Monday, March 18, 2013

I Don't Want to Be Normal

The nurse from my doctor's office called to tell me the results of blood work done during a recent physical. She rattled off the numbers, then said, "All I can say is that you're just normal."

"You know what?" I said, "This may be the first time anyone's ever called me normal." She laughed and told me, "Then maybe I should have said, 'As far as your blood goes, you're normal.'"

Sometimes, being normal is a great thing. That's true of health tests. Normal, in those circumstances, means all is well.

But sometimes, being normal--whether the designation at the time means typical, average, or like everybody else--may not describe a desirable state of being.

And there's one way in which I think I never want to be normal: I don't want to approach life with cynicism.

Cynicism, one online dictionary tells us is "an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others."

Cynicism seems to be today's "normal."

Ever since the deceptions created by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during their presidencies, giving us Vietnam and Watergate, cynicism has taken hold in the United States. We seem to find it hard to trust anyone or anything.

Cynicism also seems to be prevalent among people around my age. (I'm nearing 60.) I can't tell you how often the speech of my contemporaries degenerates into throwing verbal brickbats at societal trends, people in power, the media, celebrities. It's depressing to hear them talk. And I wonder how they stand living with themselves.

People are cynical, I think, for two basic reasons:

(1) One is that they've had overblown ideals about how other human beings should act.

For decades prior to the Vietnam War, for example, more than 70% of the American people consistently told pollsters that their national leaders would never lie to them. That was completely unrealistic idealism. So, when we learned about the deceptions of Johnson and Nixon, the numbers flipped. Now people are more likely to assume that the government always lies.

Cynicism is an unrealistic overreaction to the failure of some leaders all of the time and of all leaders some of the time, to live up to our unrealistic expectations of them.

It's unfair to have unrealistic expectations of others. No matter how great you thought the person to whom you are married or for whom you voted in the last election, may have seemed to you. They're still human you. That means they're not perfect.

"Put not your trust in princes, whom there is no help," says Psalm 146:3.

This doesn't mean we're to repose zero trust in others. It means: "Don't trust human beings to be like God."

The only one worthy of our total trust is the God we know in Jesus Christ. Sinless, Christ went to a cross, where He died for our sins, both yours and that person you don't trust.

The Old Testament tells us that God is patient with human beings because He "remembers that we are dust."

And Jesus teaches us that before we condemn the small splinter in the eye of another, we need to remove the log implanted in our own.

There would be a lot less cynicism in this world if we would seek the power of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the second part of Jesus' great commandment for the world, which echoes the last seven of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses: Love your neighbor as yourself.

(2) Another reason for cynicism, I think, is disappointment with our own progress in life.

We look at people we deem more successful than ourselves and, secretly believing that we don't measure up, infer that there must be something false about the other person's progress. We doubt that their progress is for real, dismissing it as PR. Or, we cast aspersions on the integrity with which they achieved their "progress."

It should be said that others' money and material well being aren't the only things that spur this cynicism. A happy family, a good marriage, true friendships, educational attainment, or almost anything we observe in others can be an excuse for the person who feels inferior to be cynical. "Yeah, they look happy," the cynic says, "but that's window-dressing." He may even start spewing unsubstantiated gossip about the person to build himself up, while tearing the other person down.

This strain of cynicism is often rooted in envy. And envy is really rooted in self-loathing. The cynic often feels compelled to knock others because, in his secret self, he hates himself. He feels that his life is inferior.

Or, he knows of deficiencies, bad decisions, or sins that keep him from experiencing some of the things he yearns for. Overcoming this form of cynicism involves opening up our eyes and realizing that we are blessed in our own ways.

One of the things I have had to get over as I've grown in years and in my faith in Christ, is my disappointment in the ways in which God has blessed me. "Those blessings you've given me, Lord, are nice, but I want to be blessed in other ways. I want to be like So-and-So," I tell God. But as I read the Bible, God's Word, God seems to tell me, "But you aren't So-and-So. I've created a package of blessings custom-made for you. Not for So-and-So, but for you."

Isaiah 45:9 says "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'The potter has no hands'?"

I'm learning to let the Potter form me as He chooses.

This isn't fatalism. It's faith.

I may be a plain clay pot. But to give glory to the One Who made me and then gave me new life in Jesus Christ, I am intent on being, through His grace and power, forgiveness and love, the best clay pot I can be.

Of course, I will only ever fulfill my intention by relying completely on the Potter, the God Who came into the world in Jesus, died on a cross, and rose from the dead for imperfect clay pots like me.

You may not measure up in your own eyes. But you were worth the suffering and death of God, all of which He went through so that when He rose again on the first Easter Sunday, you could have life with God.

And the new life Christ gives those who believe in Him, doesn't start after your earthly death, as though this life were just heaven's waiting room.

The new life Christ gives can begin "the hour you first believe."

And it can belong to you in all the everyday moments of this life: While you do your job, love your spouse, relate to your kids, strive for your dreams, pray, enjoy your friends, read God's Word, take out the trash, mow the lawn, do the laundry.

"If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation," 2 Corinthians 5:17 says.

If you have faith in Christ, you have eternity. You have God standing by you as you strive to be your best, to achieve, and to live. No reason to feel envious. None.

Whatever its source, if cynicism is your normal, get rid of it. Trust in Christ.

You'll be more able to forgive others as God has forgiven you.

You won't trust people or things to give you what only God has it to give.

You'll trust only God to be God.

That's when you'll stop being normal and your cynicism will start to evaporate.

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