Boredom, Stress, and the Constant Craving for Rest

If an idle mind is the devil's workshop, a busy mind must be his playground. But the Lord keeps him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on him.

The history of boredom is fascinating. In the early 5th century, a monk and theologian John Cassian described an emotion the Greeks called acedia. He and other early Christians called acedia “the noonday demon,” and sometimes described it as a “train of thought.”

In 1938, psychologist Joseph Ephraim Barmack looked at how factory workers coped with the tedium of being factory workers. Stimulants—caffeine, amphetamines, and ephedrine—were the answer.

The problem of boredom and the need to escape from it continue to prevail.

If boredom comes with nothing to do, stress comes with too much to do. Gen Z and millennial Indians are far more prone to stress and anxiety than older generations, as reported by Frontline.

Boredom and stress are equal and opposite foes. If boredom tempts you to stimulants that kickstart your brain, stress tempts you to stimulants that numb your feelings. Our stimulants keep changing but the heart’s desperate craving for rest remains constant.

False Hiding Places

One year ago I deleted social media from my phone. It was a stressful, tiring, and overwhelming season in my life. My wife and I had just welcomed our second child, we had recently moved, I was grappling with grief, and the eldership team in our church was navigating a crisis.

Turning to my phone became my way of escaping from boredom and stress. It promised visual comfort in a predictable, structured user interface, catering to my every whim. What a soothing escape from the visceral discomfort of unpredictable, uncontrollable events that exposed the limitations of my control. The stress I felt justified the comfort I sought from my phone.

However, the phone offered no real comfort. It was stealing more than it was supplying, weakening my resolve rather than strengthening it. By seeking rest through the lives of people online, I became restless with the people in my own life. When my phone got the best of me, my family got what was left of me.

If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, a busy mind must be his playground. But the Lord keeps in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in him.

The Busy Need More Boredom

Our minds and brains are distinct but interconnected. An overused brain can weaken the mind, and an untrained mind can weary the brain. Our bodies feel the weight of our spirit, and our souls are limited by the weariness in our bodies (Prov. 3:8, 12:25; Matt. 26:41).

In this regard, the work of Pete Scazerro has deeply impacted my life and ministry. He often tells people who think he’s very busy, “I’m not busy. I’m limited.”

We set ourselves up to be healthy when we live within our limitations. Our bodies perform better when our minds do less. It is similar to how cars get better mileage on the highway than in the city—more space, less traffic, greater efficiency.

Our schedules need better civil engineering. We need to design pathways that allow our minds to move freely without stop-start multitasking.

Boredom is a great way for the mind to rest while the body is awake.

The Bored Need Better Things to Do

When my daughter complains that she’s bored, my wife reminds her, “It’s good to be bored sometimes. That’s when you can use your imagination.”

I am using boredom not in its truest sense—“the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest”—but in the popular sense: “What can I do? I’ve got nothing to do.”

In those moments of inaction, there is something beautiful we can do. We can allow our minds to wander—not aimlessly but with a guide, not empty-handed but with a sword.

Putting the phone away is an opportunity to take something else up.

Instead of turning to the phone to scratch the itch of “something to do,” it is embracing the appearance of idleness that conceals deep labour in the Spirit. It is creating white space, asking for breathing room, and making space to manoeuvre.

It is Jesus sitting by a well, sleeping through a storm, going up the mountain, and often withdrawing to lonely places to pray (John 4:6, Matt. 8:24, Luke 6:12, Luke 5:16).

The online space is an ironic space. It is full of people but it still makes everyone feel lonely. In contrast, Jesus sought lonely places to be with his Father and enjoyed the welcome of a treasured Son.

The gospel offers us an open invitation to the same welcome—to be less busy in the reel world, more bored in the real one, and most satisfied in the eternal one (Heb. 11:9-10).

The Only Stimulant That Brings Real Rest

The human body’s great strength is also its weakness: it responds quickly to training but is easily influenced (1 Tim. 4:7, 1 Cor. 9:26-27).

A poorly trained body partners with an anxious mind and a restless heart (Prov. 25:28). But a well-trained body flows from a mind fixed on Jesus, who graciously promises peace and rest to the weary and heavy laden (Isa. 26:3, 30:15, John 14:27, Matt. 11:28).

Our coping mechanisms are cheap substitutes to real stimulants. They are deceptive, powerless saviours that take more than they give. Only a God-ordained stimulant can satisfy our heart’s craving for rest. How interesting that the apostle Peter describes his letters as reminders to “stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Pet. 3:1-2, NIV).

It is not turning to creating things that cure boredom or calm stress. It is remembering the mercy of God.

By his grace, God shows us how Jesus offered his body as a fragrant offering on our behalf, so we can offer our bodies to him as a living sacrifice—our spiritual act of worship (Eph. 5:1-2, Rom. 12:1-2).

When God transforms us by his grace, we are free from conforming to the world’s patterns of curing boredom and stress. Then we are free to transcend boredom with creativity for God and overcome stress by resting in the certainty of his Word (Ps. 16:11).

Our minds are most at rest when our hearts are most fascinated by his goodness.