Unraveling Cynicism

Cynicism is Rooted in Woundedness

I am barely a teenager sitting in the front bedroom of my childhood home, a two-story brick house with green shutters. As I look out the window I am scared, depressed, uncertain. From a very young age I learn this world is not the way it is supposed to be. In 1991 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. By the time I reach eighth grade in the fall of 1997, my mother is getting sicker instead of getting better.

At thirteen I want to be numb to everything around me. To feel the emotional pain raging within me and interact with the sad reality surrounding me is too much  for my barely teenage brain to bear. I learn how to disengage. I learn how to be numb to life’s difficulties.  My numbness pushes true friends away. In crowds I find myself surrounded by many people but somehow I always feel alone.

This disengagement and numbness eventually buds into cynicism and as an adult, I grow into a woman who engages the world as a full-blown cynic. Cynicism is one of the distorted ways in which I view the world.

“Cynicism creates a numbness toward life. Cynicism begins with a wry assurance that everyone has an angle. Behind every silver lining is a cloud. The cynic is always observing, critiquing, but never engaging, loving, and hoping…To be cynical is to be distant. While offering a false intimacy of being ‘in the know,’ cynicism actually destroys intimacy. It leads to bitterness that can deaden and even destroy the spirit.” Paul Miller, A Praying Life

The Tension Between Cynicism and The Gospel

My cynicism became a problem when I became a Christian at the age of twenty-one.

My new life in Christ and my old life built upon the foundation of cynicism in juxtaposition with one another. I find myself unable to fully engage with others within the church because of how deeply I am tangled up in my own cynicism.

Cynicism becomes deeply rooted and takes hold of how people grow to engage the world.

Cynicism sees the pretty girl walk into the room and assumes she is stupid or worse, assumes you don’t like her. The cynic sees the Christian who is always smiling as a person who lacks emotional depth. Tangled up in cynicism, we can’t see the greater redemptive story in ourselves, others, and the whole world because cynicism distorts hope.

Deeply rooted cynicism leads down the path of critiquing, over-thinking, never hoping and never fully trusting. A cynic may look friendly on the outside while the inner self of a cynic questions motives of others.

I like this definition of cynicism I found in an article on Desiring God:

Cynicism is the emotional disposition of distrust or rejection toward a particular idea, person, or group as a result of negative experiences (either directly or indirectly).

New life in Christ brings tension between the old and the new self. There is tension between the desires of the way you have always lived, and the way you are called to live in the gospel of Christ.

The unraveling of the old pattern of cynicism is necessary in the Christian life so Christians can live in the community we have been called to live with one another, the community founded on the gospel, where Jesus is the cornerstone. The community of the Church. This is a community call to love one another with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Galatians 5:16-17)

Robert Robinson is an 18th century pastor, hymnodist, and writer of the hymn: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. My favorite part of this hymn illustrates my above point. This hymn was written in the 1700s and describes the same tension I feel in my daily life between my cynicism and call to love others fully the gospel in 2018, three hundred years later.

O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let they goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart. O take and seal it; Seal it for thy courts above.

We live in the now and the not yet. We have foretasted heaven in our own redemption, but the world is not yet fully redeemed. In the now and the not yet as those who claim the name of Jesus, we wait and we dance with our prone to wandering hearts.

How to Unravel Deeply Rooted Cynicism 

First, self-awareness is the most basic step to unraveling cynicism. A person cannot be unraveled from cynicism if the person is are unaware he or she has the plaguing problem of cynicism. Step one is self-awareness of the problem, the gospel, and our wandering hearts

Second, embrace the process. The healing from cynicism does not happen overnight. We live in a microwave world. Books are delivered to our fingertips, groceries are amazon primed in two hours. Sanctification does not happen in a microwave. It is the slow unraveling of the old self and faith to embrace the new self.

Third, the gospel invites us into freedom from our old unhealthy patterns. In the gospel, we can be free from the heavy yoke of slavery to cynicism. You have to see the heavy yoke of cynicism in the way you see the world and desire to be free from that heavy burden upon your shoulders.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5: 1,13)

Fourth, recognize cynical patterns, memorize scriptures to replace those cynical patterns, and ask God to change you from the inside out.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

It is critical to begin to recognize the cynical bend in your thought life toward cynicism. It is also critical to be transformed in your mind to the patterns of cynicism. Nothing spiritual is happening without the step of being renewed from the inside out, through the renewing of your mind. This renewal happens by knowing the Word of God and asking you knowledge of the Word to change the way you live. Without the middle step of renewal and transformation, our battles against cynicism will only be surface deep.

When I look back and see freedom from the yoke of slavery of cynicism, I see hope for the teenager standing in her bedroom. I see a life much bigger than she could have ever dreamed up for herself. A life where she eventually learned to show up, be vulnerable, and allowed herself to be seen. A life where cynicism didn’t distort her view of others, but love rooted in the gospel helped her see others, and even herself with the eyes of Jesus.

“Courage starts with showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen.” Brene Brown

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