It should come to no surprise to many that I often joke about being an overtly cynical person. Shoot, I’ve even gone as far as to brag about being a devout cynic! As a daytime engineer, it was almost a badge of honor that indicated how rational I was. After all, if you just take a brief survey of… well… most things in our world today, a rational world-view would be justifiably cynical.
Working for the government, alone, is enough to make you a flaming cynic.
Starting back in January 2014, when I was asked to assume leadership of our church’s student ministry, I did a bit of soul-searching and realized I had some dirt in my life that I had swept under the rug rather than actually throwing it away. Eventually that little pile of dirt turned into a little bump and that little bump turned into a mountain. It was Mt. Saint Cynic, a colossal monument to human acceptance of a lesser life and an obstacle keeping me from achieving a deeper relationship with Christ. Cynicism had become such a big part of my personality that I didn’t even give it a second thought. After all, it’s just cynicism. I mean, it’s not hurting anyone.
The thing was, it was hurting ME (and by extension hurting those around me). It kept me from feeling the joy that comes from serving the church, working with teens, and being a witness to others. When you are a cynic, you don’t have that security that, regardless of what you can see on the outside, God is moving in the hearts of every student you touch. The cynic doesn’t see that serving is a personal and corporate building process where we continuously identify flaws and improve who we are. The cynic doesn’t beam love and grace in a way that others notice and want to be a part of. Simply put, being a pure cynic and being a true follower of Christ that loves and gives to a sinful world is incompatible.
Along with that cynical attitude comes a myriad of other undesirable behaviors. It’s easy to talk about “those people” as a cynic without necessarily being judgmental because you aren’t truly being a judgmental person… you’re just “calling it like it is and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem”. It’s easy to overlook what other people might be willing to do or to contribute to a group when you’re a cynic because the ‘rational’ side of you is just taking empirical evidence of their past behavior and making a logical conclusion that “some people” aren’t going to help or won’t follow through. In a way, cynicism becomes the root of many sinful behaviors that begin to turn you into a person that, if you were to see from another angle, you would swear is ‘just another lost soul’.
For me, there wasn’t any big tipping point or “ah-hah” moment that made me realize I needed to change. Sin isn’t always that obvious; Satan’s been at this “sin” game for a while, now. Sometimes sin slowly creeps into our lives and builds and builds and builds (like dirt under the rug) until it has become a mountain we can’t possibly overcome. I couldn’t overcome my cynicism and it took complete surrender to God to prepare me for the next steps in my ministry.
When we learn about the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), we see Paul mention love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Of these, faithfulness, joy, and peace seem to be the most subdued by our cynicism. If we are allowing the ‘reality’ of a fallen creation to twist our view of the future, then we may be putting more ‘faith’ into the sinful nature of creation than we are into the Creator. If we are too busy judging what other people will ‘probably’ do in a tense or confrontational situation, it may drive us away from making peace with those around us who we have offended or who have offended us. Finally, if we live our lives so convinced in the failing nature of the world we live in, how can we possibly realize the true joy that Christ offers to even the most fallen in our society?
For me, cynicism just didn’t have a place in the life of someone striving to get closer to Christ nor did it have a place in the personality of someone who was trying to minister to teenagers… the world’s young Jedi Knights of cynicism. With God’s help, the mountain was broken into pieces and though I still stumble on those pieces from time to time, I have come to see a far brighter life even in the midst of personal and social challenges. Moving forward, I find myself now being more cautious of my actions and my attitude and asking myself, once again, where the next mountain-to-be-conquered lies.