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I was feeling a little cynical as I walked into church last week. It had been a weird past few months — the highs had been amazing and the lows incredibly disappointing. And in the middle of the mess, in an effort to find a sense of balance, I was becoming numb, especially when it came to the spiritual side of things and my relationship with God.
Honestly, it was easy to do. I’ve spent most of my professional life working in a Christian environment — both in a ministry setting and a for-profit company. And prior to that, I spent four years at a Christian college. So to say that I’ve lived most of the last 10 years smack dab in the middle of Christian culture is accurate. It’s easy to make having a vibrant, thriving relationship with Christ just another thing to cross off my to-do list. It’s easy to feel like there’s nothing new under the sun — like every Bible discussion at my small group, every Christian book I work on as an employee at a publishing company, and every sermon I hear at church is just another version of the same old thing.
I don’t like being the cynical one. I don’t want to be so jaded that I can’t hear from God or see Him at work in my life. I want to have a tender heart — one that is sensitive to the Lord and His leading. The thing is, being cynical is easy. It doesn’t require vulnerability or hope.
So I walked into church with a desperate prayer that God would break into the numbness and give me a fresh glimpse of Him. It happened to be Compassion Sunday, and I heard the testimony of Brenda, a young woman from India whose life was changed because of a family who decided to sponsor her. Tears welled up as I sat through the service, listening to stories of believers who put their faith in action by sponsoring a Compassion child.
It seems to me that the antidote for cynicism, at least in my case, is focusing on serving others. I spent an hour thinking not of myself and the messiness of my life, but on vulnerable children who can’t see a way out of poverty. I saw “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) in the church body, and that was incredibly moving.
If you’ve bought into cynicism or found yourself jaded, I don’t know what God might use to break through that. But I know He will if you’re asking Him to. And I suspect that it might have something to do with serving someone.
Do you ever feel like a cynical Christian? What’s helped you move past that and grow in authentic faith?
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I often struggle with Church Cynicism. I try hard to be all where I am and find God even if I'm not "feeling it" but I find that it's more often... I'm very cynical about people with certain attitudes. If someone starts trying to sell me their faith (or their "brand" of faith) like a sales pitch, I mentally check out and go somewhere else. Likewise if someone starts trying to sell me on how amazing "their" ministry is. I don't want to be told how awesome you are -- show me.
And I think that's the difference between a sermon on how everyone's conviction levels are different, but *I*, your pastor, NEVER see R-rated movies (except for the Passion of the Christ, of course) and a testimony about how donations from Compassion International have changed someone's life. Because in one case, you're telling me what do to based on what you do, simply becasue you feel it is right (and I'm not saying yea or nay, on that conviction level, it's a perfectly fine one to have, but anytime someone says "I never see R rated movies except the Passion of the Christ" I roll my eyes because if they REALLY cared about the content, then they'd be perfectly willing to let it ride until someone invited them to a movie they were uncomfortable with and said "no" simply on the basis of that conviction, rather than broadcasting their level of conviction when no one is asking or inviting them to share), and in the other you're showing me the awesome work that God has done in your life because other people were willing to submit and serve. The former is something that happens a lot in Christian circles, and it points to our "goodness" relative to others, and the latter is something I like to see more of because it points to the goodness of God, and the humility of spirit that leads to giving because you see a need and you submitted to him, not because you're "supposed" to give or that it makes you a "better" person because you did.
I get cynical because the very plastic, platitude ridden faith that is... mainstream does nothing for me -- I don't get it, I can't connect with it and I really struggle to see how it works for people. That kind of 30-second devotional sort of faith that gets really uncomfortable around swear words and needs to sit down with you and have a 5-point conversation about whether you've accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior without ever asking you how your family is, or what's going on in your life or whether you got up on the right side of the bed this morning makes me really unhappy.
