When others ask me about my story of returning to the Catholic Church, I typically tell a story about a night that I experienced in college when I was getting ready to meet some friends at a local bar. After putting my hair in a ponytail and throwing on a cute blue dress, I took one last look in the mirror. It was what I saw in the mirror that changed everything.
What I saw was not a fresh young woman ready for a night on the town. Instead, I saw in myself all the exhaustion of years chasing after an empty life. At this point in the story, I usually explain that I decided that I wanted to live an honest life which sparked my journey back to faith. I don’t normally talk about the other thing that I saw in the mirror. It was something that I have seen over and over again in my own heart, and lately I have been noticing it again. It’s something that has become a popular attitude in society, and it's so subtle that most of the time it goes unnoticed.
That thing that I saw looming over me in the mirror that night was an attitude of cynicism. In my sin, I had become slightly cynical. My heart had been hardened about everything. Sure, I was funny and often had a smile on my face, but my thoughts, words, and actions had become peppered with the idea that there is something bad to be discovered in everything and no one can be trusted. This is a terrible way to live; yet many of us have taken on a cynical attitude without even realizing it.
According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, a cynic is “a faultfinding captious critic.” A cynical person typically holds a fundamental disposition of distrust toward ideas, institutions, and people. Even when things are good, they will ever so slightly pick apart situations and events in order to reveal what is wrong and expose possible bad motives. The cynical person finds it very hard to hold on to joy or hope in the midst of a tragic world.
What is so wrong with being cynical? After all, we only have to look at this year to be reminded that life is tragic. All too often, people aren’t who they seem to be, institutions are corrupt, and the good guys lose. Scripture tell us repeatedly that the world is evil (Acts 2:40) and that the human heart is not to be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9), so what is it about cynicism that makes it so dangerous, and how can we trade it for something better?
To start, cynicism is a function of pride and hopelessness. Cynics typically notice extra details that the average person might not notice or pull from extra information that the other person might not have. There is almost always an air of intellectual superiority that comes from the cynic. There is never an attitude of humility or seeking to learn from others what they may be missing.
Cynicism breeds ineffectiveness. Cynics recognize all that is wrong with the Sunday Mass and can tell anyone in earshot how to fix it, but they never volunteer to lead or form a relationship with the clergy. They can tell you all that is wrong with society and what to do to create change, but they do so from a place of comfort far removed from where the problems are unfolding. The cynic observes and judges, but does not act.
Finally, cynicism leads the cynic away from love, hope, and joy because it stems from a hardened heart. It embraces Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” without considering Romans 3:24, “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” With no redemption, there is no real hope, joy is fleeting, and love is temporal.
Dear sister, take a moment to search your heart. Is it shadowed by a cynical attitude? Are you allowing the beauty and joy of the Christian life to be stamped out because your past tells you that nothing stays good and no one remains trustworthy? Are you stifled in your Christian walk because the events of this year have left you with a hardened heart and weary spirit? The world by itself is a tragedy. It is filled with bad news and bad players both inside and outside of our Church and institutions. If we walk through life with a cynical spirit of the world, we will miss God’s call on our lives to enter the mess and be his hands and feet. Our hurting world needs Christians to reject cynicism, repent, and live the gospel.
So what is the proper response? It can be found in one of the most famous bible verses there is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
The Lord knows just how deep the wound of our sin goes. He knows that there is truth to the idea that good things don’t last and no one can be trusted, and yet, He did not sit on His throne and judge from afar. He entered into the mess. He became one of us and reached out a hand with His eyes on our redemption. He did it all, the healing, the miracles, the suffering, death, and resurrection knowing that many would still reject Him. That didn’t stop Him, however, from becoming the least of us with our redemption in mind. He broke through the cynicism and hardness of our sin through His realistic, unwavering love and it changed everything.
The Lord does not call us to take on a blind attitude of idealism and walk around as if real life reflects the movies on the Hallmark Channel. He calls us to the same realistic love that He gave to us. He calls us to see our world's brokenness for what it is and then refuses to be overwhelmed by it. He calls us to serve and to love anyway. With Him at the center of our lives, He challenges us to enter into the mess knowing that we won’t change everything, but through Him, we will change something. Gospel-centered action is the antidote to cynicism.
