Faith

How I traded my cynicism for hope

Delphne Tan // January 3, 2019, 7:04 pm

Finding hope

“You have to move from being a cynical idealist to a hopeful realist.”

That was the piece of advice from my mentor which has since become a refrain in my life.

Paul E. Miller talks about cynicism in his book A Praying Life. He calls it “the dominant spirit of our age”, where our adult-ness overtakes our childlike-ness.

He writes that cynicism “questions the active goodness of God on our behalf”. When it is not nipped in the bud, cynicism opens up the door to a lot more doubt and disbelief.

Cynicism and scepticism are glorified in today’s post-Enlightenment age.

We are taught to question facts; even the news now requires fact-checking because of increasing rhetoric and bias. In my classroom, I tell students to be critical about what they read, what they see on the Internet.

It is an important skill to have — being cynical about our world — because our world is fallen. But the problem for us Christians is when that cynicism extends to our faith.

I think about the Alpha Course and how it encouraged us to ask questions about our faith. But at a certain point in our journey, we had to put aside the questions and decide if we would put our faith in Christ.

Faith, as defined in Hebrews 11, is the “confidence of what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.” At the heart of our Christian walk, we have to trust God and believe Him in spite of what we may not yet see.

And it is in those moments that we begin to witness His grace acting upon our lives, our prayers answered.

Living with the gravity of doubt

When we are cynical about God, we become trapped by the despair in this world and endlessly anxious about our lives.

We lose that freedom that comes from being loved and held by a loving God. If we are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is attacked by cynicism, we begin to doubt God’s grace. The very heart of our Christian faith is questioned.

Other than causing us to doubt God’s goodness, it creates a great numbness towards life. I found that in the past six years, the unresolved hurt from being rejected and unmet expectations caused me to want to protect my heart from being hurt again.

So I chose to expect less, pray less, hope less. Miller talks about cynicism as a double-edged sword that protects us from crushing disappointment, but also paralyses us from doing anything.

In her TED talk, ‘The power of vulnerability”, Brené Brown tells her audience that when we numb the bad emotions, we numb all other emotions as well.

There is no isolation device when it comes to numbness. So, when we use cynicism to numb ourselves to disappointment, we also numb our experience of joy and love.

I see it now, that perpetual weight of despair and disappointment, the feeling of being trapped that permeated everything I did. Even after a great time with friends and family, I could never honestly feel joyful.

Cynicism also creates distance, Miller argues. It gives the facade of knowing and being aware, but in actual fact, it tears apart intimacy. It causes us to put up a wall between the good good Father, and eventually, we hide in our corner of bitterness and anger, unwilling to come before God and into His embrace.

I treated others’ excitement with disdain, and spoke critically about everything, resisting the full presence of God because “I’ve got it together” (I totally did not).

Cynicism gives the facade of knowing and being aware, but in actual fact, it tears apart intimacy.

But how do we fight cynicism and find hope?

In 2017, God spoke to me about my relationship with Him in the wilderness. He reminded me of His unending love, and His faithfulness despite my anger and bitterness. He was, first of all, redeeming our relationship, and the way I approached Him.

I believe the first thing is to come before God again, learning that He is a good God. He loves us unceasingly, despite what our cynicism says.

We can come to the truth in the Bible and read of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness, and God’s responses of love and mercy. In it, He’s angry (and rightfully so), but He always always extends salvation and redemption to this proud people.

Don’t depend on the church to give you all the answers

Next, cynicism finds its root in disordered optimism.

As a younger person I had endlessly dreamt up how my life would be. I placed my hope in things, in education, in people and mostly in myself.

The world tells me to “think positive thoughts”, that if I put my mind to it I can achieve anything. It tells me that optimism is the solution to a tough life.

I started to idolise hard work — my dreams even. But this narrative in a fallen world failed to be sufficient, and I was faced with disappointment.

God had to weed out, is still weeding out and will continue to weed out the unfruitful parts of faith. He turned my heart back to His constant unchanging unconditional eternal sovereignty.

Then in 2018, having experienced and understood His goodness a bit better, and started to believe afresh that I am loved by Him — He retaught me how to ask of Him.

Applying for my year in London had been a dream, and while I fought so long and hard to not hope, He provided one thing after another in an assurance of His call to me.

He spoke to me through people, some old friends, some complete strangers. He lavished His provision to make this year possible. While I had been so worried about rejection and that I was being silly about going overseas, He led me to ask boldly.

I look back at the last four months before I left for London, and saw that every single moment had been so carefully orchestrated. Rejected leave, random emails, peace to resign, and then my professional development leave being so surprisingly approved again.

Some mornings, I awake still in disbelief that I am actually here. He answered every prayer about community and about my study course. He is healing, redeeming, teaching and I’m learning to daily abide in Him.

It is as Ephesians 3:20 puts it, He is able to “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us”.

Experiencing church in a new city

He is teaching me to ask boldly, firmly surrendered to the good Father.

It is such a fine line to tread, and it frightens me endlessly when I begin to dream again. The past two months, with all the healing I have experienced, the dreams started growing again. I’m learning to walk in the delight of the Father, to dream dreams of His.

But, the bigger the dreams, the more intimidating it gets. I fear the pain of disappointment, I fear going back into that deep pit of despair. I am absolutely terrified that it would all turn out to be wishful thinking — my whimsical ideals.

My cynical self looks at these dreams and mock them.

Whenever this happens, what I do is “put on the belt of truth” (Ephesians 6) and stand firm on the complete assurance that I have as His child.

And then I ask boldly. My loving Father loves to give good gifts, and gives me the desires of my heart as I delight in Him. He delights in me, He pursues me, He wants to provide. This relationship is not transactional, it is father and child relationship. He wants to give!

  • “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

I also surrender completely to Him. Because He is the good Father, I can fully trust Him. He knows me more intricately than I do, He knows what I need before I even ask, He wants to mold me into his likeness.

So let His will be done. Whatever the response — yes, no or wait — I can fall back on His goodness and steadfast love for me.

  • “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)
  • “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Reflection Questions

  1. Have you become cynical in your faith? What are some areas that you have been disappointed in? Lay it before Christ, and let Him heal you.
  2. Do you believe that God is good and He loves you, that He is for you and not against you? If not, ask! Like the father did in Mark 9:24, cry out to Jesus and ask Him to help your unbelief!
  3. What are some prayers you have stopped praying because you have not seen a change? What are some dreams for God you had shelved because life has been so overwhelming? Bring them before God again. Ask boldly, and surrender completely again.

This article was first published on Delphne’s blog and is republished with permission.