I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of the glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe, according to the working of God’s great power.
Devotion by Rev. Courtney Jones
I know and admire many unflappable optimists; I am not one myself. Nor am I a pessimist (I don’t think), despite my desire to be prepared for any worst-case scenario. No, I am something much more boring, and perhaps something you wouldn’t expect in a pastor: I am a realist. This year has certainly tested me, and I have swung from willfully optimistic to tragically pessimistic, but ultimately I find equilibrium in realism.
My favorite holiday movie is Home Alone, and I started early this year—we began watching it last weekend on one of the network holiday countdowns. There is an exchange early in the film, in which two brothers, Peter and Frank, are running to the waiting van that will take them, their wives, and their children (minus Kevin, of course!) to the airport. Frank says, “There’s no way we’ll make this plane; it leaves in 45 minutes!” To which Peter responds, “Think positive, Frank!” The retort comes fast: “You be positive; I’ll be realistic.”
There is a way in our culture in which hope has become synonymous with optimism, and if you are one of those enviable folks with a cheery and optimistic disposition, I’m not trying to talk you out of that. I recently read a piece about “toxic positivity,” though, in which I was reminded that sometimes we are stubbornly optimistic as a fragile attempt to keep our lives simple and to keep the unpleasantness of the world at bay. We don’t want to be overwhelmed by bad news, or we don’t want political arguments to cost us relationships, and so we just ignore the headlines and refuse to talk about the things that matter to us with the people who matter to us. That’s not always bad; sometimes it’s incredibly necessary so that we can stay engaged and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s important to know when we are doing it, though, so that we can eventually find our equilibrium again.
Because thin, head-in-the-sand optimism is not the same as hope. At least, it’s not the kind of wholehearted, rugged, malleable hope to which Paul is calling us. The hope Paul is talking about is not going to be found in The Power of Positive Thinking. It’s a hope rooted in an honest assessment of the world around him and trusting that the power of resurrection is greater than the trials of the world. The promise of abundance that exists in God’s love is bigger than the conflicts we create. And so the hope to which Paul calls us is not a choice between being positive and being realistic; it asks us to live in the tension between life as it really is and the world as it could be when God’s power is on full display.
I am a realist. A realist who chooses to live in hope, dancing the thin line between the truth that our world can sometimes seem like a total dumpster fire and the unflappable certainty that the world is also full of possibility, because nothing is impossible when the power of God’s love is made real.
God, Thank You for the ways Your power sustains each of us and all of us. Inspire me to live wholeheartedly and give me courage to acknowledge the world as it is so that I can find my hope in You. Keep me from the pitfall’s stubborn optimism and lonely cynicism. Lead me in the footsteps of the saints who came before. In Jesus’s name, Amen.