How to keep life experience from making you cynical

Dear Scott

For your sixth birthday, you want, amongst many – many – other things, a submarine.

(A real one.)

I’m counting on you only reading this when you’re much older, because you won’t be getting one. Not now. Not yet. Probably, not ever. But someday maybe hopefully.

Which is exactly why I wanted to write to you.

I love that you believe a submarine is a viable birthday option. I love that you believe Dad and I are capable of resourcing all your nautical dreams.

I love that you have so much hope.


But I want to explain something about hope, because we will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about His power and His mighty wonders,’ and because each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting His glorious miracles and obeying His commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors – stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.’ (Psalm 78:4,7-8)

So, almost-six-year-old-you and the generation that you’re a part of –

You’re called to set your hope on God. Not on a submarine.


Solomon said that hope deferred makes the heart sick. Meaning, if your hope is in getting a submarine and you don’t get a submarine, reality bites and punctures your inflated expectation. Disappointment leaks out – sets like concrete – and you’ve turned cynical.

There’s a weird tension you have to deal with then, because some people have told you to Just Have Faith. All things are possible with God. He can totally arrange for a submarine to be airlifted onto our back lawn, because He can do anything.

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But other people have told you to Stop Being Silly. You won’t get a submarine for your sixth birthday, because that’s just not how life works. They will tell you this because they’ve done life for longer than you have. They’ve seen how sixth birthdays typically play out, and their experience informs them that you should get over yourself and your submarine.

So you’re left wondering how your tender hoping heart can possibly stay un-bitter. Is hope sustainable when it’s statistically impossible?


Thing is, sometimes what we hope for is groundless, unrealistic, unwise, or obsessive. Even though God invites us to ask Him for wisdom, we ‘step out in faith’ (= do something stupid without thinking, praying, reading or asking clever people) and expect God to bless our wild efforts.

Then, when our wild efforts are disastrous or disappointing, we blame Him. We stop hoping, trusting and praying altogether.

I don’t ever want your heart to harden because of misplaced hope.

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So, to avoid the dangers of pipedreams and pessimism, try this reality check:

If you’ve stopped praying that God would grant you your heart’s desire, you know you’re cynical. When you no longer bring your dreams before God, you’re pretty much saying you don’t believe He can make them come true.


If you’ve stopped praying for others, you know you’re self-obsessed. Your dreams have become idealistically, idolatrously too big when your heart no longer breaks for the broken hearts of others.


If you’ve stopped praying entirely, you can’t hope for God to lay His dreams on your heart or to make you wise to the practicalities of how those dreams will walk around in the world.

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I guess what I’m saying is that if you really want a submarine, ask God. Keep hoping in the God of miracles and underwater adventures. Keep asking Him to reveal to you His wise and wondrous plans. Then leave your dreams with Him, and see how you can spend yourself for the sake of others.

Life will send you regular reminders that sometimes it sucks. But nothing is impossible, least of all hope.

And the best is yet to be.

All my love,



. . .

Thanks for reading, friend. Strength for a new week.

You’re welcome to share this post with someone you love. Also, it’s always wonderful to chat here, on Twitter, or on our Facebook community page. Sign up in the sidebar to get these posts by email.

Kudos to Antoinette Hattingh for helping me unpack cynicism versus hope.


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