One of the things I have found hardest about the pandemic is the question ‘what next?’ More restrictions? Less? Socialising or isolation? Christmas or not? Furlough or work? The amount of uncertainty week to week has been confusing and disheartening.
As we moved into a new year just a few weeks back, the pinnacle time for ‘what next?’ questions, I struggled to enthusiastically embrace hope and cheer at the dawn of this new year. Whatever was next, it didn’t feel good.
Throughout the pandemic, I have generally tended towards this pessimistic position of expecting the worst. That way, I’ll be surprised when things go better and avoid disappointment if things go downhill.
Whilst thinking this was a noble strategy to safeguard myself from the turbulence of pandemic life, it is a pretty silly approach. Rather than protecting my heart, it has made me bitter, discouraged, and hyper-critical. It has chipped away at my joy. It has produced apathy. It has generated bitter anger.
These are not good qualities to be cultivating.
I was challenged on this recently when reading ‘A Praying Life’ by Paul Miller. In hearing about the cynicism of a friend, Miller responded with a mix of Romans 15:13 and Hebrews 13:20: “May the God of hope, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Our God is a God of hope. Our end goal is to be hopeful, not cynical. I felt suitably rebuked.
But this of course begs the question how I can cultivate hope when the pandemic remains so disheartening.
In Matthew 6:31-34 Jesus says:
“So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
So much of my question ‘what next?’ comes from my desire to have control over my future. Yet, ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’.
My task is not to seek to control whatever is next. Instead, my task is to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness. It is to prioritise faithfulness to God, in all circumstances.
Practical questions do matter – your heavenly Father knows what you need. But the purpose of my life is to be heavenly-oriented. This is why hope is so important – we are not made for this broken world, but for a kingdom of hope.
Cultivating cynicism does not prepare me for that kingdom or show that kingdom to others. But hope in Christ, in a future without pain and suffering? Well, that is far more suitable.
I certainly haven’t found this easy but the words of Proverbs 3:5-6 have been a great help in the fight against cynicism.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight."
In this time when I don’t know and can’t control what’s next, I am reminded that my own understanding is weak. I need to trust in the Lord. So, ‘what next?’ is not cause for cynicism but for hope, because I know God is faithful and makes my paths straight.
This song has been a great help in learning and dwelling on this Proverbs verse. I hope it helps you in your fight against cynicism too!