THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST
It seems that our world has been turned upside down. The newspaper has become almost unreadable. Listening to the morning talk shows is downright depressing. Normal work routines are out the window and new restrictions have altered almost every human interaction. The economy is in the tank, the politics of protests have taken center stage, and countless public events have been indefinitely postponed or cancelled altogether. Our addiction to sports has been rudely interrupted, and there’s no escape to the theater, a concert, or a movie. The negative energy that is dominating our lives and culture right now is enough to turn many people into pessimist. It certainly can be hard to see the “silver lining” in the midst of this year’s “dark clouds”.
Like yours, my plans certainly haven’t been immune from the impact of these strange days. I spent the first 2.5 months of the current pandemic working from home. A planned visit to my in-laws in Southern California had to be postponed indefinitely. A long planned retreat I was running was originally scheduled for March, rescheduled until June, rescheduled again until September and finally cancelled completely this week. I’ve grown increasingly disappointed living in the city of Portland with all the civil unrest, destruction of property and disrespect for our law enforcement officers, whether they are local, state or federal. In addition, getting my personal medical issues addressed has almost taken an act of congress and required a couple of visits to Urgent Care and the Emergency Room rather than a simple visit to the doctor’s office — an inconvenience of time and a much greater expense. Like many of you I’ve missed the spring sports, and though it’s looking like my beloved Oregon Ducks may play football this fall, it doesn’t appear I will have the privilege of watching them in person.
Fortunately, unlike so many others, the vast majority of my life has gone on almost unaltered. I still have my job, my full salary, and more than enough meaningful work to do. My pantry is full of food, my TV still works, my car is running and my mortgage is paid. My wife and my dog still love me, I was able to get a haircut, and we actually got away for a camping trip for a few days last month on the beautiful Oregon coast. Despite having to wear a mask, I can go almost anywhere I want around town, set off a few fireworks on July 4th, and continue to enjoy the freedoms that are ours as Americans. I may not agree politically with what some folks are saying, but I can respect their right to disagree with my opinions. My flowers are still blooming in my front yard, and I can put off my “honey do” list whenever I want. Life overall is pretty good!
As I have been considering the difficulties that have marked the year 2020, I can understand why so many people are pessimistic. Trust me, I’ve heard all the same conspiracy theories about what’s going on that you’ve heard. While there may be some substance to the thoughts shared in countless videos that people keep forwarding to me, for the most part I think everyone is just trying to absorb the changes that have become our new shared reality. As far as I can tell, no one has ever seen a year like this before. If it was just happening in our country I think I could give the conspiracy theorists more credence, but the reality is this is happening around the world where there are absolutely no political or economic advantages to anyone. The civil unrest isn’t unique to our country, now or in recorded history, but it seems that it’s jumped on the unprecedented other events of this year to heightened awareness. With all the negativity being reported in the news and on TV, and with all the things that have been temporarily been taken away from our “normal routines”, it would be easy to become quite pessimistic about life and our future. I understand that, and even relate to it in some ways, but I just can’t be pessimistic. I believe God is still in control and He’s even using these difficult times for our good! I don’t have to understand what’s going on to trust in His goodness despite the current circumstances.
I believe God is the “Eternal Optimist”. Despite the mess our world is in, I think God still looks at humanity with a loving heart and sees the best in us. We’re His kids and He loves us. I can’t really explain that when I see all that is going on around me. I mean, I’m a father and I love my kids and grandkids, but there are times when they’ve deeply disappointed me……and I’ve deeply disappointed them. There have been occasions where I’ve grown quite pessimistic with those relationships. How can God see all the chaos going on in 2020 and be anything but disgruntled with His wayward creation? It seems we have truly done our best to make things difficult for Him, haven’t we?
As I’ve been considering that over the past few days I feel that I need to get a deeper understanding of God’s optimism. When you think about it, His plans for mankind went haywire from the very start. Here He creates this perfect world with everything Adam and Eve needed for health and happiness and they went off the rails. Their children followed suit, as did each succeeding generation. God could have just washed His hands of the whole thing and started over….but He didn’t. He had said, “It is good” when He first created mankind, and evidently He meant it. He wasn’t about to give up on us!
Just think about some of the ways God’s optimistic outlook has been expressed in all of our lives. He continues to protect our small planet with an atmosphere unlike any other known planet in the universe. The sun comes up every day and the moon and stars continue to grace the night sky. The waves of the ocean know their boundaries, and “circle of life” (made famous in the song in The Lion King) has been operating consistently throughout history. The seasons change gracing our lives with both beauty and a dependable cycle for planting, harvesting and resting. Despite our best efforts to blow each other up, God has provided leaders with the restraint to keep us from annihilating ourselves in war. His message of love continues to be spread through the centuries by His church, and even those who have never heard that message formally are witness to His nature in the world around them and in their relationships one with another. Best of all, He didn’t leave us to our own devices to get out of the mess we created in sin, but rather instituted a plan of salvation highlighted by sending His own Son to die on a cross for our sins and rise victoriously on that first Easter morning. God must have been an optimist to do something like that for a lost and sinful world!
Perhaps the challenge for us these days is to find ways to better reflect God’s optimism in our own little corners of the world. No, we can’t single-handedly stop the pandemic, solve racial tensions, or provide the resources for those who need them. But perhaps we could see the best in people around us, perform little acts of kindness, and express a positive message in a world of negativity. The world seems to be desperate for laughter, encouragement, meaningful answers to tough questions, patience, and deeper interpersonal relationships. Too many of us may be running around with a frown on our face, a bad attitude, and a pessimistic outlook about the state of our own situation, our city, our state, our nation and our world. Like Mr. Rogers, I think God may be looking around at the same scene and saying “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…..won’t you be my neighbor?”
I want to be an optimistic person who sees the glass half full, not half empty. I think God is always that way, and I truly want to reflect His nature as much as I can. That won’t change what’s going on around me, but that’s OK. Since I’m in the high risk category I may actually get the Corona virus one day, I may not get to see the Ducks play football this year, and my paycheck may be altered by unforeseen events. But I know God is still on the throne, and I know He wants only what is best for me……even if that takes me through a few rough situations. I know who holds the future so I’m willing to “risk” trusting Him and try to emulate his eternal optimism. I may want to slap a few people silly sometimes because of what they are doing, but if God can put up with me, then I guess I can put up with them. Keep looking up!