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The Antidote for Cynicism

From the series Get Out of Your Head

Do you consider yourself a skeptical person? Ya know do you approach life with 'glass half-empty' attitude? Are you always waiting for the other shoe to drop? In this message, guest teacher Jennie Allen shares why this mindset is actually very toxic to our thought life. She’ll reveal just how pervasive cynicism is, and the ways it steals our joy. Don’t miss how to change your way of thinking.

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Message Transcript

So we are diving into the different enemies that attack our mind and today we're going to talk about one that I see everywhere and tricky one with this is it's actually valued by most of us. It's not something we typically fight because I think it's something that we respect in people. It's something we think is really helpful in life and it's called cynicism and I see it everywhere.

So I don't know if you even notice it in yourself. So I wanted to read a few questions because honestly I think we've all become cynical, but it's kind of the air we breathe so we don't even notice it. I want to ask you a few questions that would kind of be a good self-diagnostic tool to see if you are cynical. So do you get annoyed when people are optimistic? So I want you to answer these if you can jot them down. If you're sitting somewhere, if you can't just answer them in your head.

Do you get annoyed when people are optimistic? When someone is nice to you, do you wonder what that person wants? Do you constantly feel misunderstood? When things are going well are you waiting for the bottom to fall out? Do you quickly notice people's flaws or faults? Do you worry about getting taken advantage of? Are you guarded when you meet someone new? Do you wonder sometimes why people just can't get it together? Are you sarcastic? I ask these questions to my team and they all started out. The reason I actually wrote those questions was because they all started out like, yeah, I struggled with all these enemies. I know all these enemies that you wrote about except for cynicism. I don't think I'm very cynical, so I thought, I bet they are. I know they are. So I wrote these questions in and I made them answer them and they all were like: Oh my gosh, I had no idea I was so cynical.

So I don't know how you feel right now, but I think a lot of us relate to those questions and struggle with these things. Cynicism is an especially powerful tool from the enemy because when you and I are struck by it, we don't see our need to be helped. We get arrogant and we separate ourselves from getting help from needing people. We think we know more than everybody else.

I want to talk about what cynicism is. Cynicism is this idea that we're looking for the bad to keep the bad from hurting us. It's protection. It's making sure that we're not getting taken advantage of. Making sure that somebody is not using us. And in a world where people can be really hurtful, cynicism can sometimes be helpful. So we start to prize it. We start to feel educated, like we're not naive.

I want to tell you a story about my team. My team is so amazing, love them so much, and they're great friends, all of them. And when I think about them, they're not notably cynical for crying out loud. They moved to Dallas, a lot of them to serve God and to be a part of this ministry, they're so surrendered and they're constantly obedient.

But we were sitting around dinner when I was working on this book and this project and one of the girls there was like, if I just choose to see the good in things and I just choose to think positively, I'm gonna get taken advantage of. And one of the girls that was there, she doesn't work for us any longer, but she is just delightful. Literally the girl like a little sunshine on a stick. Like she just is happy, smiley all the time, positive about everything. Even her voice is like sweet a syrup. Like she is just so sweet and kind and, and so she's sitting next to me and I looked at Elizabeth and I said, Elizabeth, you tell me what you think about that cause she is that, she models it. She walks around with joy in her heart every minute of every day. She sees the best in everybody. Some people would think of it as naïve.

And she said: So what? So what if I get taken advantage of? I'm happier. I was like, that's so brilliant. Like we're choosing, it's our mind y'all. We're not talking about our circumstances. We're talking about the thing we live with day in and day out, day in and day out.

And if it's conditioned and constantly looking for the negative, it will find the negative. It will find the negative in our family members. It will find the negative in our friendships. It will find the negative in our circumstances, in our jobs, in our callings. It will find the negative in everything if we let it.

And so this idea of cynicism has actually, I feel like it's this slow leak. Like right now my tire, every time I get in the car it's going down and it's taking like weeks to get to where it's a dangerous level. But like I've noticed there's a slowly and it's extra slow, but it keeps alerting me like it's getting lower and lower and lower. And that's exactly what cynicism is. It's the slow leak of joy in our lives because if we fixate on negative, then we are not ever going to be happy.

