“The waiting in faith is His dance with us and a context for a relationship.” Paul E. Miller
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.
As my friend reflected on why this is true in her own life, she observed, “I make the jump from optimism to darkness so quickly because I am not grounded in a deep, abiding faith that God is in the matter, no matter what the matter is. I am looking for pleasant results, not deeper realities.”
The movement from naive optimism to cynicism is the new American journey. In naive optimism we don’t need to pray because everything is under control, everything is possible. In cynicism we can’t pray because everything is out of control, little is possible.
With the Good Shepherd no longer leading us through the valley of the shadow of death, we need something to maintain our sanity. Cynicism’s ironic stance is a weak attempt to maintain a lighthearted equilibrium in a world gone mad. These aren’t just benign cultural trends; they are your 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. Weariness and fear leave us feeling overwhelmed, unable to move. Cynicism leaves us doubting, unable to dream. The combination shuts down our hearts, and we just show up for life, going through the motions. Some days it’s difficult to get out of our pajamas.
Learn to Hope Again.
Cynicism kills hope. The world of the cynic is fixed and immovable; the cynic believes we are swept along by forces greater than we are. Dreaming feels like so much foolishness. Risk becomes intolerable. Prayer feels pointless, as if we are talking to the wind. Why set ourselves and God up for failure?
But Jesus is all about hope. Watch what he says before he helps these people. Before he heals a blind man, he tells his disciples that “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9: 3, NIV). Before he raises the widow of Nain’s son, he tells her, “Weep not” (Luke 7: 13, KJV), reversing the ancient Jewish funeral dirge, “Weep, all that are bitter of heart.” When Jairus tells Jesus that his daughter is dead, Jesus says, “Do not fear; only believe” (Luke 8: 50). Before Jesus heals a crippled woman, he tells her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability” (Luke 13: 12). In each of these accounts, Jesus brings hope before he heals. He is not a healing machine—he touches people’s hearts, healing their souls before he heals their bodies.
Hope begins with the heart of God. Because of the intrusion of a good God into an evil world, there are happy endings. Some of God’s last words in the Bible are, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21: 5, KJV). When you pray, you are touching the hopeful heart of God. When you know that, prayer becomes an adventure.
A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller