Cynicism Can Make Ice Cream Taste Like Spinach
When I had my heart attack three years ago, and when it seemed like everything was falling apart around me, I found myself sliding into a pit of cynicism and despair. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now.
Up to that point in my life, I always considered myself an optimist. But, as Carey Nieuwhof writes, “Most cynics are former optimists” (Didn’t See It Coming, 16), and I’m living proof. Cynicism is a mindset that controls our attitude. It’s a blanket draped over present circumstances and future possibilities. Cynicism says, “Okay, so things are going well for now, but you just wait.” Your car is on the verge of breaking down. Your kids may be healthy, but they’ll still get sick. Your job is never secure. Your marriage appears to be fine, but it’s just an illusion. You’re just one heartbeat away from another heart attack and possible death.
Cynicism can make ice cream taste like spinach. It can make sunshine merely a precursor to storms. It hollows out joy and fills it with the cream of bitterness. No one likes to be around an Eeyore, but when we find ourselves in the wardrobe of Debbie Downer, what do we do?
First, we acknowledge that life is filled with pain. We don’t deny it, we don’t run from it, and we don’t hide it. Solomon once wrote, “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Solomon may have written this on a bad day, but his words are true. Wisdom is the gateway to loving life (Proverbs 19:8), but it also brings awareness of the reality of death. Cynicism takes this knowledge and turns it to gall. True wisdom in Christ turns this reality to hope. When we acknowledge the reality of pain in this world, we can then learn to deal with it. Knowledge is the path to cynicism or Christ, death or life.
Second, don’t project past failures onto future possibilities. The past is the past. Learn from it. Grow from it. But don’t repeat it. My mentor, Alan Ahlgrim, once told me, “You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. But just because you did the best you could doesn’t mean it was the best that could have been done.” Have you experienced past failures? Welcome to the club. The issue now is how to move forward without letting the past define your future. God told the Israelites in a season of new opportunities, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18).
Third, keep believing. Faith, by definition, is a choice. You choose to believe the sun will rise tomorrow, even though all you can see is the darkness of night. You choose to believe that God will guide you through pain, even though all you feel is hurt. Nieuwhof said it best, “Because hope is anchored in resurrection, it is resilient. It can withstand a thousand [critics]. It can outlast a dozen or a hundred frustrating jobs. It can outmaneuver ten thousand broken hearts. If you want to kick cynicism in the teeth, trust again. Hope again. Believe again. That’s the hope found in Jesus Christ. And that, in the end, is what defeats cynicism” (ibid., 26).
“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).