Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 7: Hope/Optimism

I'm thinking about optimism. I've always considered myself an optimist, at least until I read a scathing indictment of optimism by Eugene Peterson in the second-to-last chapter of Reversed Thunder, where he makes a compelling point about how optimism can be a way to avoid God.

Optimism, he argues, is built on faith in ourselves and our ability to make the world around us work in a pleasing way, shaping it to our desired outcome. He describes how optimism can be moral--using goodwill to fend off injustice; or technological--applying scientific intelligence to solve world problems. And he wisely acknowledges, "It seems ungracious to be unenthusiastic over such an enormous expenditure of intelligence and good will. These people, after all, are at least doing something."

That's the rally cry of our world, right? "Things are falling apart, DO SOMETHING!" We receive 1,001 daily exhortations to do our part, each promising that if we all do our part, things will get better.

What if this is a false promise? I've seen too much to believe that things get better, in any long-term way, without God, and Peterson's words made me realize how much of my optimism is "a way of staying useful" while keeping God out of the picture so the pieces and factors which make up my life feel more manageable.

As I thought about this this morning, I realized that optimism is not the same as hope. I've used them interchangeably for most of my life, but I wonder if perhaps I've been missing a piece of the puzzle? Hope, as it's described in the Bible, has a huge element of mystery to it. You can't just "have" hope. It's a gift from God. We think we know what we're hopeful towards, but the Bible suggests that our imaginations are limited, that what God has for us is bigger, better, faster stronger...entirely other than anything we can dream up to staple onto a vision board or write down in a prayer request. That's what I want.

So this morning, I'm trading in my optimism--my belief that through careful stewarding of my gifts and talents (along with dogged recycling and a determined effort to reduce my carbon footprint) I'll make the world a better place. In its place, I'm asking for hope. Hope is scary and mysterious and entirely out of my control. But so is life. And in that way, hope seems an entirely more suitable tool for this journey than the small control of optimism.

I'm brought back to two oft-cited quotes, one a reminder, the other a warning:

From the New Testament letter to the Hebrews: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I'm going to focus on the first word--NOW. This is what faith is, and I'm asking God for more of it, in this moment. I want that unexplainable certainty that my hope has substance.

And from the venerable C.S. Lewis: "We are half-hearted an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
It's tough for me to imagine that what I've asked God for is somehow less than he has for me. But today, I'll allow for the possibility, asking God to make me a whole-hearted creature, excited about the offer of a holiday at sea.

Because really, who couldn't use a vacation? :)

Checking in: On a scale of 1 ("what's hope?") to 10 ("I'm walking on sunshine") where is your hope-o-meter today?


Anonymous said...

this one hit my heart straight and true. i have been scared to hope. i do not want to be let down or to have my heart broken. God will not break my heart. He cannot. even if His plans are different from mine, my heart cannot be broken, because His plans will far surpass mine. i pray today that this thought will take over me and that i will be deliriously hopeful.

Gretchen said...

It's been hard to hope. Yesterday, though, in the midst of a really sad/hard day for me, something happened in an area I've been praying about for a while (but hadn't seen much change in). It was a really small thing, but it gave me bucketsful of hope. Not a 10 yet, but definitely not in the pits of despair.

Anna said...

My hope-o-meter is at a four. I cracked open Psalm 40 again and the first part of the verse struck me hard: "I waited patiently for the Lord" or rather "I WAIT patiently."

As I meet God for coffee this morning, I am asking for peace and closure re: a broken relationship once and for all and for a continued clear sense that while I am clueless re: everything in my future, He has things under control. I don't need to panic, I need to wait.

Sarakastic said...

As a natural pessimist which I've always considered worse, this was very interesting reading. My hope-o-meter is probably like an 8.3 today.

Elizabeth@LongToLove said...

I'm a little fashionably late to the 40 days of Faith party, but I'm loving theses posts.

My hope-o-meter is much lower than usual, but this post has helped the needle begin to move slowly towards the "Walking On Sunshine" side of things.

Breeza said...

This really resonated with me as I've been struggling to have hope that the trials I'm facing will end. Sometimes it feels like they won't. But I'm choosing to have hope in God that He has something better planned and that this time will end.

larramiefg said...

My hope reads a 7.5 but is like to rebound to 9.5 after eating lunch. I'm starving. ;)

KristyWes said...

I've been lingering on the low end of the hope spectrum for awhile, and feeling like it was somehow a character flaw. But I like the alternative thought that hope is not something that I either have or don't have, but something that God gives - so I can stop feeling bad about not having hope, and start asking God for it. Feeling more hope-full already. :)

Holly said...

Every thought that it doesn't come down to me and that God will be good because He's good (and not because I'm good) bumps my hope-o-meter up a notch. I'd say I'm at a 7, which is very high for me.

julieannaf said...

I have pretty high hopes today, maybe even close to a ten... but when I try to actually trust that my prayers are being answered at this moment it seems hard to imagine. It makes me think about the relationship between hope and trust. Maybe my hope meter is high, but my trust meter is low.

KimberlyH said...

This past March, I got discouraged at my job and felt at about a 2 on the hope-o-meter about it. After a little while, I realized I was so disheartened because I had lost faith & hope that my job would get better and that I would get to do the things I would want to do in my career.
Since then, things have improved, and my hope-o-meter is on the up-swing and somewhere about a 7 overall and climbing. :)
P.S. I've wondered - can we choose hope? One might say that we can choose to love, or choose to have faith, but can we choose to hope? I'm not sure, but I really want to say yes.

Terry Paulson said...

Loved your prayerful and grace filled expression of concern about the potential danger of letting optimism help people avoid God. As a Christian with a PhD in psychology, an MA in theology, and author of my newest book, The Optimism Advantage, I felt I had to reply. I was approached by Wiley, a secular publisher who wanted me to write a book on optimism. I was willing to do so but fought for including faith perspectives because there is both research and faith experience that confirms the power of faith and hope in dealing with adversity. I was able to include faith perspectives in the book. St. Ignatius said, "Pray is if everything depends upon God. Act as though it depends on you." As Christians, we are the body of Christ in the world. We have gifts--and one is the attitude we bring the gifts we use to serve and glorify God. Hope you and your readers can explore more at my where my most recent post talks about John Wooden--his love and faith that impacted more than his basketball. Just wanted you to know that Christians need not reject optimism...just know that God is the source.

kim said...

I don't know why, but like the metaphor of your father's boat (am I in for repairs or should I venture out to sea), I don't know where I am on the hope-of-meter. I feel frustrated, hopeful, impatient, confused, grateful, ungrateful, overwhelmed, and often wonder what my responsibility is in the whole process (am I doing enough or too much). I feel like I'm on the spin cycle. The best I can do is try and give it all to God.

vee said...

Right this moment my hopeometer is on the rise, because i'm feeling so validated and seen every time I read this blog. THANKS TRISH. I have been on this blog for hours just catching up on days 1-16 because I wasn't clear about how the 40 days thing worked, other than reading psalm 40 each day. This is feeding me (the scripture, quotes, video clips, all of it) MERCI BEAUCOUP and God bless you.