Surviving Monotony

Part of parenthood is coming to terms with your child’s fascination and obsession with monotony. Anyone who has heard the question “Why?” more than 5 times in a 60 second window understands. Anyone who has had to read the same story 10 times in a single day can empathize. Anyone who has had to listen to the same music in the car for days on end feels my pain.

It’s rather incredible how kids can get the same, if not more, enjoyment out of an activity that they have just engaged in no less than 30 seconds prior. The sheer wonder and pleasure they get from that book, song or slide is baffling. But I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of it.

If I read the same book over and over, I would get bored. Hearing the same music over and over again just makes me lower the volume. Adults seem to value change much more than monotony, which is exactly the opposite of children.

Children, above all, thrive on repetition. I’m currently reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (free on Kindle – nice!). It is a really interesting read. Basically, it’s about his person journey of thought to Christianity. In one section, he talks about how adults shy away from monotony. In his estimation, we falsely believe that when something is monotonous, it is dead – think of a clock, consistently ticking with no variety, no change. “People feel that if the universe was personal, it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.”

Chesterton offers an alternate way of viewing monotony. He suggests we look at children and their love of monotony. “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.”

It’s so true! It’s exhausting , almost painful, to read Goodnight Moon after the 8th time. The words start to run together, you try to skip a page but your child knows the story too well and catches you and you start to doze by the time the quiet old lady/rabbit whispers hush.

Chesterton challenges his readers to consider someone else who perhaps enjoys monotony. For Chesterton, the world was full of wonderful miracles and as he grew, he began to wonder if perhaps these miracles were more than just happy coincidence, what if they were “repeated exercises of some will.” He says “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” Or, in other words, God.

What if

God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them….The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

I love this outlook. For those of you who believe in a personal, loving, creative God, this about sums it up. God creates from pure love and joy, exulting in monotony while at the same time creating each person, each tree, each flower uniquely and individually.

So yes, monotony can be grating on the nerves. Rather than letting it irritate us, we can use it as an opportunity to be grateful. We can look at the sunrise and instead of seeing something automatic, pause to revel in it’s brilliance. Instead of dreading the music on repeat, we can appreciate of gift of hearing. We can speed our way through Green Eggs and Ham, or we can let our children’s delight become our own as they shout with glee “I DO NOT LIKE GREEN EGGS AND HAM!”

Do you struggle with monotony? How can you turn something that is monotonous into an opportunity for appreciation or gratitude instead of a moment of frustration and a strong desire to escape?

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