I tend to judge optimistic people. I’ve never admitted that out loud, but here are four things I secretly assume about them.
They must either be …
- In denial.
- Young and naive.
- or …Faking it.
It’s just always seemed more honest to be pessimistic to me. Once, our family raced to the Chuluota woods to help friends find their runaway chihuahua. (Chihuahua!) Later, I heard that another mom spent the car ride regaling her children with stories about how God can do the impossible. “God can save the dog, kids! Let’s pray!”
Meanwhile, as I navigated my minivan deeper into the Chuluota jungle, I turned down the radio and said, “Brace yourselves, children. The dog is most likely dead.”
It just felt more honest!
My Struggle with Psalm 23
As I read David’s most famous Psalm, I’m with him right up until the end. I love the green pastures and still waters. I appreciate the dark valley – the honest admission of suffering. The enemies, the oil, the overflowing cup – I’m good with all of it, until the very last verse: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life …” (Psalm 23:6).
Surely? But how can you be so sure, David? What if sorrow and disappointment follow me? What if that terrible thing that keeps me up at night never goes away? What if the worst happens? This sounds a lot like blatant optimism.
I can feel my eyes narrowing as I run down my list: Was David young and naive when he wrote this Psalm? Lying? Totally in denial? Flaky? (He did dance down the street in his underwear once … )
The CSB translation is even more aggressively optimistic: “Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life …”
Well now, that definitely can’t be true!
The Secret to True Optimism
David is an anomaly when it comes to my theories about optimistic people. Actually, he was not young when he wrote that Psalm. He was King, and not just a king accustomed to the finer things in life. He was a king accustomed to being hunted like an animal and wanted dead by countless enemies, including his own son (2 Samuel 17-18). Speaking of children, David’s kids didn’t dabble in after-school gossip and back-talk. They dabbled in incest, rape, murder, and tyranny (2 Samuel 13-15).
David couldn’t have been naive and flaky. He couldn’t have been in denial, or a liar, because we see him weep and doubt and wrestle with God all over the Bible (Psalm 12, 13, 22, 44). Say what you will, David calls a spade a spade. Which can only mean one thing – there’s a fifth option. Some optimists (perhaps we should say, true optimists) aren’t filled with lies and fairy dust. They’re filled with faith and truth.
The older I become, the more I see this circle of optimism. Stick with me here: You start out young and optimistic. (For example … Who needs premarital counseling?! We’re in love!) Life slaps you in the face and somewhere in your thirties, idealism gives way to realism. (We need marriage counseling.) Around forty, realism might slip into pessimism. (Marriage stinks. Life stinks, etc.) BUT … if you can fight the good fight and persevere, you actually end up all the way back at optimism. (Sit down, son, let me tell you why marriage is worth fighting for … )
This time, the optimism is unshakeable, because you’ve weathered the storms with Jesus, and you truly believe His promises. This is why everyone loves to be around Christians in their sixties and seventies. Nothing scares those people! They know the faithfulness of Jesus, not just in their heads, or even their hearts, but in their very bones. His truth is in their marrow. It is their lifeblood.
These are the people who laugh at the days to come, who have a quiet confidence when it feels like the sky is falling. They pat your head and promise you it is possible to survive divorce, death, infertility, and even middle school. You see, fake, denial-based optimism isn’t the only thing that lies. Pessimism lies, too. Pessimism says, “This terrible thing will destroy me. This terrible thing is bigger than God. This terrible thing is the only thing in my life.”
But the truth is, God’s heart toward His children is always gentle and lowly, full of love and abounding in compassion (Matthew 11:29, Psalm 103:8). He doesn’t chase us with punishment and payback, but only goodness and mercy.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue God’s children all the days of their lives, and they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Sometimes the worst doesn’t happen. Sometimes the best does. Sometimes it’s good to dance in your underwear. And sometimes, as was the case in the Chuluota woods, the dog really is alive.
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