Cynicism can start as a perhaps justifiable response to disappointment in our lives, but then often grows to something deadly to a life of hope and faith. All of us face disappointment, whether with ourselves or with the way life has turned out or with the groups we work among or with. For me disappointment has been a real issue at times. A few years ago, I was struggling with a pretty deep area of disappointment that involved others. It was proving hard to get free of, and after lots of reflection and prayer, one day a surprising thought came.
It was certainly unexpected when I felt the still small voice of the Spirit speak to me that the one I was most disappointed in was not myself or others but actually God. I didn’t want to face that fact, but it was true. I was blaming the One that loved me the most for the things that had hurt and disappointed me. As I repented (turned away) from that place in my heart, a deep peace and grace came to me.
When disappointments keep growing in our lives, a deeper cynicism can result. One definition of cynicism is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Similar words for it are mistrust, disbelief, suspicion, scoffing. The danger of cynicism is that it chokes off hope and faith. It is soil where freshness and new life find very incompatible ground.
Of course there are many things to be cynical about today. Our societies, our politics, other Christians or whatever faith we hold, our own lives. When we are cynical, there is no space for fresh hope in someone. Everything they ever do will be colored by a lack of trust. There will be walls in our hearts where nothing they can ever do penetrates us, at least in a positive way. We will believe every narrative on social media against them, never pausing to interrogate it more deeply. We have made up our mind about that person, that group, or our own life and family.
No matter what age we are, freshness of hope is crucial to a life of generous grace. Doubt and cynicism is sad to see at any age, especially when there is no more room for hope. There are times when it is not wrong to be skeptical. Especially in the political climate we live in all over the world, there is much to be skeptical about in all parties and leaders. But it is when we allow that skepticism to deepen and fester that the poison of cynicism can develop.
I find in my own life the constant need to fight cynicism, not allowing it any room to grow. Don’t misunderstand me: there is plenty of need and room to disagree with things around us, to exercise protest and dissent when we need to. But when the heart becomes corrupted, the fruits that emerge into the outer world will also be corrupt, however seemingly good they appear to be.
Do you battle with cynicism? Turn from it, and let fresh water of grace and life pour forth from your inner life.