Lights on the Road

*In case you missed it: Grand Opening Portrait Contest ends tomorrow, June 2nd (details)*

On a long drive from Maryland to New Hampshire, I sat in the front seat of our converted van. I glanced back to check on our boys and saw them reading in their seats. The sun had set and they were wearing their head lamps.

Curled around their books, their young faces glowed with the light. My five-year-old, O, had just begun to read chapter books and is tucked around his tiny “Chicken Soup with Rice” written by the inimitable Maurice Sendak. O’s book lamp reflecting so brightly I can barely see his face.  And F, my eleven-year-old, entranced in the final chapters of Harry Potter’s The Order of the Phoenix. The intensity in his eyes reveals so much about him.

Together, these boys had lit their own lamps.

Meanwhile, the big rigs and traffic swarm around our cocoon of warmth and quiet in the Sprinter van. The light of the traffics glaring, while Dale husbands us all through the night’s dangers. The metaphor is ideal, this is how parenting ought to be: making space, offering options for our children to create their own light. 

But would you believe, right before this scene, everyone was bored?

The boys were bored because we had asked them to turn off their screens. I was bored because I was trying not to snack on the road. Dale was bored because he had been driving 500 miles. 

Have you noticed how much we all need practice to face our boredom? There are mighty powers at work preventing the discipline. No marketing team wants a contented person, strong enough to face discomfort. Dove soap, Red Bull, Amazon all count on your boredom to make a profit. 

But boredom is actually an invitation. Boredom is the hunger pain of our soul. It’s reminding us that we are missing something.

In our family, we take our cues from the Christian Scriptures. We receive the boredom invite early and often to practice blazing our own path out of boredom. We see boredom as a signal that it’s time to light our own way. We work on habits like reading, prayer, sabbath rest, journaling, silence, celebrating, noticing together. As we practice each one, we are lighting candles for our days. These are the lights that keep us healthy, joyful, peaceful, long-suffering even through a year like 2020.

Boredom can be material for the Spirit of God. And I want my boys to know how to give it back to Him. You cannot simply feed boredom or discomfort more chocolates or video games or social media. That’s not facing boredom, that’s avoiding it.   

I see boredom as the training wheels for harder days, when we all may face thick pain. Days when we may be imprisoned or impoverished, the days we are shamed by a narcissistic doctor, a self-righteous politician or a betraying friend. Facing boredom means I’ll be better equipped to face the deeper suffering, which comes to us all. 

Most of us know where God’s Spirit has asked us to face the boredom. And most of know precisely what lamp we are supposed to be lighting. But, I’ve noticed we often excuse ourselves because, we have much more “important” work. What we mean is more urgent work. We tap an app, we sign on, we call it “catching up.” But we are actually falling behind. 

If we want the magic of art and beauty and treasured moments as a family, we must face the music of boredom. Every day, you’ll find the invitation. 

Perhaps you would like to hear more about our practices, if so, please ask in the comments. And feel free to share what has brought joy, peace, patience into your life. I want to celebrate the ways you keep your lights burning, too. 

Tips for practice:

  1. You cannot teach what you don’t know. Don’t ask your children to face their boredom while you remain on your phone. 
  2. Boredom can feel fretful, anxious, antsy, or even angry. It only takes turning to face the emotion to figure out what lies beneath. If you haven’t done this much, start facing the boredom when you’re rested, well-fed and not rushed. I don’t recommend it on an empty stomach or after a shame storm. 
  3. Boredom usually means you need to discover or create. Pay attention to what you’re hungry to do. Don’t minimize the call. 

*Grand Opening Portrait Contest details here.

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The light in this painting was challenging. I wanted to get the darks deep enough so the boys’ headlamps shone. Finn’s hand holding the top of his book was particularly tricky as it was backlit by his lamp. His fingers were almost green, similar in tone to the pages of his book. But once I hit the color and tone correct, it allowed his face to glow more pink. Ollie’s face was haloed with light, so I barely hinted at his features, because strong light can actually feel blinding, so you see less. The big rig and cars in the background play a backlighting and stage-setting role. They’re small and barely suggested, but took some planning to downplay them just enough. For the van inside, I wanted the watercolor to bleed and melt into each other for those unimportant background objects. The boys’ faces and their lamps are the stars of this show. This painting is not available for sale as it’s part of my home collection. But I have linked another nocturne piece below “Rainy Night in Steamboat”

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Today was day one of our summer break. Our kids got a little screen time, but mostly spent the day rediscovering the quiet of home. They read, they found the old boxed up dolls, they battled a ton of imagined Pokemon outside. I committed to less screen time myself, and I’m trying to model my own peaceful practices. So yes, my meditation is interrupted by a snack or serious question about Pokemon, but they see it. This is a great post. Thanks for the reminder that the boredom is good for ALL of us.
Although, I definitely snacked on our road trip back from camping yesterday. Totally because I was bored. Ha! This was a good reminder!
Glad to have found your corner of the internet.

Here I am!!! I just subscribed….maybe that is why I did not see this before. Or maybe I did not scroll down far enough(red face). Anyway here I am, and I loved this blog…it reminded me of some of the things I am reading in Women Rowing North…it is so precious that your boys are featured in many of your enlightening blogs…we can learn so much from the children in our lives….

I think boredom is such a gift. Some of the best games I invented as a child (and have watched my children create ) came out of boredom. But you’re right. Boredom is difficult because it feels so uncomfortable.

I’ve noticed the most difficult time for me to face boredom is as I do household chores. Thank you for this!

So I thought on this some more! I made a big breakthrough. Being too BUSY is my greatest enemy in dealing with boredom in a healthy way. When I am overscheduling myself, and I do have those bored moments, I am too brain dead for my soul to get interested in what is going on around me. I turn to something that shuts my thoughts down, just searching for stillness in all the wrong places.

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