Maybe its just me who feels this way, but I don't think I am alone. Recently I have been feeling very cynical toward life and people. I find that sometimes I hit this rut due to stress, work, or just life in general and I tend to have a pessimistic attitude toward life. Usually I am fairly happy and jovial but sometimes I just hit a point where, for a little while, I just think, act, and talk like life is horrible and the people around me aren't where they should be. I just have a dismal attitude toward life in general, but unfortunately people become my target and I complain about them a lot.
Perhaps it is because people are there. They are always around, and in constantly interacting with them, my perfectionist side sees it and can easily recognize their faults and then my sinful nature tears them apart. I am a messed up person, I will be the first to admit that, but I don't think that I or we should simply chalk up shortcomings to our sinful nature. Yes we are sinful, but that cannot be our cop out. We cannot allow it!
Within the past week I have felt God crying out to me saying, "Stop! Stop talking about people. Stop seeing their faults. Stop believing you are better then they are. Stop complaining. Just stop." But then I heard Him say something else...Start. "Start loving people again. Start seeing people as I see them again. Start serving again as I serve. Start being my hands and feet again. Start!"
If I had to be perfectly honest, I don't like conviction. I already said I am a perfectionist so when I hear "stop" or feel in the wrong it hurts because I know I didn't meet the requirements. I didn't meet the standard that was set. I fell short. But then that is when I look to Scripture. Scripture tells us we all fall short, but that it is God who does the work within us and helps us to change!
Now I say all this and I know there has to be practicality. It is one thing to say "I will stop being cynical" or "I will stop complaining" but we all know that isn't how it works. We must have some ways to combat this. So after some prayer and searching Scripture, these are some ways I found that can be very helpful in overcoming our cynical mentality.
- Pray for those you complain about. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that prayer is important, but it also tells that we are to pray for our enemies. This doesn't just mean someone who is your mortal enemy, but anyone who rubs you the wrong way. If you find you come home and you complain about your boss, your professor, the other company, a friend, random drivers on the road, try stopping and praying for them. Not that God would change them and their heart, but that He would change yours. Pray that God shows you their good qualities. Thank God for them. List three things that they do well.
- Be mindful of what you say. This is a big one for me. I don't always think before I speak. I am from the Northeast originally and I tend to blame it on growing up in a fast paced lifestyle, but let's be honest: sometimes I don't care about what I say or I just want to say something for the sake of saying it. The Bible tells us that we need to be slow to speak but also quick to listen. So often I believe the source of conflict and a cynical attitude comes from a misunderstanding of a situation that, when we see it our way, we are quick to criticize or complain about. For instance: the person you are scheduled to meet weekly with has been consistently late and is always distracted during your meeting leaving you feeling undervalued, frustrated, and unaccomplished. You hear them talking about issues at home but you tell yourself when they are at work they should be focused on work and on their co-workers, otherwise what separates work from home? But what you missed was that their mother was seriously injured and they are caring for her at their home, their car died and they have to walk to work, and their spouse lost their job. And all we could do was complain about how they were distracted or late or left us feeling unfulfilled. When we begin to listen and care about people more we begin to be more mindful of what we say because we become invested in their life.
- Check your heart. Sometimes I have found that it isn't the people around me who have changed, it is me. Usually I am getting overwhelmed and because I hold myself to a very high standard, I impart that onto other people without telling them. That isn't right at all because who am I to tell them that they need to match my way of doing things? But it gets worse because then when they fail, I hold it against them and they have no idea why I seem angry, or frustrated, or annoyed. That is a heart issue. It is pride. We cannot allow ourselves to transfer our sin issues onto others. Instead, ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to make you a better servant. Ask Him to show you where you need to grow. Ask Him for people who can honestly and openly speak into your life and challenge you.
- Start a service jar. This is along the lines of a swear jar, but you aren't adding money to it, you are adding acts of service. There are a couple different ways to go about this. One is you could make up a bunch of service acts beforehand and stick them in a jar. Then whenever you complain, have a bad attitude, or are cynical you need to take one act of service out and complete it within 24 hours. The second way is that whenever you are critical about someone or something (like your job) you need to complete an act of service toward whomever and whatever that may be within 24 hours and place a piece of paper describing what you did in your service jar. How can you serve your job you ask? Maybe you bring in donuts for your team. Perhaps you show up early and empty the trash cans. Maybe you take some people out to lunch. Or maybe you find ways to thank everyone for what they do.
- Serve those you are cynical about for thirty days. This is a big challenge, and not one for the faint of heart. This takes the service jar thought process, caters it specifically toward people, and magnifies it. If there is someone you find yourself complaining about all the time, commit to serving that person for 30 days straight. Now I know myself and I know I will still probably find something to complain about while serving them, so I would say the service jar rules still apply as well. Kind of a double whammy, but let's be real: a lot of us need that! So my challenge would be find a way to serve them that isn't self-serving, or out of contempt. Don't give them a watch to help them be on time. Instead ask how you can help them with their workload. Inevitably this will lead to you actually caring about and getting to know that person. And what you will come to realize is that through this you have started to change.
I know this isn't easy. It is a lot easier to wallow in our own self-pity and frustrations. To give in to complaining and bad mouthing others. But is the easiest way truly the right way? Is it even the best way? No it isn't. We cannot give in to this mentality. We are called to be different. We are set apart for something greater. So who will stand with me as we stand above reproach and given toward honoring others and Christ through our words, actions, and thoughts? God help us to be different and more like you!