I have noticed a recurring theme in my life that was only recently brought to light by a question asked by my mom when I was back home from college for a couple weeks this summer. I had only been back for a couple days but my mind had already began struggling with all that I was able to avoid while preoccupied with a full-time job and enjoying life in a college town absent of the college students that tend to overwhelm it. The myriad of problems that were upon me as I was entering perhaps one of the most crucial times of my life were only magnified now that I had the time and the isolation to dwell upon those dilemmas I had set to simmer on the back-burner all summer.
I was sitting on the front porch of the house I grew up in, certainly my favorite spot to be. The warm summer breeze drifting between the pine-needles of the towering evergreens dispersed throughout my neighborhood. The intermittent bark of the dog across the street, expressing its desire to be let inside. The dim and then growing glow of the headlights that passed by without any concern for the darkness they divided, the low rumble of rubber on road unapologetic for the silence it severed. The night was calm. The night was peaceful. And I was in a state of complete distress.
My mom joined me on the porch in the chair opposite me and in her maternal wisdom (and her tweet-watching skills) asked me,
To quote verbatim the subtweet I had used as the means of conveying I was unhappy with my present inner turmoil, I told her I was "Disillusioned." I told her that at that point in time, life was not what I thought it was supposed to be, that it was not going at all how I expected it to. I told her that I was concerned about my future, frustrated at my inability to do anything about it in the present, and regretful of all the time I had wasted pursuing things that were not important in the past. In my own mind, I felt like that really was the deep-seated struggle of my heart but as mothers are often able to do, she asked me a question that provoked deeper thinking, thinking focused on another dysfunctional characteristic I hadn't really taken the time to consider.
My mom saw through the guise of my lengthy and really quite shallow understanding of my present state-of-affairs and wasted no time in asking the question that I'm still trying to develop an honest answer to. In my ambiguous statement about a fairly common predicament faced by college students everywhere, I had really revealed that I was not happy with the way my life was going. So in her concern for more than just my future occupation she asked,
"Well what makes you happy?"
Her question was greeted with the baritone staccato of frog croaks and soaring choruses played by an evening orchestra of buzzing insects. The only contribution I made to the symphony was the sigh emitted from my nostrils.
What makes me happy? What kind of question is that?
Well apparently it was the right one. Because I could not provide an answer for her, nor did I offer a response before I left to come back to school.
We sat in silence for a little over a minute and seeing that I had once again withdrawn to the quiet state she had found me in, she prayed for me and returned inside the house leaving me with a new subject to dwell on.
The fact that I could not immediately provide a truthful answer to what seemed to be such a simple question, a question that often plays a major role in determining our every action or decision, frightened me. What makes me happy? I haven't the foggiest idea.
In class on Tuesday, one of my professors took about 20 minutes before his lecture to read an article written on the subject of cynicism (I strongly encourage you to read it if you have the time). The article addressed the seriousness of our culture's predisposition towards cynicism and the dangerous implications it has on the culture at large. It also makes mention of the prevalence of this proclivity towards cynicism even amongst Christian circles. The thematic statement of the article was this:
Cynicism invalidates hope.
Cynicism does not allow the possibility that things will improve but only comments on how things are bad with no sign of slowing down. Cynicism understands perfectly that there is a problem and will offer insight as to what that problem is while not doing anything constructive or helpful to fix it. Cynicism thrives in making others miserable, taking great joy in enlightening those too naive to see how it really is. It is in this understanding that I found out why I could not provide an answer to the aforementioned question about what makes me happy.
Now if you know me at all on a personal or conversational level, you would understand the frequency with which I employ sarcasm and any other manner of joking to express my sometimes cold and cynical demeanor to anyone who I happen to be around. This display of quick-wittedness, frequent joking, and a somewhat pessimistic view on life has become so consistent that I have often felt people questioning whether or not I was being serious, often feeling the need to ask, "Wait...are you being sarcastic?" Of course I was. I was only joking...
But my statements are saying so much more than my grin is able to conceal. What lies beneath the jokes and beneath the sarcastic comments is the reality that cynicism has in a way become the means by which I deal with the absence of joy in my life. I poke at the plight of others and deal with my struggles and faults by putting on my best sad-clown performance and am able to gather a warped sense of satisfaction in the applause I imagine receiving from what is really an empty theater. It is a misery-loves-company approach to relationships and I'm sad to say it has come to the point where it characterizes my contribution to nearly every relationship I'm involved in.
But that's not how God intended this life to be. That's not what He desired for fellowship. That's not what He envisioned when He gave to us the gift of community.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:1-4,
"Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, is there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others."
We are exhorted by the Apostle Paul to be united in spirit, intent on one purpose, seeing the desires and interests of others as being more important than our own desires. How could I possibly fulfill these commands when I have no regard for the interests and desires of those around me? When my lack of joy in life only prompts my flesh to bring others down to the same pit of despair I find myself in? It is not possible to consider others more important than myself when cynicism, sarcasm, and comments that consistently tear people down characterize my relationships.
Where is the edification of the community? Where is the fellowship of the Spirit? Where is the Christ-like love I am called to have for my brothers and sisters? The same selfless and sacrificial love Christ showed to me?
Cynicism at its very core is selfishness. It does not count others before itself. It does not love. It revels in the misery of itself and in the misery of others. In this state of perpetual sorrow, joy is not possible. Joy is found in fellowship with God and fellowship with His people. Seek love, reclaim joy.
"But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me." Philippians 2:17-18