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If we are fully awake and aware that we are all swimming in a soup of cynicism coming at us from all directions, we need to consider how much it has infected us and not simply look at how much we see in other people, media, organizations, and businesses. Exposure to any and all media shows stunning examples sound bite by sound bite, but we need to start with us first before picking up stones to throw at others.
Seeing it is step number one but what comes next? We can’t truly address the issue by trying to use optimism as our solution. Then we swing to the opposite pole and deal with more denial than we ought. Practicing telling ourselves the truth can be helpful but being clear about what the truth is may not be easy. At present there is a strong push toward looking at “my truth” versus “your truth” since we have largely abandoned absolute truth as archaic and out of fashion.
Paul Miller in A Praying Life outlines five steps as tools for engagement to move from cynicism and they provide principles to course correct how we may have been functioning.
First, he suggests we should “be warm but wary.” That immediately brings to mind a scripture from Matthew:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”Matthew 10:16 (NIV)
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Matthew’s words speak clearly many times. We are not to participate in treachery, cunning, and cruelty. In other words, we could be tempted to respond in kind to cynicism and stir the pot of negative divisive attitudes and a belief we are right with “our truth” versus the opinion or “their truth.”
Far better to respond with warmth to another person and yet be wary when cynicism is crackling in the atmosphere when we are engaged with them.
“Instead of naive optimism, Jesus calls us to be wary, yet confident in our heavenly Father. We are to combine a robust trust in the Good Shepherd with a vigilance about the presence of evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.”Paul Miller
Second, if we are infected to any degree of cynicism and seeking to combat its messages that deaden hope we must “learn to hope again.” The last few years have eroded hope on most levels of our lives to some degree. Some have decided it is futile to hope again or even to pray again and decided passively or actively to believe this is the way it is now and will be so. We wave the white flag of surrender to Satan and his schemes and whatever spiritual mooring we have sits passively on the bench instead of being on the field in action against the enemy. We have lost hope that we can be in the field and Jesus is all about hope.
“Many of us believe in the Christian hope of ultimate redemption, but we breathe the cynical spirit of our age and miss the heart of God.”Paul Miller
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The third tool we need is to “cultivate a childlike spirit.” When we are children, we revel in so many things. We dream about all sorts of things, some magical and some not. We believe much is possible and we trust those who care for us unless evidence has taught us otherwise. We ask for all sorts of things and are more vocal about things that hurt or frighten us. We don’t expect to have it all together despite moments when we might pretend we do.
If we become like children as Christ admonished us to do, we cry out for help without hesitation and in that moment, we put cynicism to flight. Consider how the brilliance of C.S. Lewis never failed to be filled with childlike wonder when he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Certainly, he must have had a childlike spirit.
What about us?
The fourth tool on Paul Miller’s list is “cultivating a thankful spirit.” With so many things going awry in our personal lives and the world (near and far) around us, it can be easy to skip that or fall prey to naive optimism that really isn’t what Miller is talking about at all.
“Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it is.”Paul Miller
If we pause to reflect on these principles Paul Miller is writing about, it may bring to mind King David, the Apostle Paul, and a long list of others like Corrie Ten Boom who survived the horrors of the holocaust with seeing reality while having a grateful heart.
“Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices at God’s care. It replaces a bitter spirit with a generous one.”Paul Miller
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Last, but not least, is “cultivating repentance.” Pride and cynicism are in the same family and opposed to a humble spirit. If we believe we know reality and there is nothing else to know about ourselves and have deadened our hearts to the hope and reality of a grateful heart toward God, we will only be more mired down in cynicism than ever.
“Cynics imagine they are disinterested observers on a quest for authenticity. They assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything.”Paul Miller
If we consider the wise counsel of Paul Miller’s words, we are more likely to be freed from the infection of cynicism running rampant in this age and remember the narrow path Jesus spoke of is the one that brings us peace, renews our joy, helps grow humility, and restores our hope as nothing and no one else can.
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