I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, since January, I have been giving a lot of attention to the cynicism present in my heart and my mind. At first, I was startled by its very presence. I have always considered myself an optimist, attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others. There should be no room for cynicism in my heart, especially as I continue to grow deeper in my faith.
But of course, this is not the case. As I have been observing, my heart is steeped in cynicism and fear. Over the past few months I have noted this with dismay, marking the crippling outworking of it in my life. I tell myself that whatever it is that I want, I won’t receive it or it won’t come to pass, because good things just don’t happen to me. I don’t walk in the rosy light that so many seem to walk in. I struggle.
Even a snapshot look at my life should reveal to me how ridiculous this is, but it doesn’t. Today my pastor preached on greed, and Matthew 25, speaking to us about money. Such a touchy subject, but one that Christians have to hear, and I felt my recent convictions about cynicism stirring in my heart, because I think my cynicism is often just a mask for selfishness. Especially when it comes to money, but really in everything, I truly own nothing. Everything has been given to me, and yet in my heart I deeply believe that I am entitled to what I think I need. On my birthday, a few weeks ago, I jokingly told my family that this was my name-it-and-claim-it year. As I get older, and figure out what I want, I want to know that what I want will happen. That I’ll be taken care of.
I don’t want to be rich. I’ve never wanted to be rich. I just want to be comfortable. I don’t want the best job. I just want a job with health insurance, where I feel that I’m using my talents and skills. I don’t need a month in the Mediterranean every year. I just want a few weeks to dip my toes into the ocean. And these are not bad desires. Comfort and security often lead people to a place where they can be loving and useful to others, and where their skills are truly used for good.
But my absurd cynicism rears its head and makes these desires more important than they should be. My cynicism is born out of selfishness, but it’s also born out of fear. It’s a way of buffering my heart against failures. If I care too deeply, or want something too badly, I will be hurt when it’s not given to me. But if I cynically tell myself not to get my hopes up, I won’t feel the sting when it doesn’t pan out. I live in my crippled shell of fear, with selfishness textured in, because I don’t understand that every moment of breath is a gift.
My pastor described God as a billionaire taking fistfuls of money out of his pockets and throwing it at people. We live in the midst of the incredible gifts thrown at us--and I don’t mean the money or the comfort or the security. I mean the way the train runs around a bend and comes to a stop in front of me, and the yellow daffodils nodding at me on the kitchen table, and the glancing eye-contact I shared with a woman I passed on the street yesterday, and the heavenly smell of coffee brewed on a rainy morning. We live among splendor, every moment of it rubbing up against pain, and the tension of holding the sorrow of the world in one hand has to be balanced by the joy of holding the beauty of it in the other.
I don’t want to imprison myself in a shell of cynicism. I don’t want to be afraid to trust, and to love, and to risk. I want to give generously, of my money, and my time, and my prayers, and my love, even if it’s not reciprocated, as hard as that is. God has given me common sense so that I don’t squander my gifts, but he’s also given me a world to explore and to love, and to help. He has given me so many good things, and there is no time for selfishness or fear or cynicism.
My acting teacher Mark Lewis used to say: “Everyone should have their heart broken, and break someone else’s heart. At least once.” We are obsessed with safety, especially the safety of our hearts. We pack ourselves in so tightly that we can only ever look forward to the next thing, because maybe it will be more satisfying than the hollow isolation of the present. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t make us any safer, and it’s certainly not Biblical. So this year I am resolved to continue to watch my heart, to pray that my cynicism is slowly carved out of it, and to open my eyes to the momentary blessing of each day.
Whatever your stance on the issue, this post by my friend Courtney is worth reading. She's not interested in yelling or arguing. She just shares her honest, beautiful story of anorexia, pregnancy, and, ultimately, love.
Take a look at Courtney's eloquent words.
Even if you’ve never seen the above image, you probably know people who have said similar things. Or maybe you’ve said them yourself. It’s tempting, as a single person, to feel this way. But as I encountered the third friend-of-a-friend who was using this image as their Facebook profile picture, I began thinking about just how wrong this message is.
