All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:8-9).
The words of Solomon are baffling. That a king could be bored is hard for us to believe. Here is a man who lacks nothing, bemoaning his boredom. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again.” Poor Solomon.
I find it hard to be sympathetic with a bored King. His words hit me in much the same way my children’s words do when they complain of boredom. “You’ve got to be kidding; how can you possibly be bored?” And yet, kids with computers and Xbox and smart phones get bored. Busy grown-ups with comfortable homes and beautiful families and well paying jobs get bored. And, as Ecclesiastes plainly shows us, Kings get bored.
Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, wrote that boredom is “the desire for desires.” That captures something of the inner deadness that boredom is. Look deeply into the deadly seduction of “sloth” and you’ll find boredom. The heart beats but never races. The eyes see but never dance in what they behold. The mouth speaks words but rarely to truly say anything.
Thus was Solomon afflicted. Maybe you know the deadening weight of this particular seduction. Caring about things requires so much energy and seems to make so little difference. Sloth isn’t a sin we commit. Sloth settles on us as we abandon our commitments.
In Ecclesiastes the boredom is described as a numbing repetition. What has been will be again. Solomon observed the movements of the sun and the wind. He watched the relentless flow of streams that feed the ocean but never fill it (Ecc. 1:5-7). All of this left him numb. That’s what sloth does. It makes us numb to joy and blind to beauty.
We observe the same traffic patterns in our morning commute, the same scheduled meetings, the routines of carpool and practices and laundry. Imperceptibly the sloth settles and the numbness spreads.
Typically, our first response is a change of pace, a new variable in the equation of our lives. This might mean a vacation or a career move. But over time even the new element becomes tired and familiar. What we need is the capacity to see into the ordinary repeated parts of life and discern the presence and purposes of God.
Sloth is what we’re left with when God is bleached out of an otherwise wonderful life. Absent God, the gift of ordinary things, of routines and practices, becomes burdensome.
Try this today: Look for God in something familiar. Identify a person in your world with whom you interact every day or every week. Determine to learn one new thing about that person’s life.
God, through this day and all of its familiar routines, help me to detect your presence. Remind me that you are at work in the most ordinary details of the most ordinary day, and help me to live this day in eager expectation. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.