The Cynical Spirit vs The Childlike Spirit?

The Cynical Spirit vs The Childlike Spirit? July 7, 2010

This past Tuesday morning I faced my hiccupping, wet faced two-year-old nose to nose. It was time for a serious talk. The problem? Week three of hysterics when faced with the prospect of his once a week drop off art and play time, aka “School” (something he’d loved before we went on family vacation last month).  August’s teacher had said he could bring something “special” this week in hopes that it might help him overcome his anxiety. He and I had talked all week about how fun it was going to be to bring his soccer ball and show his friends how to kick it.

But nothing was working. “No, sit couch with Mama!” he screamed. “Sit couch with Mama!” As fun as it would have been to sit on the couch with me for the next three hours, it wasn’t going to happen.

And like that, I realized I was being handed a spiritual parenting moment: one of those brief spells where I could either say some mumbo jumbo about how his day was going to be great(!), or I could actually teach my son what I believe. “August,” I said, “Jesus always goes with you to school, even when Mommy leaves. Even though you can’t see him, he goes with you and you don’t have to feel sad or scared or alone.”

“Jesus?” he said. “Jesus goes?”

“Yep. Jesus goes with you.”

I wasn’t sure if he believed me. But he let me lead him out the door and push him in the stroller. He stopped crying but clutched like mad to his soccer ball and blanket and by the time we’d walked the four blocks to school, he was tear free. I walked inside with him and he began playing with the trains. He looked at me, said: “Bye, Mama. Bye.” He turned around.

After I picked him up from school and saw his big smile, I breathed a sigh of thankfulness to the Lord, but that was where my spiritual memory stopped. It wasn’t reignited until tonight as I put my boy to bed in the guest room of my parents’ house (where we’re visiting for the next ten days), that I recalled our conversation. August was reaching hysterics again at the prospect of sleeping in a big boy bed in a new room. I heard myself reminding him: “Remember how Jesus went to school with you on Tuesday and you weren’t afraid and you had fun?”

August, surprisingly (at least to me), interrupted me: “Jesus go school. With August. Jesus go school.” He nodded his head.

“Jesus also goes to sleep next to you when you’re sad or scared,” I said. “Remember, how we said he gives you peace?”

Did my parental enlightenment keep my son from wailing until he fell asleep? No. But the conversation has been lingering next to me tonight. And by lingering I mean, I’ve been in my crazy-head, bouncing between the following thoughts:

Am I talking to August about Jesus being near him in a way that “uses” God as a glorified imaginary friend, my only intention being to bring August comfort?

I do believe that Jesus loves August and is near to him. I do believe that children can connect with the reality of God much easier than we adults can…so what if it comes from the same place in him that longs for an imaginary friend?

What will happen the moment that August’s deep placed belief in Jesus seems to fall apart because of the brokenness of the world?

Why did I not thank God for giving August peace on Tuesday? Was it because I don’t really believe that he did anything that wouldn’t have happened anyway?

Am I that much of a cynic?

It’s been a while since I talked about my reading  A Praying Life, mostly because I put the book down for the past few weeks. But tonight I took it up again, just in time to be struck with Chapter 9’s first line: “The opposite of a childlike spirit is a cynical spirit.”

Ouch. I know I’m a cynic. I’m a messy collage of a brain that doesn’t stop analyzing and a heart that loves the God I’ve known my whole life. Most of the time, I feel that my skepticism is healthy. I can wrestle with my faith and remain whole in it. But it’s often bad for my prayer life and, perhaps I’m learning, for August’s as well. What does Paul E. Miller say about cynicism? Let me count the ways:

“Cynicism creates a numbness toward life.”

“To be cynical is to be distant.”

“Prayer is feisty. Cynicism, on the other hand, merely critiques. It is passive…” (79).

I can’t help but agree with every statement I just quoted. I never feel more distant from God than when I’m assuming that something like an answer to prayer on behalf of my son was mere coincidence.

What do you think? Do you agree with Miller’s assessment of cynicism? Is there a difference between doubt and cynicism? Is one healthier than another? Have you been able to overcome cynicism in your own spiritual life? Should we even be trying to overcome cynicism in our spiritual lives?

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