Cynicism

by - January 26, 2018

I've felt a shift in my soul recently, and I'd be remiss to not recognize a similar shift in my closest friends' hearts as well. I feel tenderness where there were once walls. I sense vulnerability and a willingness to be cared for where there was once a posture of self-sufficiency. It is possible that this is simply the outcome of the passage of time or age. However, I don't believe that is the case as some people will bare spiritual arms to the grave. Maturity doesn't just befall people as do the lines on their face or the gray hairs on their head. Maturity is more so the unwinding of Time's affects on us. It is the growth of the emotional muscle to thrive in spite of the erosive powers of Time: disappointment, failure, and loss.

So what is it then? Maybe we have just grown tired of the weight of our skepticism and bitterness. Maybe it is the loss of loved ones and seeing friends and family suffer that strips us of our short-sighted focus on sculpting an identity that will garner us acceptance and accolades, because in the grief we simply have to cling to the hope that there is so much more than the existence we see with our eyes. Maybe we know there are emotions, beliefs, and missed opportunities we don't want to take to our own graves.

I can't pinpoint where cynicism first entered into my own life, but it has undeniably robbed me of the depth of relationships I've always longed for, the eagerness to forgive so that I can move on, the willingness to sacrifice and serve without fear of being taken advantage of, and the desire to be fully present in my own life and especially within community.

I found a helpful explanation of cynicism in Psychology Today:
"Cynicism is part of a defensive posture we take to protect ourselves. It's typically triggered when we feel hurt by or angry at something, and instead of dealing with those emotions directly, we allow them to fester and skew our outlook. When we grow cynical toward one thing in our lives, we may slowly start to turn on everything." - Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.

Of course I have been wounded -- haven't we all -- probably on a daily basis. I would wager that as I have failed to deal with wounds, I've grown more prone to being wounded. The only recourse, aside from healing, is to callous over the tender spots. If you can't touch my wounds, you can't hurt me. However, if you can't see my wounds, how can you know me? And if you can't know me, how can you love me and speak the truth that my soul needs for healing?

Cynicism grows in our hearts as people and institutions prove to be true our worst assumptions about them. What if instead of looking for the failure, we looked beyond for God's redemption? To take an even greater risk, what if we let Him use us to bring redemption?

There are so many lies I have allowed to warp me - lies about safety and comfort, lies about success, lies about worth, lies about femininity and purpose. I have been afraid of losing autonomy and taking down walls. I  once loved John 3:8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” but that was before I had a husband, a house, a garden, two kids, two cats, and seven chickens. Some point in my own journey I quit viewing the movement of God in my life as a freeing and life-giving force and started seeing it as something that threatened my own safety and comfort.

We don't live in an easy society. It literally does take hearing the same message over and over for it to undo the negative patterns of thinking we have developed. If a person has been taught for the entirety of their life that they are the sum of their physical legacy, they will need to be told for the remainder  of their life,
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? "- Mark 8:34-37

I believe cynicism ultimately causes us to lose our souls or at least become severely disconnected from them. Hurt leads to wounds. Wounds lead to self-protection. Self-protection leads to cynicism. Cynicism leads to walls. Walls block out light. We either grow or die.

With grace and mercy, God shakes our walls. Cracks begin to form, and as wounds begin to heal, we find that what is out there isn't so scary. Shedding tears is powerful, not weak. We finally see that our long-running resistance to emotional manipulation has really been a fear of our own emotions and God's call to love.

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