I have been blessed with many wonderful friendships. People who are so different to me, who have been sent, I know, by Father, to help me to learn and grow and understand. I have a friend who is a determined optimist. It is she who has helped to shape my understanding of how it is possible to train ourselves to be optimistic.
No, wait, this is not a self-help article as such, and perhaps it veers away just a little from the style and tone of this place in virtual space, but bear with me, because it comes back to Father God.
It always comes back to Father.
At some point between childhood and adulthood, I became a pessimist. Only, I didn't realise that I was a pessimist. I didn't see myself as a negative person; instead, I thought I was a realist. My definition of an optimist was a person who had not yet learned that life was pitted against you; that you would always be let down and that hope was incredibly dangerous (it sort-of is, but in a different way! More about that another time).
Even though I was Christian, as a young wife and mother, those people around me who seemed alive in their faith and positive about life were a bit of a marvel to me. Their optimistic outlook felt like a mind-game; either that, or they were far stronger and more resilient than I was or far more ignorant and naive.
How were they navigating sleepless nights with young babies in a positive fashion? I constantly saw the threat of cot death, of post natal depression; my lens was fear and negativism and I didn't even realise it. I was growing weaker and I'm not sure that I realised that either.
How faith fit into that picture, I'm not entirely sure, although I definitely saw and related to the negative aspects of fallen mankind and the struggles on earth rather than the Promises from the Father about strength and joy and peace to navigate the challenges of life; and not only navigate them, but grow stronger and sturdier in Christ.
No wonder my life was so depressing.
Still, I didn't know how to cross the bridge. I wasn't an optimist. I couldn't live life with my eyes closed; and that's how I saw optimism: like riding your bike toward a cliff with a blindfold on. You could trick yourself into security but at some point you were going to get a terrible wake-up call.
As far as I knew it, there were two types of people in the world; optimists and realists.
Can you relate?
What is optimism, really?
It's only this past few years that a new concept has begun to reveal itself to me; the concept that life is a blend of both good and bad happenings and that optimism is the deliberate choice to look for, expect and enjoy the good things. As I write it, it seems pretty obvious: a concept that most of you have probably had from youth, but for me, it was a foreign idea. Optimism is not closing your eyes to the hard stuff or the disappointments, rather it is choosing life in the midst of darkness; taking hope in place of despair, resting in confidence that things will work together for good.
At this stage, if I am beginning to sound like a pop-psychology book, I would like to deepen the theory. You see, optimism is accessible to all, but it only goes so far. If it is not coupled with the deeper knowledge that there is a being higher than yourself actually working in the chaos of mixed life-events, then optimism is simply a positive outlook. When coupled with the Promise of the Father, optimism becomes faith. And faith, we know, is the doorway through which Kingdom comes to Earth.
What this means, is that optimism can not only be learned, but it can change your life.
Seeing the bigger picture
If God truly is God, as we believe He is, then we know that the bitter things in life will be turned sweet; that there is hope in the darkness, a blessing amidst the pain. The reason for this, is because Father promises that He is working every single event in our lives for our eternal good. One of the ultimate triumphs of the cross of Christ was it's complete and utterly astounding ability to take one of the darkest moments in Christian history (the death of the awaited Messiah) and transform it into an invitation for all of creation to enter into Son-ship with a Loving Father.
Through the ascension of Christ, another sorrowful event, if we were to look at it from the perspective of His followers, came the next biggest blessing of mankind: the Holy Spirit, sent to dwell inside believers, so that the Spirit of Christ would be everywhere all at once, working and teaching and counselling and in intimate relationship with each of us. Miracle of Miracles is Father's incredible creative power which takes that which stings and turns it to triumph.
My dear friend, who is so rich in wisdom and awe of the Lord she found in adulthood, has passed on her revelation to me: faith breeds faith and those whose eyes are open have the ability to bring life to the dim eye, hope to the broken spirit. Through her friendship, I have learned to see Abba afresh. Far from the grieving God in heaven, lamenting over creation gone astray; I see an active, engaged Father who breathes spirits back to life, who bleeds our inability into His eternal ability so that we can do His works on earth; so that we may bring Kingdom to Earth.
This is our job as Christians, this is our privilege.
Abba's goodness and active engagement with His creation becomes the lens through which we see our life on earth; faith becomes the new optimism; optimism that is not simply a cheerful or positive outlook, but an abundant, continual store of refreshment: it is the doorway to the eternal. We are not simply hoping for the best, practicing wishful-thinking or living in denial; rather, we are living in a state of constant expectation as we look for Father's restorative, redemptive work here on earth, through His Holy Spirit in us, pointing back to the complete work of Christ.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit all working in, with, through and on behalf of us men of dust and clay, in the here and now for His eternal purpose and our ultimate good.
In the same way the Spirit [comes to us and] helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should,
but the Spirit Himself [knows our need and at the right time]
intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words.
And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is,
because the Spirit intercedes [before God] on behalf of God’s people in accordance with God’s will.
And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.
For those whom He foreknew [and loved and chose beforehand],
He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [and ultimately share in His complete sanctification], so that He would be the firstborn [the most beloved and honored] among many believers. And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified [declared free of the guilt of sin]; and those whom He justified, He also glorified [raising them to a heavenly dignity].
What then shall we say to all these things? If God is for us, who can be [successful] against us?