Is It Naive to Be Optimistic?
This post was written by Mel Lawrenz
A while back a colleague put me on the spot in a group by asking me: “why don’t you tell the folks how it is that you stay optimistic even in the face of great difficulties.” I instantly felt unusually self-conscious. My first instinct was to say, “because the alternative is unthinkable.” But then I thought, that is merely wishful thinking, and I hope I have something more substantial to go on in life. Wishful thinking is pitiful. It has a short shelf life. It’s not much better than buying a lottery ticket.
As a young adult my optimism may have been based on wishful thinking. Not that I hadn’t been through difficulties, like the death of my father when I was four. But most of the time things seemed to work out in life. That is how a lot of people stay upbeat–their trials have not been bone-crushing. Yet.
Today I am optimistic, but not because I think things always have a way of working out. Maybe they will; maybe they won’t. Romans 8:28 says “in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” not “every situation will work itself out.” We can only control our own actions–not those of others. We may learn from our mistakes, but just saying “I know better not to do that again” is no guarantee we will never repeat those mistakes. Memory is short, and will power is fleeting.
I am optimistic, but not because I’ve found a place of belonging that is a sanctuary or a fortress. I admire my country and its best ideals–but America is not the salvation of the world. I love the church–but Scripture never says the church is the hope of the world. I’m committed to my family–but I shouldn’t view my home as my oasis.
Real life experience reveals what Scripture has said all along: our hope is in the Lord. There is no other kind of hope. When other people or institutions do make us more hopeful, it is when they are faithfully acting as intermediaries of the hope of God in Christ.
The optimism we derive from hope is not lofty, ethereal, out-of-touch. It is feet-on-the-ground, practical, earthy, everyday. The anchor of hope is dug into heaven, but we hold onto the rope of the anchor right here, right now. Both hands. White-knuckled. Wherever we live. For one person “today” is a hospital bed, for someone else, looking through the job listings with shaking hands, and for yet another, sitting comfortably behind a mahogany executive desk. It doesn’t really matter if things are going great or you are teetering on the edge of some cliff–the only safe place in life is a living connection with God founded on faith, hope, and love.
Faith, hope, and love, of course, are “the things that remain” in the famous “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, which says that all of our abilities, accomplishments, and accolades are fleeting. Every single one. What we do should never be our basis for confidence.
But faith remains. The faith by which we open our hands and receive that forgiveness that nullifies the guilt of every sin borne of our stupidity, rebellion, or even unintended mistakes. Every sin. The guilt that weighs on our minds, gnaws at our guts, and screams in our ears. Nobody can tell the forgiven son or daughter of God “you’re not good enough,” because being “good enough” has never ever been the point.
Hope remains. So we can look forward–while we we look backward at the same time. The biblical view of hope is not “I never look back,” “I don’t second-guess myself,” “let’s just move on.” Hope is confidence in what God will do in the long term, based on what we witnessed him do before. Hope is a bridge which is secured at both ends: future and past. Imagine the Apostles in the Book of Acts standing before a crowd and saying “We have a plan. We will take you into the future. And we will never ever look back.” No, they gave people hope for the future as they intentionally looked to the past–to the landmark accomplishments of God. Pharisees offered institutional hope; prophets offered God-grounded hope. They looked forward as they looked back.
And then there is love. Always the bottom line. Always the most important thing. Always the mark of being a disciple of Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
So, I’d like to be optimistic about today, this week, this year, or however many days I have in this life. But I want to set aside any naive wishful thinking, which is just pitiful. I cannot assume anything will be easy. The Bible wouldn’t talk about spiritual war if every battle was always won.
What do you think?
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 10:33 am and is filed under Posts.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Both comments and pings are currently closed.