You know? And I know as Christians we've got a lot bigger goals than happiness, right? Like that's not our ultimate goal. But at the end of the day, what we think about and the joy that inhabits our mind and our hearts is, and should be, a goal of Christianity. Who wants to follow after people that are following after a god that that doesn’t issue joy?

You know, I mean, I, I don't want that. We have a God that issues ultimate joy, like ultimate hope, ultimate peace, peace that surpasses understanding, Scripture tells us. So we should be reflecting those things if we actually believe this and if we're actually following God.

And yet what cynicism does is it makes us question all of our authorities. So we never submit. It makes us question all of our institutions. So we never participate. It makes us question all of our friendships. So we never connect. It makes us question our family members. So we never, ever feel safe. I mean, it will erode our confidence and our joy in all of the gifts that God's given us to help us follow Him, to help us grow up in the faith, to help us live out full and abundant and obedient lives.

So how do we change this? Well, one, I think we've got to be careful what we're feeding our souls. And for me, really candidly, I had to get off Twitter. I have you go there right now, you will see one tweet that I've written like in the last six months because even though I'm sure that's a mechanism that could grow my platform, it was not feeding my soul and I just decided, you know what, I'm not closing my account yet, but I'm never going there.

And I would say I go there maybe every few months just to check in and see what's happening with friends cause some of my friends are only on Twitter. And then I'll also just browse through, you know, messages and that kind of thing. But I don't participate on Twitter.

And the reason why is because it always made me cynical. Every time I got off Twitter I doubted every single thing about God, everything about church, everything about the hope for humanity. It just felt like everything there is believing the worst in everything. And I wanted to believe the best and I didn't know how to fight for that when that was the constant input in my life. So I just left.

Now that is not to say I do not stay educated. Guys, I'm a political person. I was a Poli-Sci minor in college. Like I care about politics. I just don't think they're the ultimate hope. So I don't over-engage there, but I care. So I stay up to date.

And when something's really interesting, I'll go read more about it. If there's a war that's brewing that I want to know more about, I'll go read more about it. But I don't sit there and consume my news from angry people on Twitter.

You know, we moved to Dallas and I decided I'm going to be really careful about who are my friends. I'm just going to choose the people that are going to input into my life, not the people I love because we need to be loving people that are not healthy and that need us, you know? But I'm talking about the people that are going to be in my ear every day that are really close to me.

I'm going to make sure that they are positive people. I know this sounds so cheesy, but I needed people that were life-giving. People that saw the good in the world, and saw the good in me, and saw the good in, and not naively so, but I want to speak to the naiveté issue because I think sometimes we can just see positive people and assume they're naive. When I think of my friend Elizabeth, she has actually been through a lot. When you hear her story, you're like, gosh, you have been through a lot. So she's not naive to suffering. She's not naive to disappointment. She's not naive to people hurting her. She just has chosen a better way and she, you know, she's selfish about it. She's like, I mean, it's just a better way to live. I don't enjoy being negative about everyone all the time. I don't want to live that way.

And I think that's what we've got to do, is we need to get a little bit selfish and zealous for ourselves and our minds and saying - you know what? This is not leading to life and peace for me and I don't know what your Twitter is or what your thing is that just is not leading to life and peace, but you need to notice it in yourself. Like, gosh, this is causing a cynical spirit in me towards people. And that could be gossipy friends, that could be friends that are always complaining about their husbands, that could be friends that are always complaining about their job. It could be coworkers, and I'm not saying you never spend time with them, but you guard your mind and you don't spend all your time with them and when you're spending time with them, you have a plan of attack.

I do this with my kids. How do we turn the conversation? How do we bring life and peace into a conversation? And you, you have those little soundbites that turn the conversation around. And so I think we've just got to be light in dark places, but we also need places that are full of light and that bring energy and life and joy into us.

So then the question is, if I'm already cynical, how do I fight this? What does it look like? And I'm going to tell you this one took me on a journey. It didn't end up in an obvious place. This one for me was when I thought back to what has interrupted my cynicism, I saw a theme and that theme was delight. That I get less cynical when I see delight because we don't see it coming. It is delightful. It hits something in us that, that our rational, reasonable self didn't see coming. And that's what happened to me. A song can do that to me.

