had to gather the eggs each morning because they are what you were going to eat and cook with that day. You had to mend your clothes because you only had two sets, working and church clothes. I could go on, but if you want to know what it was like back in the day, pick up any of the Little House series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There was no time to be bored because most of your day was spent working, even for children.

Today, boredom, insidious as it is, hovers over our lives like a cloud. It casts a shadow over every moment of your life.

On the job, a semi-recent survey said that only 30% of the workforce is engaged in the work. The 70% had varying reasons for their lack of investment. Some responded their job did no provide opportunities for growth. Some said they were disengaged because the job did not utilize the skills they learned in college. Some griped about there being too much to do while others said there was too little.

And it’s not just in the workplace that people are disengaging. A recent article published by Harvard’s ED Magazine points to students becoming increasingly bored in school. The article cites a 2013 Gallup poll of 500,000 students showing 8 of 10 elementary students as engaged, but only 4 of 10 high school students demonstrating the same involvement.

The numbers represent a rather startling reality – people are bored or are becoming increasingly bored with everyday existence.

In Ecclesiastes, “the Preacher”, assumed to be King Solomon, writes, “For what does a person get with all this work and all his efforts that he labors under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest.” (2:22-23)

As he searches for meaning in life, Solomon turns to pleasure, possessions, wisdom, and labor. He looks high and low to figure out what he should be doing. He is king. He has everything he needs. Yet, he wants none of it. There is a sense that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes writes to explain the reasons life here is so unfulfilling. He writes to speak truth into the struggle, to clarify the substance of the thing, to identify that with which he is really wrestling. He understands the banality of existence, the absolute unoriginal state of being alive. Solomon grapples with boredom, as do we.

So how do we combat this boredom?

Interestingly, the answer isn’t to fill our days with more stuff, or to occupy our minds with greater, more awe-inspiring pursuits, or to attempt to find greater substance in the world.

In the very next verse, Solomon writes, “There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from him?” (2:24-25)

Solomon says, “There is nothing better…” than to live in this repetitive cycle of life. The repetitive nature of life, the cycle of it can seem burdensome and wearisome, but it is all we have. Each day we face a new set of circumstances, but they are often very much the same as the day before. We say, “The past is history. The future is a mystery. We have only the gift of this moment which is why it is called the ‘present’.” It is cliché, but it is true. Today is wonderful because it is all you have.

Eat, drink, enjoy your work.

Enjoy whatever today brings.

Take today for what it is and then take pleasure in the fact you got to see another sunrise, eat another meal, to go to work once again, to hug your spouse, to encourage your child, to work on painting your living room that lovely shade of blue, to deliver that presentation to the management at work, to read that new book by Jared C. Wilson on your lunch break, to…

…whatever it is, enjoy it.


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