face-to-face with the valley

The opposite of a childlike spirit is a cynical spirit. Cynicism is, increasingly, the dominant spirit of our age. Personally, it is my greatest struggle in prayer. If I get an answer to prayer, sometimes I’ll think, It would have happened anyway. Other times I’ll try to pray but wonder if it makes any difference.

Many Christians stand at the edge of cynicism, struggling with a defeated weariness. Their spirits have begun to deaden, but unlike the cynic, they’ve not lost hope. My friend Bryan summarized it this way: “I think we have built up scar tissue from our frustrations, and we don’t want to expose ourselves anymore. Fear constrains us.”

Cynicism and defeated weariness have this in common: They both question the active goodness of God on our behalf. Left unchallenged, their low-level doubt opens the door for bigger doubt. They’ve lost their childlike spirit and thus are unable to move toward their heavenly Father. …

To be cynical is to be distant. While offering a false intimacy of being “in the know,” cynicism actually destroys intimacy. It leads to a creeping bitterness that can deaden and even destroy the spirit. …

A praying life is just the opposite. It engages evil. It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty. Cynicism, on the other hand, merely critiques. It is passive, cocooning itself from the passions of the great cosmic battle we are engaged in. It is without hope.

If you add an overlay of prayer to a cynical or even weary heart, it feels phony. For the cynic, life is already phony; you feel as if you are just contributing to the mess.

Cynicism begins, oddly enough, with too much of the wrong kind of faith, with naive optimism or foolish confidence. At first glance, genuine faith and naive optimism appear identical since both foster confidence and hope. But the similarity is only surface deep. Genuine faith comes from knowing my heavenly Father loves, enjoys and cares for me. Naive optimism is groundless. It is childlike trust without the loving Father. …

Optimism rooted in the goodness of people collapses when it confronts the dark side of life. The discovery of evil for most of us is highly personal. We encounter the cruelty of our friends in junior and senior high. In college the princes turn out to be less than charming. If we have children, we learn they can be demanding and self-centered. …

Shattered optimism sets us up for the fall into defeated weariness and, eventually, cynicism. You’d think it would just leave us less optimistic, but we humans don’t do neutral well. We go from seeing the bright side of everything to seeing the dark side of everything. We feel betrayed by life. …

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the valley of the shadow of death. We can’t ignore it. We can’t remain neutral with evil. We either give up and distance ourselves, or we learn to walk with the Shepherd. There is no middle ground.

Without the Good Shepherd, we are alone in a meaningless story.

— Paul Miller, A Praying Life, “Understanding Cynicism”


2 thoughts on “face-to-face with the valley

  1. Very well written…enlightening to say the least. I like your thought process and the way you compare faith and optimism. Made me do a little self inventory. Thank you.

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