the cure for the common optimist

True confession:  I love kids' movies.  And my sons, bless their hearts, will still go with me, scrunching down in their seats so their six-foot-plus frames don't block the whole screen from all the grade schoolers surrounding us.  

On spring break (at my college son's determined urging, in fact) we went and saw the Lego movie, which was incredibly clever and hilarious, with scenes from all the classic Lego sets.  Superheroes, pirates, movie characters, oceans, deserts, cities, giant machines, space ships--you name it, the Lego movie has it.  

My favorite part, though, was Cloud Cuckoo Land, presided over by Princess Unikitty, whose world consists of "no negativity whatsoever."  Inevitably, the course of life does not run smoothly for Princess Unikitty.  As her world implodes, she starts to feel emotions which are not happiness.  

Princess Unikitty is hilarious to me because I have been Princess Unikitty.  

I have been the super-awesome, super-positive, super-functioning queen of my own perfectly constructed life.  

Then I have been the volcanically exploding nightmare whose emotions erupt and wreak havoc everywhere.  

And I suspect that I am not the only person who's ever lived on the swing of that pendulum. 

First we're optimists, focused on seeing the results we want.  We can keep control--or the illusion of control--for quite a while, as long as we're confronted with no negativity whatsoever.

But then the explosion comes, and afterwards we're left wondering what to do.  A certain number of us will pick ourselves up, and put the pieces of Cloud Cuckoo Land back together.  

Others will find ourselves inundated with grief and sorrow, unable to find a way out.  Painful pessimism becomes the answer, as we're cynically convinced that happy endings never happen, and it's better to keep our expectations low.

I know that when you've been in pessimism land for a while, it seems like optimism is the way to go.  

Optimism looks happy!  It looks positive!  It has purple and pink with rainbows!  It even has a theme song!

Here's the problem. Optimism and pessimism are just two sides to an old, tired coin.  Both are about circumstances.  Optimism is about believing in awesome circumstances, and pessimism is about disappointed circumstances.

This spring, I've been slowly reading through Tim Keller's book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.  

In the book, Keller quotes David Bentley Hart, a veteran relief worker, who speaks about the difficulty of constantly living among the worst disaster zones of the world.  Hart speaks of a sustaining faith in God, and he says this:

"It is a faith that has set us free from optimism, and taught us to hope instead."  David Bentley Hart  (Quoted in Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, by Tim Keller.)

That statement rang in my heart like a bell.

When my own life fell apart 10 years ago, I knew I couldn't be an optimist any more.  

Slowly, I learned to live with reality, and all my painful emotions.  

I think that to outsiders it looked like I was going to become a life-long pessimist.

But inside, I was learning to hope in the real world.  To be be deeply honest, deeply hurt, deeply sorrowful, and deeply okay anyway.  

Optimism wants to define and separate, to reject the bad, and accept only the perfect. 

Hope, on the other hand, lives in mystery, and receives all of life, trusting in redemption every step of the way down the road toward home.

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