A couple months ago I noticed a subtle but real shift deep within me.
I would hear of someone sharing their dream they had for their life or share about something they really care about, and, internally, I would be rolling my eyes at them and I would think to myself, “Just wait and watch how the world doesn’t care about your dreams and that you obviously haven’t lived long enough to realize that, oh young foolish one.”
In those moments I almost wanted to pop their dream now and get it over with since the world was going to pop it eventually. Why wait? Let’s just get it over with and help you realize how pathetic this life is.
I feel almost icky writing that out. Sweet, optimistic Nikole turned Dream-Killer Nikole ready to pounce on anyone’s dreams or hopes for the future.
I took pride in the fact that I wasn’t so optimistic anymore. That my young, naive self was slain and slain for good. That I had lived long enough to experience enough loss and hurt to be angry at the world. To laugh at those foolish enough to believe anything is possible.
My dream was crushed. Yours will be too.
My dream job didn’t work out. Neither will yours.
Pain is inevitable. Good luck with yours.
Life is brutal. Wait til it devours you too.
My pain translated into me wanting to see others experience pain. So they can know what it’s like.
How sad is that?
And then it hit me… I was becoming the very thing I hated seeing in others.
I was becoming a cynic… but not just a cynic, a criticizing cynic.
And that’s when I realized that being a cynic is the easy way out. It’s easy to be critical of oneself, of others, and of the future.
It’s not as easy learning to be resilient, to look for the good, and to try to be the good in this world.
I realized I had a very real decision before me:
I can choose to be a criticizing cynic that no one will want to be around
I can choose to be grateful and kind and compassionate and maybe, just maybe, make the world a more beautiful place. The kind of place I’ve been wanting to live in.
And that’s when I made my choice.
Instead of being angry and resentful at what’s happened in my life, I want to see my pain as a trail marker. Maybe that person, place, pain or change in plans was not what I wanted, but maybe they served their purpose to get me where I am.
Maybe there’s been a lot of death and decay in my life and your life, but do you know what makes the best soil? Ashes. The death of something just might be the fertile ground we need to birth something new in our lives.
When we’re cynical, we tend to become critical, and as soon as anyone has a new idea or they’re excited about something, we negate their dream/idea/passion before they have a chance to finish telling us what their dream/idea/passion is. And that leads to isolating us from others and isolating others from their joy they were just sharing with us.
But when we’re compassionate, we listen and lean in and in so doing, we end up connecting with that person. And even in the midst of our own pain, loss and confusion, we celebrate our friend(s) and their dream/idea/passion. And we find ourselves experiencing community, something our cynical self has been yearning for all along.
Do you see that pattern?
Cynical –> Critical –> Negate –> Isolate
Compassion –> Connect–> Celebrate –> Community
We have a very real choice before us.
We can take the cynical route or the compassionate route and they will lead us to very different destinations.
I was (re)reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, and I loved what he had to say on our decision to be grateful or critical:
“It is important to realize how often we have had chances to be grateful and have not used them. When someone is kind to us, when an event turns out well, when a problem is solved, a relationship restored, a wound healed, there are very concrete reasons to offer thanks: be it with words, with flowers, with a letter, a card, a phone call, or just a gesture of affection.
However, precisely the same situations also offer us occasions to be critical, skeptical, even cynical because when someone is kind to us, we can question his or her motives; when an event turns out well, it could always have turned out better; when a problem is solved, there often emerges another in its place; when a relationship is restored, there is always the question: “For how long?”; when a wound is healed, there can still be some leftover pain… Where there is reason for gratitude, there can always be found a reason for bitterness.
It is here that we are faced with the freedom to make a decision. We can decide to recognize…[the good] in the moment or we can decide to focus on the shadow side. When we persist in looking at the shadow side, we will eventually end up in the dark.” (p. 60-61)
I want to be a light dweller, not a shadow dweller. How about you?
As Nouwen wrote, “You have to choose where it is that you want to live, and that choice is one that you have to keep making from moment to moment.” (p.82)
Want to have more joy in life? Want to experience more love? Then give love. And give thanks.
But be genuine. Or, if you’re not at a place where you can be genuine, then this might be the place where you have to fake it til you make it. Continue giving thanks and giving love, even when you’re not feeling it, especially when you’re not feeling it, and one day, you just might be surprised to find yourself actually feeling the love and feeling the thanks you’re giving to someone. And that’s a good place to be.
And then do it again. Give love, give thanks, and be genuine.
As Nouwen wrote, may we be “able to step over [our] shadow into the light of [our] truth.” (p.63)
There’s already enough darkness in the world. I refuse to add to it.
May we live in the light and may we bring light to others.
“When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant… every time we decide to be grateful it will be easier to see new things to be grateful for. Gratitude begets gratitude, just as love begets love.” – Henri Nouwen (p.62)