April 28, 2009

Living Somewhere Between Logic and Cynicism

I was once standing in a prayer circle and the guy I was holding hands with said he could feel the cynicism from holding my hand coursing through him. He was being somewhat facetious, but I’m fully aware that I have been labeled cynical by others. I’ve also been called pragmatic, logical and pessimistic. I don’t mind pragmatic or logical, but these things still bring to mind a couple questions:

Where is the balance between logic and cynicism? Is it possible to be a hopeful cynic?

My natural inclination is to be a hopeless and over-emotional romantic. I get my feelings hurt and my self-esteem gets a daily kick in the face. I want to meet my own Mr. Darcy (or Miles) someday and I wouldn’t mind if it all happened like one of my favorite romantic comedies. I’d like a cottage in the mountains with a garden, a nice breeze through open windows, and a bike to ride into town. But experience has taught me that this is highly unlikely.

Somewhat jokingly, I have said that my mantra is to have low expectations for everything. If they’re met, then I'm not disappointed. And if they’re surpassed, then I'm pleasantly surprised. Is that cynical or logical? Pessimistic or realistic? I hope all my expectations are surpassed, but I’m fully aware they probably won’t be.

I know that true joy comes from the Lord and He will fulfill my needs. But what I’m talking about is not necessarily joy. I think it’s completely possible to be joyful in the here and now, while being logical about tomorrow. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to find the balance of: Being joyful now, while striving to steer away from cynicism about the future. Learning to actually be joyful right now, and not let cynicism about the future taint the present.

I absolutely believe that God has my best interests in mind and He will give me everything I need in this life to be joyful and do His work. But I believe we often get this confused with thinking God will give us everything we think we need, and thinking we need it because we really, really want it. And most of the time, these things aren’t bad things to want or feel like we need. I’m not talking about 72” flatscreen TVs or a new MacBook. I’m talking about marriage or children or a job you don’t hate. As someone in her mid-20s, I’m surrounded by people getting married and having children. So the common phrase I hear is that it will happen someday for me (and my other single friends). Says who? Show me where it says I am guaranteed a husband and children. It’s common to see women much older than I who are still waiting for a family (why this is true could be a whole other blog entry, but I’ll abstain).

And I’m not just talking about marriage, but smaller everyday things. When someone suggests something like going on a road trip, I’m fully aware it will never happen. People (including myself) rarely follow through with their ideas, no matter now enthusiastic they are in the beginning. So when someone comes up with a brilliant and fun idea, or they promise to do something, I file it away and never bank on it happening. I certainly hope it will happen, but aware that it probably never will.

So am I just being logical and realistic, or am I a cynic? Is this attitude perfectly fine and I just need to stop dwelling on it and let life happen? Or should I let my natural inclination run wild and start buying wedding magazines, move to the mountains and apply for a loan to buy a bookstore? Even as I type that sentence, I can’t help but feel I’d be setting myself up for disappointment.

In the end, I cannot know what the future holds for me. I can only strive to do God’s will for my life and learn to be the person He wants me to be. But does anyone out there have any thoughts to add? Do you think it’s possible to be too logical and miss out on the joys of life? Is cynicism a sin, or just a safe attitude to keep disappointment at bay?

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
~Psalm 16:11


Emily said...

I think God calls us to live right now. If I can just focus on now, and living as fully as I can in this very moment then I know God will be faithful to help me live the next one in the same way. I think expectations in general set us up with incorrect feelings and hopes and fears. We cannot base our lives and our present reactions on our hopes and fears for the future. God is faithful and has a better plan for us than we could ever even imagine! How could I possibly not be excited about the next thing He has for me?

if someone has a fun and exciting idea that interests you, just make it happen. keep them excited. help them make it happen.

i wonder sometimes if we should even try to protect ourselves by expecting the worse, or expecting to fail. if i expect to be hurt by a relationship, i'm not going to be who i am. if i expect that when i go to work that it's going to be something i hate, how will i find the good things and the things i could help change and the people there i can have an impact on? if i live my life expecting to get married, i will not live fully now. if i expect that i will fail when i am faced with whatever temptation, then when i am in the moment, i will be more likely to give in. Knowing that hard times will come and people will fail us and we will fail ourselves, we can remember that God is faithful and will not give us more than we can bear. He will heal our broken hearts and show us how to live more in Christ.

