“A cup filled with vinegar can’t spill honey.” I don’t remember how I came across the saying, but despite being filled with wisdom, the phrase has always made me feel uneasy about myself. I go to church, I volunteer, I teach children with disabilities, I’m kind and caring… but underneath all that, I can sense a sour smell of vinegar, of bitterness and cynicism…and it shows. And it’s painful.
I get annoyed when a handful of us are working hard in the church kitchen while the other 150 people from the congregation just turn up to enjoy the meal. No one is rushing to help. Sure, I think to myself, it’s all about ‘give and take’ for us Christians…as long as I give and you take. I get tired of parents who complain about their children’s behavior at home and blame teachers (like me) for failing to make their child achieve in school. The toxic thoughts run through my head, Perhaps, you could start introducing some boundaries at home…then we’ll talk!
I read the Bible and ask God to heal my heart and renew my mind, remove the darkness and cynicism…but it just won’t go away. So I try a different strategy. I say to myself, come on, you’ve got to look at yourself through the eyes of God. You’ve got to see yourself the way He sees you. But, how does He see me?
I teach in a special elementary school for children with severe learning difficulties. The other day, I asked a boy in my class to count all the children (four) and all the adults (three) in class. His math was different from mine. He ended up with two grown-ups and five children. He pointed at one of the teaching assistants and said, “One.” He pointed at the other one and said, “Two.” Then he stopped. I kept pointing at myself to encourage him to continue counting. The boy scrutinized my face for a couple more seconds, and gave out a firm “no.” As far as he was concerned, I didn’t count as a grown-up.
At first, I was embarrassed. There were two other members of staff there, and I was suddenly exposed as a fraud! I pretend to be an experienced professional, a grown-up. Is this really how I appear to other people?! Yet, his observations were a precious gift.
The cynical part of me is critical of other people’s behavior and choices; it can be furious, angry, impatient and frustrated. It savors every depressing headline on the front page of a national newspaper. It moans and complains. This dark and gloomy “me” is too thick-skinned to go through the narrow gate to enter the kingdom. But that’s not the real me. The real me — the silly, playful, joyful me — meets the requirements. The boy confirmed it! In fact, we all qualify.
The real me makes funny noises, dances around the classroom, loves little people, loves life. My heart is not filled with vinegar. It’s full of sweet childhood innocence, and when it spills, it turns my surroundings into a land of milk and honey. It can never be taken away from me or get lost.
God is faithful and does respond to my unique needs and cries for help. When I read the Bible, I don’t actually get messages like, “Be good” or “Try harder.” The lines and verses that always stand out for me personally are those linked to attention, focus and concentration. Be watchful, be on guard, stay alert, stay awake.
The cynical mind isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may come from a place of knowledge and deeper awareness of the inequality and desperate need in the world. I can keep that. What I don’t want is to indulge in celebrating my own (or the world’s) shortcomings and faults. I want to be alert. Keep my eyes on what is good, true, and beautiful. Have faith like a child. Avoid getting carried away into the depths of cynicism and despair. And God has always showered me with lovely things and sweet moments to help me stay awake to the beauty of his creation.