Beauty is God's evidence of something far more wonderful that's coming. It's this hope it, it paints a picture of a world that is beyond the one that we live in now. A world that is coming. That's what beauty does. It reminds us there's something coming that's bigger and better and more beautiful than what we live in right now. Evidence that there's a Creator who is loving and profoundly delightful.

And so when we see beauty, we find ourselves delighted. We find ourselves enjoying God again. We find ourselves our hearts tender. That's how I feel in worship so often is that I'll be worshiping and all of a sudden I'm in tears. Even though my heart has been hard for a week, I'll all of the sudden be crying before God because worship has just pierced something in me that isn't rational, but it causes me to delight and enjoy God's delight over me.

And so I want to talk about this because I don't think we value delight. I think we don't value a lot of these things that God's given us weapons and, and we've talked about in the past about God delighting over us. But think of the ways God delights you. Like just look outside right now out of your window, whether it's raining or snowing or leaves are falling or whatever it looks like right now, or it's bright and sunny, whatever it looks like outside. There's delight in God's creation. There is delight in the way He built seasons, the way He built, you know, trees the way He built a leaf.

I remember looking at a leaf one time and I actually led a bunch of girls through a whole Bible study one time just looking at leaves and realizing like, gosh, He made every leaf on earth differently. Like that should blow our minds. Like there is delight and power of God expressed to us daily through creation.

There is delight over. Have you ever seen a baby born? I mean when you see a life brought into the world, there's something just so delightful. My little niece right now is probably the cutest human I have ever met. Like literally I have the cutest human as a niece that I have. I know my own children. I'm like, mom, what about us?

Well I'm sorry, she is the cutest baby that I'v ever met in my whole life and I literally, when I'm with her I'm I, it's like I’m mesmerized. I can't even stand it. I don't know, like I study every finger, every toe I look at fingers and toes all the time. Never think anything about it. But what about a baby like expresses something about God and His delight over us. And I think these are the things that God's given us to remind us. Like, Hey, I'm safe, I'm trustworthy, I'm likable and My world is good.

And yes there is sin in institutions sometimes and yes there is sin in people. And what cynicism says is so never trust people. So never trust the church. So never trust God. And what delight says is there is good too, and there is trustworthy too, and there is redemption too. And what delight says is there's joy.

And when we think about God, we can get in these places where, and my team and I were doing a little devo on this recently and they all shared this idea that that there's this guilt they feel when things go well for them. Like there's something about to happen that's bad, something's gonna come that's bad. Again, there's no promise that it won't. But why is that our immediate thing when something good happens to us, why is that our immediate thing when there's something joyful to celebrate rather than sitting in the joy, delighting in the gift, enjoying what God has given us as a good thing because He is good because He gives good things Scripture says. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” This is true.

God is doing that and yes, some days and some people and some situations will disappoint us, but I would rather live full of joy, believing the good and get burned every once in a while. Then constantly waiting to get burned and constantly seeing the negative. That is a sad way to live and I'm not going to do it. I'm going to keep believing good for our country. I'm going to keep believing good for my church. I'm going to keep believing good for my family. I'm going to keep believing good for this generation. I'm going to believe good because I believe we rise to what we believe. I believe we rise to that. I see this in my kids all the time. When I watch Cooper, when I speak life over my son, he will rise to that. This was yesterday morning. I'm sending him to school and I'm saying, buddy, you're a leader.

You are a leader. Act like one today. And he came in and afterwards after school, he's like, mom, it was a great day. It was a great day. He rose to that compliment. He rose to what I saw him as. And we've got to realize that how we think influences what we say and what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about the people around us.

And if we can start to speak life over them, it's called being life-giving. The opposite of cynical. It's life-giving. It's life-speaking. It's life-thinking. It's a different way to live and the world is aching for it. When you live this way, yes, some people will think you're naive, but most people will just want to go to coffee because they need people that can speak truth and not just speak it but actually believe it for them.