I want to live totally in the moment. I want to forget all my expectations and take in everything I can from every moment God gives me here on earth whether those moments are ones of excitement, love or happiness or sadness, loss or failure. God has me here for a reason and He will have me here until He is ready for whatever reason to move me or change me.

I also think though, that if you want to move to the mountains, you should move to the mountains. maybe God puts those dreams in your mind for a reason. God does not want your life to be mundane. He wants to do great things with it and maybe those great things are through your bookstore in the mountains. I think we get discouraged by looking at everyone else's lives because they are either seemingly happier than us or unhappier than us. The happier ones make it seem like that kind of life is out of reach because we have tried and failed at getting the dream we thought was the right one. we think we must be destined to be like the unhappier ones for the same reason... all our plans have failed and we want to give up and protect ourselves from further pain. the picture we saw for ourselves has not come true. but that just means that God has something else in mind. other things to teach us. other ways to make us into who He wants us to be. other plans to change the world. and when we get to heaven the love we have for our Father will gush out of us because of His faithfulness and we will be able to sing Him songs that are worthy of Him and will be able to give Him the praise He deserves. That is the hope that we need to dwell on.

Paul said...

Perspective can really confuse things. A group of police can all have the same facts, but then Monk steps in and points out the one thing they didn't consider, and that changes everything. That one thing is mentioned by Rick Warren in "The Purpose Driven Life":

"It's not about you.

The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose."

Our thing is, and understandably so, that we think it's about us. But when we "die to self" to "live for Christ", we decline our "rights" to live for ourselves.

So that affects everything; that affects Mr. Darcy, that affects the cottage in the mountains, that affects the bookstore.

But it doesn't shut them out.

The more we get our perspective straight (sometimes takes a lifetime) the more we realize we're okay with certain things; because those things aren't a part of our ultimate purpose. We can find joy in that, because living for God will never cease to be an option, while the bookstore could go bankrupt, the cottage could burn down, and Mr. Darcy could get the swine flu.

God may choose for, or allow, us to have the things we want, but we become less cynical and more at peace when we are content with simply God. Christ said that in this world we would have trouble, but He can be our peace. We're promised persecution, and not our hopes and dreams. Yet in this life, we can be at peace, be joyful, and be satisfied beyond a life of our design. How else could the Apostle Paul have written joyfully from a dark, dirty prison cell?

We don't have to let go of our dreams and desires, but if we're holding on to them so tight that we can't notice God's light tugs, we've got a problem. And we don't have to live in a state of low-expectations, because God will always exceed our expectations, while our things consistently fail.

The more we learn about God, the less cynical about Him we get; and the more we let go of our life-by-our-design and trust it to Him, the less cynical about life we get. And the more we give logic it's proper place (because the Gospel and so many spiritual things are "foolishness" to the world), the more we are at peace with a life lived for God.

Whew, Shalomie, I just started typing and this little text box doesn't show how extensive it is.

I'm one of those "friends getting married," but I felt that tension you mentioned in my last relationship. It's tough when you see friends around you ahead in a game that you feel like you want to play. But I refuse to look at my life and say, "It happened for me, one day it'll happen for you," because I know that's not at all helpful. But I can say with confidence that God has you covered, which is the schniff-schnaff. I know you know this. I know you know that God sees more "big picture" while we are stuck in right now. He knows your discontentment, he knows those things about which you're cynical, but He's choosing to work out something bigger than to ease the current discomfort.

Aside from that, I'm with you: when someone says "road trip" I just nod and smirk.

randomdtd said...

Wow guys--thanks for your thoughtful comments. They gave me a lot to think about (or more to think about for that matter).

I definitely believe that one should live in the here and now, but having dreams and goals for the future is healthy as well. Otherwise I don't think things would change much or grow. My problem comes when I have those dreams or goals, but wonder how likely it is that those things will happen. And my whole world does not revolve around marriage, although my entry may have made it sound that way. I think that's just the most apt example for many people.

I believe, like many things, this is about balance and finding that balance. Dream about the future and pray for God's guidance, but also realize that you don't know what the future holds and what God has planned for you. Don't waste the here and now daydreaming, but have goals for the future.

A verse I have gone back to over and over the last few months is Philippians 4:11 where Paul says he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is in. Perhaps that should be my mantra.

Emily said...

goals and dreams are definitely healthy, i just think you should only focus on the next step and leave God free to change your goals and dreams. balance is very hard to find... being too spontaneous and not planning enough will leave you with three part time jobs and having to move home for a little bit... oh wait... :)