By Pastor Bob Myers
Recently I connected with Psalm 71 in a very experiential and sweet way. It is the middle age Psalm of a person who wants to be sweeter, wiser, and renewed as they age. It’s made me pray, “Lord, make me more “Jesus-y” as I age. Yes, “Jesus-y” is using Jesus’ person as an adjective that we can aspire to. I want to be a “Jesus-y” husband, father, friend, and pastor.
The culture around us places a big emphasis on not looking your age as your body racks up laps around the sun. But who is talking about not allowing age to ravage and diminish our personalities? There’s more awareness of how sin operates in a systemic way these days which is a good thing. But sin is systemic in all of its manifestations. What about systemic character decay? Who is writing to warn us of how the gravity of time will cause our character to have sags and wrinkles and sunspots and blemishes.
There are lots of helpful books and advisors that offer to help me plan my financial future into my eighties and beyond. But there is not much emphasis on planning what kind of eighty year old soul I will have. Will you be sweet or sour? Will you be gracious and overflowing with kindness or self-absorbed? Not many eighty-somethings live in the mushy middle. By the time you’re eighty, your habits, experiences and disposition can become pretty well set on being a kill-joy or a life-giver. Here’s a test: When others share big dreams do you “how them do death, or wow them to life”?
Carey Nieuwhof’s worthwhile and insightful book, “Didn’t See It Coming” devotes a chapter to the perils of getting trapped in cynicism. The author warns me that: “Cynicism begins not because you don’t care but because you do care.
I can identify with that statement very much. Cynicism takes hold through disappointments. Cynicism is often the fruit of jilted loves and dashed hopes.
Cynicism starts with disappointment. “It starts because you poured your heart into something and got little in return. Or maybe you got something in return, but it was the opposite of what you desired. You fell in love, only to have that relationship dissolve. You threw your heart into your job, only to be told you were being let go. You were completely there for your mom, only to have her tell you you’re such a disappointment.”
Experience in life allows us to be able to detect patterns. It’s part of the upside of aging, you learn how to anticipate things. You realize you’ve seen certain things before, either in yourself or in others. But the downside is when wisdom gained through experience moves you in a sour and sulky direction.
Beware when “you start to project past failures onto new situations.” This then leads to becoming suspicious. Suspicion is the opposite of love, because love trusts. Love hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13).
Nieuwhof writes a powerful warning: “Eventually, the wariness makes you weary. Your guardedness and suspicion evolve into anger and bitterness.”
The problem with generalizing—applying one particular situation to all situations—is that the death of trust, hope, and belief is like a virus, infecting everything. You think you’re protecting yourself from the future when, in reality, your new stance infects your present.
And what becomes true of us in terms of how we relate to people begins to infect our relationship with God. We can become cynical about our relationship with God.
The book describes it this way: “When you close your heart to people, you close your heart to God. That shouldn’t surprise us, but it does. It only makes sense that the very act of hardening your heart to people simply hardens your heart. Life doesn’t make you a cynic; you make you a cynic. Cynics never change the world. They just tell you why the world can’t change.”
He advocates taking our cynicism to the Cross. It was the cynics who crucified Jesus, who failed to believe the good news of the Messiah, who failed to believe redemption was dawning.
But he also writes of a “life hack” he discovered when he was seeking to kill cynicism in his own life. That life hack is to become curious. Curiosity is incompatible with cynicism.
Nieuwhof writes, “To foster curiosity, also ask, “Why not?” Why not do it differently? Why not say yes? Why not try it? Why not try a new way? Widen your universe when other people seem to be narrowing theirs.”
What I’ve learned is the need to detox from any unforgiveness. Forgiving others completely, emptying out all hurts and dismantling any possible grudge is a victory over cynicism. Romans 12 tells us to outdo one another in showing honor. If someone has hurt us we need to follow these directions: Do good, bless, pray, and forgive. It’s impossible to hold onto any kind of bitterness about people or a situation if we bless them in prayer. Praying and “grudging” are incompatible. Either our grudges will neutralize our prayer, or our praying will wipe out our grudges. One will dissolve the other. Cynicism and prayer cannot exist in the same space.
The Message renders Proverbs 1:22-24 this way: “Cynics! How long will you feed your cynicism? Idiots! How long will you refuse to learn? About face! I can revise your life. Look, I’m ready to pour out my spirit on you; I’m ready to tell you all I know. As it is, I’ve called, but you’ve turned a deaf ear; I’ve reached out to you, but you’ve ignored me.”
Cynicism is incompatible with expectancy that comes from faith. Faith in the One who has promised to make all things, including us, new.
Be alert for signs of cynicism in yourself. It’s something that tends to be a blind spot that we won’t see coming. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. As we age, new wrinkles are unavoidable. But we can grow old “sweet like raisins kissed by the Son”.