As I approach my 24th birthday, I’ve been giving relationships more thought. In the eyes of the world, I’m still a relationship baby. In the Christian community, I’m middle-aged on the marriage market. It makes sense, therefore, that I vacillate often between being in absolutely no rush to find someone, and being very ready to put my heart out there.
Most single people operate like this; it’s a confusing time, with the sense of endless opportunity. But as my generation of Christian-raised singles grow up, I am feeling the backlash against the expectations of the Christian culture. Most of us have been raised in homes that support young marriage, support commitment, and “settling down.” But we are part of a culture that offers a blinding amount of choice, and the idea that there’s always something better out there. With the internet and globalization, we all have a giddy idea that anything can happen. Anything.
So what does this have to do with the above picture making the Facebook rounds? The problem is that the only people I’ve seen put it up on their profiles are Christians. And yet this idea that a relationship is about finding someone who is amazing enough to challenge your singleness is not Christian. It goes against the very spirit of the Biblical sense of marriage. (I say marriage, and not relationships, because there is very little “dating” in the Bible...mostly you are either single, or you find someone and get married, and there are no long dating relationships or mini-marriages. Another blog post.)
I’m going out on a limb here, because I’m not married. So any married friends who’d like to weigh in, I would love to hear your perspective. But from my relationships with friends, and with family, I cannot believe that dating someone is about finding someone who is perfect in every way. My friends are far from perfect. My family is far from perfect. I am far from perfect. How can I expect a husband to be perfect? But that is part of what makes relationships so beautiful--because we, as Christians, are given the privilege of modeling God’s grace toward us. God does not turn from us though we are imperfect, and we do not turn from each other. We learn to forgive, and to see our own sins.
Of course I am not saying we shouldn’t be discerning when it comes to dating. Of course there are people we are attracted to, and whose personalities complement ours, and who have similar goals. But recently, while I was in L.A., I went to a stand-up club and one of the comics was making jokes about dating, and how the problem with our culture is that we have too many choices. He likened relationships to chocolate, and how with so many choices, the chocolate we end up eating seems only so-so. He was right. We have too many choices. And because there is always something just around the corner that is better, we don’t let ourselves settle into the real work of loving someone because it is good to love, and to love consistently. Even through pain, or disappointment.
While I was at Wheaton College, there was a lot of talk of singleness (naturally, with that many single people crammed together) and whether it was better than being married. The Apostle Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians was a huge topic of discussion. Is it more godly to be single? Paul calls it a “gift from God” (1 Cor. 7:7), and talks about how single men and women can devote more time and energy toward the church. I had friends who said we should all try to be single, rather than married, because it is clearly more godly.
I agree that singleness is a great gift. But I don’t know if I agree that it is more godly. In Hannah’s previous post, she quoted from a scholar who wrote at length about how men and women reflect God’s image together. I don’t know if you necessarily need to be married for that to happen, but being married is the natural state of humankind. Themes of marriage run throughout the Bible, and illustrations of godly marriage light up its pages. Marriage is a good thing. Being single is a gift, and if we find ourselves single for a long time, or for our whole lives, we have a great and precious (and often difficult) task given to us. But we should never hold up singleness as more holy than marriage.
I was talking recently with my brother Joshua, and he told me about a question and answer session he’d attended with his college pastor. I think his pastor said something very wise, and very helpful. While discussing singleness, and Paul’s 1 Corinthians passage, he began to talk about the gift of singleness, as Paul says it. And Joshua’s pastor said that we should not be worrying about whether or not we have the gift of singleness--whether we should stop dating or opening our heart to love. Because we all have the gift of singleness--everyone who is single has it. The gift is simply that we are single. We are charged to make the most of it, and when we marry, the gift is taken away and replaced with other gifts.
What a beautiful gift we have been given, as single people. We will never again have the time and the freedom to serve God as we can while we are single. But that does not mean we will not serve him just as effectively when we are married, nor does it mean that we have the right to stay single until we are swept off our feet by someone who is absolutely amazing. We have the counter-cultural privilege of choosing, committing, and not looking any further. Our own love is messy and knotted together, and we must expect those we love to return it in kind. But single or married, God does not abandon us to our own imperfect love. And that is a beautiful thing.
~ Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, ND Wilson
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
~ On the Incarnation, Athanasius of Alexandria