The Gospel and a Heart of Joy (Part Two)

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, ...
Image by fourstuarts via Flickr

Mick Turner

……continued from Part One

Even when we feel disappointed, discouraged, or overwhelmed, we can still respond in a positive manner. It is vitally important that you understand that optimism is not a denial of the pain one encounters in life. Remember Scott Peck’s runaway best seller, entitled The Road Less Traveled? The opening statement of Peck’s book was, “Life is difficult.” Peck was right in his assessment. Life can surely be difficult at times. Buddha, over two and a half millennia ago, was even more pessimistic. The first of his Four Noble Truths said that “all life is suffering.”

Even more relevant to the Christian optimist is the fact that Jesus told his disciples they could expect trouble in life. They did experience trouble and so do we. However, Jesus also gave them two important reasons to not let these troubles dampen their optimism. The Lord said two things that are of great comfort to those with ears to hear:

I have overcome the world.

I am with you, even until the end of the age.

Armed with these promises, the Christian optimist can face any difficult situation life might throw his or her way. I know that when many of you read this, the first thing that pops into your mind is, “But….” Chances are whatever words come after the “but” is an attempt on your part to either justify why you are a pessimist or to explain why what Christ said may be true for some, but not for you. For some, this process of rationalizing away what the Master Jesus clearly stated is an attempt to hold on to our negativity. I have met more than a few folks who cling very tightly to their pessimism and dark moods. As unhealthy as this sounds, and it is quite unhealthy, this trend is fairly prevalent, even in the Body of Christ.

In some ways, pessimism is a coping mechanism that a person might misguidedly employ as a means of emotional protection. I have a good friend Jeremy who fits this example. Generally a decent, caring, and devoted Christian, Jeremy is quite prone to finding a dark cloud in every silver lining.

On several occasions I have talked with my friend about this issue and surprisingly, he is quite aware of his chronic pessimism. In discussing the matter with Jeremy, I discovered that his thinking was quite different from a positive thinking Christian who expects good things in life. In fact, Jeremy expects the exact opposite. This came to light during a three-day workshop Sacred Mind Ministries taught at Jeremy’s church. Already aware of just how negative a mindset he had, I was interested in how he might respond to the training program.

On the second day, Jeremy’s team leader gave each person a scriptural affirmative statement to work with. The idea of the assignment was to see how creative each person might be in finding ways to incorporate frequent repetition of the affirmative statement into their busy schedule. When we went around the group, the various team members shared the methods they had devised and how it felt to tap into this new way of renewing the mind.

The scriptural affirmation assigned to Jeremy was, “And there shall be showers of blessing for me.” (Ezk. 34:26) The teams broke for 10 minutes of individual quiet time, during which each person would experiment with repeating the scriptural affirmation. Jeremy, however, declined to participate.

I asked my friend why he did not want to take part in the exercise. He was quite direct in his response:

“I just don’t think I can do that, mostly because it might just work,” said Jeremy. “You see, I always try to not look for or expect too much out of life. That way, when I don’t get what I expect, I am not so disappointed.”

I understood what Jeremy meant because I have heard the same words come out of the mouths of more than a few sincere followers of Christ.

“Let me ask you something, Jeremy,” I responded. “Do you figure that’s how God wants you to live?”

“Well, I never really thought about it in that context.”

“Let me ask one more question,” I pressed. “Do you figure that’s why Christ left his home in heaven, came down here into this broken world, fulfilled his mission, and allowed himself to be put to death – just so you could live in fear of expecting too much.?”

Jeremy didn’t respond, but he didn’t engage in the exercise, either. You see, Jeremy has built up a stronghold of pessimism in his mind and it has literally become a part of his coping skills. Changing this perspective will be difficult, but it can be done. I have walked through that difficult terrain myself, but that is another story. Suffice to say that with God’s help and with a person’s sincere cooperation, this type of “defensive pessimism” can be transformed into a dynamic, radical optimism.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying in this article. I am not suggesting that the Christian life is a bed of roses or any kind of journey that is without pain. “Life is difficult.” It is rare that three little words can contain such a profound and accurate view of life, especially in these challenging economic and social times. Scott Peck goes on in his book to express the theory that most emotional problems, especially neurosis, can be tracked back to a person’s multi-faceted attempts to avoid accepting the stark reality that “life is difficult.”

The Christian optimist would generally agree with Peck; life is, indeed, difficult. The difference between a Christian optimist and a person who views life through a more neurotic lens is the Christian’s gut-level acceptance that no matter what he or she faces, the Master they serve has overcome the world and therefore, in the final analysis, has provided a way through life’s difficulties. Further, the Christian optimist has a habit of turning life’s difficulties into positive opportunities. This is no “pie in the sky” response, but instead, the Christian optimist takes to heart the scriptural promise that God will not burden any person with more than they are equipped to bear. This is especially true for the Christian.

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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