I also get cynical because I'm terrified that those people are secretly judging me, and I don't know how to connect with them or resonate in their world. It's the world I grew up in, but it's really strange to me. I get cynical because there are things I genuinely don't understand about the bible and instead of helping me understand those things in a real, meaningful way, people just dismiss those concerns as being "from a different time" or they pull up some kind of commentary that tells a story of genocide like it was OK because God was on the side that won. I get cynical people people prooftext Jeremiah 29:11 into every situation, and then turn around in the next conversation and say that the promises, laws, and covenants of the Old Testament no longer apply because they were fullfilled by Christ.
But none of these cynicisms shake my faith. I still believe in a God that is good, and holy and loving and true who send his son as a propitiation for the sins of man that we might one day be fully reunited with him. They just frustrate me -- and I sometimes get a little scared to discuss them with other Christians because questioning is sometimes linked to apostacy, and that's not me. I just wish that the bits of the bible we like to ignore because they're ugly were not so hard to swallow.
Ah, I feel for you MrsAshleyTOF. I too become cynical when I am in the presence of Christians that seem to judge me.
I tend to be a people pleaser when around Christians. I never want to say anything wrong, imply anything wrong etc. I'm terrified of people simply not liking me and judging me as a "non-Christianly-Christian." I have a friend who also struggles with this... I have decided that instead of worrying about what people think of me and therefore becoming cynical, I need to keep my focus on God. As long as God knows my heart and loves me, nothing else matters. Understand that I am not disregarding other people's feelings, but there is a point when I have to say, "Okay, I said something stupid and that person now thinks I'm just another ditzy girl, but that's okay 'cause God loves me and knows my heart." It's always helpful for me to keep in mind that I have a higher purpose than people-pleasing. In fact God didn't call me to be a people pleaser at all.
It is hard to find a balance between cynicism and optimism. It is important to be aware of problems and question everything at some point, but at the same time, I don't want to be so focused on the negative things that I miss the positive and become an unpleasant person to be around. I want to see people as people and not write them off because something they do or think turns me off. I try to remind myself that most people mean well and it's not my job to "fix" people. I heard a lesson recently on loving "The Other," whoever that is to you, and it made me think about this. My definition of "The Other" has taken a full 180 over the years. Sometimes I have to temporarily shut down the critical part of my brain, particularly in Christian circles.
I get (even more) cynical when I hear too much vague stuff about "seeking God" etc without saying anything about what it means in practice. Here's a quote from the last book I read: "turn the eyes of your heart to him, and trust him." Hilarious, but at the same time tragical too...
I have been into Jesus since I was just a child, and I have problems with cynicism all the time. I have been through quite a lot of disappointment within the past few years, and what once used to drain me emotionally now hardly makes a difference. Still, sometimes I have moments when I am truly thankful for something that God has just done for me.
Ashley, thanks for being vulnerable in sharing this blog entry. It's such a great reminder to think of others. I've found myself having my own pity parties when I'm cynical. It's all about me and what God didn't do for me. But serving , even when we serve begrudgingly at first, can quickly get us out of the pity party.
Interestingly, I was just reading in Eph. 6 about the armor we're supposed to put on. This armor is meant to protect us from those firey darts Satan throws at us, like doubts that God exists, He answers prayer, or that He cares for us. I once heard a pastor say that the belt of Truth holds the whole armor together. How can we wear a breastplate of righteousness? How do we know we're righteous? The Truth--found in scripture. How do we know we have salvation and can wear the helmet of salvation? The Truth--found in scripture. How can we use the shield of Faith if we don't know Who we have faith in? We read scripture. It seems that a big way to fight cynicism is remembering scripture.
One thing I've done is underline God's promises in my Bible as I've found them. On those more cynical days, I flip open to those promises and then pray the desperate prayer of the demon-possessed boys' father, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."
This is great. Recently, I have been very cynical, I've praying that God wreck my heart and break through this numbness. I know that He will. And perhaps not being so wrapped up in me is a key to feeling again! Great article!! :)
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