We’ve all met That Person. The one with a hard life and huge smile. They never seem ‘down’ and they’re always hopeful about the future, even when there seems to be little to hope in!
Perhaps you’re that person. Or maybe you’re more inclined to the opposite view… You understand that life is hard and it probably won’t get any better, and having fun is all very nice, but it’s not reality!
Idealism or pessimism? Which is the right response when confronted with tragedy and illness?
It’s easy to judge a response when it’s the opposite to our own
If you’re bubbly and full of life it can be extremely disheartening when others “drag you down”. It’s not pleasant to have our “bubbles burst” or our happiness frowned at!
On the other hand, when you are feeling a bit down it can be painful and isolating to interact with someone who is carefree. When you see troubles crouching on your horizon, waiting to billow into your life, someone preaching “gratitude” is the last thing you want!
In situations like these, idealism or pessimism can seem genuinely wrong – when in reality they may simply be at odds with your own feelings.
We should not fear the opposite response
We often judge because we are afraid.
We fear optimism because we don’t want it to belittle our sadness.
We fear pessimism because we don’t want our happiness snatched away.
On one hand, this fear is valid. On the other hand, if we feel this sort of fear we are not giving enough credit to our own emotions.
After all, both optimism and pessimism are acceptable and appropriate in their time and place. And when they are valid, they are unshakable. By this I mean that genuine optimism or pessimism is not going to be ‘ruined’ by an opposing view point because it is grounded in truth and reality.
We only need fear the ‘squashing’ of our emotions when they are ungrounded. Optimism that flutters here and there on every unfounded hope is very easily destroyed. So is a pessimism which rocks wildly in the presence of each vague threat.
Both optimism and pessimism are good responses
Some people believe Christians should be long-faced and woeful, echoers of death and coming judgement.
Others think we ought to skip along, wearing a happy smile and handing out ‘Jesus loves you’ stickers.
Either extreme is unhelpful. This is because the Bible not only acknowledges the validity of both responses, but embraces them equally.
Our pessimism is valid because the world is broken and failing.
The Bible testifies to this. The world is a terrible, shocking place, filled with a crumbling creation and depraved, evil people. God does not dismiss our pain, and so we need not be afraid that we will discover it is invalid in the face of another’s optimism.
Optimism is appropriate because something inherently Beautiful is happening, and we are part of it.
Yes the world is broken, but it is being mended by a master Healer. Yes we weep now, but there is Hope to come, and Hope on this earth while we wait.
Both optimism and pessimism can be incorrect responses
Of course, at times our outlook does not match our beliefs.
We may feel depressed for no specific reason, in spite of the hope that we have intellectually.
Or we may feel incredibly optimistic – but more because our hormones have reached a particular level, than because our worldview has dramatically altered.
Some us are naturally more inclined to one attitude above the other. Some temperaments are more melancholy, others more happy-go-lucky.
That is life, and that is why we need each other.
Even taking this into consideration, we may swing between moods hourly or be caught in the grip of a single one for months. It may all depend on what the weather is like or when we have last eaten.
In these situations our emotions are still ‘valid’ – in the sense that they are our real experiences at that point in time – but they do not truly reflect our inner reality.
Emotions can be embraced, even…
… when they are different to other people’s
Yet because of Christ we need not begrudge others their differing outlooks, or fear they will overwhelm our own.
The reality and hope held forth in the Bible means that we can be gracious towards others and accept their mood even if we can’t participate in it.
It means both optimism and pessimism are valid and helpful – and we need not unduly fear either.
… when they seem unfounded or ‘wrong’
It is difficult is when our state of mind does not match our reality. When either emotion crops up for ‘no reason’.
In these cases it is helpful to measure our emotions against those of others around us, and hold fast to the truth that we are not judged by our emotions nor do they determine the outcome of our situation.
Our emotions are not invalid. They exist and they are real for us, but they are not necessarily truth.
Our Truth exists outside of ourselves.
It lives in a Person.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
//Are you more inclined to optimism or pessimism? How do you tend to react when someone close by you holds the opposite outlook? How do you deal with the fact that at times your emotions do not match your reality?
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