For years, I wore the label on my forehead in big black letters:
I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty and immersed in a dysfunctional system where authoritarianism and cognitive dissonance ruled supreme.
I was a boy becoming a man and trying to bridge the gap between what I heard and what I saw. I was beginning to realize that I had been sold a package deal, truth and lies mixed together.
Those were difficult days. My heart wanted to stretch its wings and be free, but I was fenced in on all sides by rules and expectations and a system that conspired to squeeze the breath out of my lungs.
So I conformed. Life was easier for those who played the part, so I ironed my shirt and put on a tie and followed curfew and kept all the rules and said all the religious words that marked me as a one of the good ones.
But I was like a robot. Going through the motions mechanically performing what was expected of me.
A cynic in a suit and tie.
From the time that you’re a child, they tell you these things, and you believe them because you are a child and they’re the only voices you’ve ever heard.
They say that this is the only way to follow Jesus, that this is what pleases God, that this is the Truth, and that anyone who tells you otherwise just doesn’t want to obey the Bible.
They say that it’s for your own good.
They say that you’ll change the world.
They say that if you still feel empty inside, you need to try harder.
They say that if you fail, it’s your own fault.
But then, you see the cracks in the system. You begin to question. You realize that some of the answers you spent your young life memorizing were simply… wrong. You realize that those who had promised to lead you to Jesus had left you stranded in the desert instead.
And everything crumbles.
I wrapped my cynicism around my fragile heart like a blanket, like armor.
I was hurt. I was disillusioned. I was confused.
And it was easier to believe that there was no good in the world, that leaders could not be trusted, that everyone was a hypocrite, that institutions were suspect. It was easier, and it made sense of the swirling confusion that filled my mind.
My cynicism protected me.
My cynicism comforted me.
My cynicism made me feel brave.
“Christian culture has no category for anger at harm done in God’s name. They label it all as cynicism rather than the first step to healing” – Stephanie Drury
It’s been a few years since then, and slowly that word has begun to fade from my forehead.
I’ve escaped those narrow hallways and high walls and found places where I am loved.
I’m learning to trust again. I’m learning to hope.
I’m learning to believe in beauty.
Some folks want to dismiss cynicism as a fad, a trend. They look at those still wrapped in that armor and say “Get over yourself. Stop being cynical. That’s not how Christians should be.”
I’m afraid that they’ve lost sight of us. They’ve lost sight of me, nineteen years old filling journal pages with aching prayers while wearing a pasted-on smile.
They paint cynicism as the enemy of faith forgetting that perhaps cynicism is the only thing protecting our hearts long enough to heal.
When you look at my generation and see cynicism, please remember that we’re each on our own journey.
I’m beginning to recover from cynicism now, but some of us are still in the very thick of it.
So please, don’t look at us and say “Ok, everybody stop being cynical now.” Maybe some of us are not quite ready.
Please be patient.
Maybe you’re still wrapped in that blanket-armor of cynicism, protecting your heart inside a robot-shell. That’s ok.
Take care of your heart. It can heal. It will heal. I’m learning to believe in beauty again. I know you will too, soon.
But take your time.
In the meantime, I’ll be right here whispering “You can be free.”
a Recovering Cynic
[ image: matthij ]
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