In an unnerving true account, Victor Marx describes the moment when he completely lost his breath in a large commercial cooler. His attacker locked him there immediately after the assault and proceeded to stroll away.
He was five years old at the time.
In this autobiography (The Victor Marx Story) he recounts his first survival and years of creative torture. As shocking as this tale is, you won’t believe the ending, which speaks to cynicism itself. More on that later on (don’t scroll down yet).
You see, cynicism is the misunderstood next door neighbor. We may peer through the window toward his house but we know little of him and our conclusions dangerously miss the target because of our feeble understanding. But ironically, this distant neighbor is closer than we realize, chiefly because we still feel his effects. As strange as it is, have you ever been influenced by someone you never see or rarely talk to? You wonder what they might think, or say, if they knew, even though they never would. Cynicism is like that. Everywhere we go, every decision made, every person evaluated, every endeavor considered, and particularly every self-assessment is affected by the insidious influence of the cynic’s voice.
It’s so pervasive in fact, so embedded inside of us that every experience is bound to it. Soon, you'll realize (if you haven’t already) that your best expectations are at war with cynicism, for cynicism is actually an expectation. Pessimism is not reality, it is an expectation of reality, and while cynics insist they’re the true realists, they’re merely expecting an outcome inwardly fortified by previous outcomes and carefully constructed expectations. Often unwittingly so, I might add.
In the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations, the protagonist, Pip, wrestles with the power of expectation itself and his own expectations of value.
Pip slowly realizes there are internal gears within his heart moving him ever on and on, and upon closer examination, these gears influence far more than he ever thought possible. He sees these internal mechanisms are in fact expectations that infiltrate the entire direction of his life. And with final alarm he discovers that years of effort, words to friends, colleagues, neighbors, and personal goals and personal energy were in actuality driving toward an expectation of complete worthlessness.
What were these worthless, great expectations, you ask? Social advancement over relationships with people. Comfort over truth. Wealth over conscience. This penetrating tale zooms into the forceful engines of expectations on our own behaviors. They follow us around every corner. They whisper to us in every conversation. They move us on and on and on. Expectations can assume any shape but it’s their lasting influence that’s alarming:
Children who've been betrayed by multiple adults expect more of the same: selfish adults.
One failed relationship after the next means that loving relationships don’t exist in reality, or at least aren't possible for our reality.
God isn't real, because if he was my daily existence wouldn't be filled with pain.
This individual will never change because he’s always been that way, belongs to that group, or voted for that candidate.
An expectation can be anything, but these are the expectations of cynicism. Clothed in the wounds of the past, it keeps glancing at the wreckage in the rear view mirror and can’t embrace the road ahead. It’s protection for the wounded. It’s a shield of our fear and keeps us from further pain. Cynicism insists that something can't happen. It knows better. It's been around the block more than once. It isn't naive.
But despite its knowledgeable and wise assurances, it keeps you bowed down on the ground and from getting up again. It holds your mouth from speaking words of life to neighbors and experiencing joyful moments.
Cynical expectations handicap the present by darkly forecasting the future. Beneath our human exterior and inner narrator exists which cannot be escaped. Each soul is actively narrating their story. Some who live coddled lives eloquently expound on their victimization while those who undergo excruciating suffering exude gratefulness and peace. Our inner narrator should not be ignored, for what he expects becomes our reality.
And in humanity’s layered experience, we have deficits with spouses, deficits with money, deficits with emotions; and sometimes no matter how hard or fast we run after someone or something, we never catch up. Cynicism whispers that it’s pointless because the game is essentially over. In life’s grand arena, it seems we’re bowing our heads as the final seconds tick off the clock to the numbers we never wanted to see: all zeroes. Adversity does this to the human mind, especially when it's chronic.
If this is you, then I’ve found another soul just like me. I wage war with cynicism every day. Because of it, I’ve missed so much that God was waiting to lead me into, whether it was helping someone in need or a great opportunity. So if you fight this whisperer, just as I, let me remind you of this: A past experience is not the present. Past experience and present reality are in fact distinct forces, though they mutually influence the other. This means any expectation can influence your present reality but know it is not itself reality, however insistent it is. This is humbling to accept.
Because in every journey, inspecting your engine or internal gears is always humbling. Firstly, you have to pull over and stop. Secondly, the damage under the hood has probably been avoided for awhile. But if you acknowledge to God that it’s you, that the broken part lies beneath, not what you always blamed before, then humility, which also lies beneath, leads to greater expectations. Because once the expectations are realigned then the present reality shifts above it. This humble pit stop will alter both journey and destination.
But what if your deficits could actually be turned around? You’ve got more time on the clock than a ball game, but the hand won’t tick forever. What if cynicism has created an arrogance that keeps your foot on the pedal? On and on and on you drive. Perhaps it’s time to slow down, stop, and lift the hood.
If it follows that cynicism is an expectation influencing reality rather than reality itself (though it always insists the opposite, by the way) then it also follows that another expectation exists, one which equally influences reality.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7
Real love is not the foolish optimism portrayed in commercialized flicks, novels, and naive expectations. Remember, the same man who penned the above words lived a life of harsh realities, beatings, prison time and betrayal. Indeed, shortly after his comments that love “believes all things, hopes all things”, he followed them with: “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Cor. 13:11
Christ’s love isn’t childish, but simultaneously rooted in reality and greater expectations. When you’re shaped in Christ’s love for you, a profound expectation forms deep within. Because God’s sacrifice changed you, you expect and believe people will change, knowing full well some won’t. You expect to sacrifice for others while expecting others won’t sacrifice back.
You expect love to change an enemy and expect possible betrayal by your closest friends. You expect to bravely speak truth while feel terrified to do so. You no longer personally expect someone to meet any need of yours because Jesus Christ already met every need, which paradoxically leads you to expect Him to lead you to meet other’s needs. The greater love to be lived is this:
“Walk in love as Christ loved, and gave Himself up. A fragrant offering and sacrifice…” -Ephesians 5:2
Only those who surrender their minds and wills to Jesus know this freedom. It breaks the power of cynicism because whether it’s cynicism or love, both are the heart’s closely held expectations, and both determine present reality. If Jesus, perfect as He was, could live and die sacrificially for my sinfulness, then “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:13
If you’re able to humble yourself before Jesus’ sacrifice for you, there’s a molding of inward expectations which dynamically shifts and shapes under the hands of a master at work. Filling our minds with greater expectations rather than self-oriented expectations wrapped in Instagram, corporate media giants and vain philosophical bloggers is eye-opening.
Jesus Christ can clear the fog in your heart that the most discerning, self-help social media post cannot see. He will convict your heart when no one else can. When you’re suffering, He will carefully address the cancer and the cure, rather than superficially dressing your wounds in a comment section, as well-meaning but albeit misguided friends are prone to. You see, He even loved you when you didn’t love Him back.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8
Ultimately Jesus gives us the power to walk not in doubt or fear, but in love. Because in love all cynical and fearful expectations are discarded. At best, cynicism distracts, at worst, it steals great expectations from the present.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” -John 10:10
Remember Victor Marx? For years he expected nothing else but his own seething rage against his many abusers, until later as a grown man he learned of Christ’s sacrifice and forgiveness for all men. He takes that forgiveness literally, especially when he forgave his own torturers. Today, he coordinates counseling organizations and rescue operations for refugees and victims all around the globe. This apparent u-turn in his true account is unexpected to a mind shrouded in cynicism. If you think a u-turn like that is just for some people and not for you, it’s time you broke the expectations of cynicism with the expectations of Jesus through humility, His Word and prayer.