Yes, we live in a broken world wrought with broken systems. Yes, we may not see the happy ending on this side of heaven, but God calls us to act instead of judge from afar. What is it that bothers you so much about the world? What is it that you wish was different? Let it break your heart, not harden it. Let it bring you to your knees and move your feet to service. Let go of any cynicism that lurks in your heart, and let God use you to become the type of woman whose mere presence proves that redemption exists in a world full of evil.
A group of around thirty high school girls are currently rocking my world. Each week I load up my car with baked goods, kantha quilts made out of recycled saris from India, twinkle lights, pillows and blankets and head over to the local Catholic high school. I do my best to create a safe place of beauty- to offer a pause in the busy week- a time for the girls to take a break and be reminded of who they truly are. We call it Redeeming Eden, because we are on a journey to reclaim what the enemy stole thousands of years ago and continues to mess with today.
The father of lies is in the business of stealing our true identity as beloved daughters of God. But we're not just daughters. We've got an older brother who fights for us valiantly and ALWAYS WINS, as long as we call on Him. It's been said that a woman who knows God as her Father and Jesus as her older brother is unstoppable. That's the truth I'm determined to pass on to these young women.
These are the sorts of questions they've ask me:
“How do you find yourself after you've been lost?”
“How can I find myself- who I truly am- because when you put on a different persona it's hard to figure out who you are?”
“If you feel you're starting to change (badly), how can you go back to who you really are?”
They want an answer to the question, “Who am I?” and then they want to know how to hold on to that identity. Those girls aren't that different from their mothers and grandmothers. They aren't that different from any of us.
We can begin to answer these questions by going back to the beginning- back to the place where it all went wrong. There was a time when things were as God intended them to be. Hearts were free from despair, doubt, self-hatred, confusion, competition, comparison, grief and disappointment. The world was as it should be, because the people knew who they were and who God was. Needs were provided for by a loving Father who could be trusted. There was rest. There was certainty. There was security. There was peace.
But the enemy of our souls couldn't bear to see us experience what he had forfeited for himself. Satan, the accuser, entered the scene with the goal of getting man to doubt God's goodness, provision, and trustworthiness. He knew that if he could get our eyes off God and onto ourselves, he could begin to drive a wedge into the utterly life-giving relationship we are privileged to share with our Creator.
How did he do it? Once such goodness and perfection had been tasted, what could cause a person to walk away? The enemy accomplished this by tempting Eve to attempt to grab the identity of God for herself. And we have been caught in the trap of self-reliance and self-worship ever since.
God had given Adam and Eve the freedom to eat the fruit of every tree in the Garden of Eden, save one. One tree was off limits. The enemy drew Eve's eyes to the forbidden fruit and seductively suggested that God was holding out on her. He whispered, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
You will be like God. No longer dependent, no longer being taken care of, no longer being provided for- you will do the providing. You'll be self-sufficient. You won't need Him anymore. You will be in charge. When your eyes are opened, you'll see how powerful you are.
May we never forget the identity of the one doing the talking. We read in John 8:44 that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Because make no mistake, he is whispering the same lie to you today. He is tempting you to trade the incredible gift of being protected, delighted in and cared for by your Heavenly Father, for self-sufficiency and trying to do everything in your own strength. He is tempting you to trade the gift of having your big brother fight your battles for you (battles He is guaranteed to win) for heading into the battle by yourself, unarmed and vulnerable.
We have to decide whose voice we are going to listen to. We have got to grasp hold of our true identity, who God says we are, and kick to the curb the litany of lies that is fed to us on a daily basis.
Who are you?
You are chosen. (1 Peter 2:9)
You are God's masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
You are precious. (Isaiah 43:4)
You are provided for. (Philippians 4:19)
You are delivered. (Psalm 32:7)
You are free. (John 8:36)
You are the daughter of the Most High God, the Creator of the galaxies and beyond, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
You are the sister of the Rescuer, the Bridegroom, the Alpha and Omega, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the one who is called Faithful and True.
Remember who you are by looking at the One who made you. Define yourself by your relationship to your Father and Brother, and you will be unstoppable.
May we fight for the truth and demolish the lies.
May we set an example for the next generation to follow.
May we become an army of women who trust in the Father and rely on the Rescuer.
So grateful that when I am weak, He is strong,