The discouraging thing about optimism

Some people think the best way to encourage someone is to tell them that whatever is bothering them isn’t really so bad, or it’ll get better, or if they just had enough faith, it would go away. Some people think that talking about negative things will only make other people feel bad.

Perhaps I’m weird (well, we know there’s no “perhaps”), but I find this kind of optimism oppressive and discouraging. It makes me feel alone, as if I’m the only person who struggles with whatever it is. It makes me feel overlooked, dismissed, or misunderstood. And suggesting that faith is some kind of magic — that if I could just work it right, it would solve my problems — makes me angry.

I’m not suggesting that we all wallow in misery together, glorying in who can complain the loudest and longest. Unvarying pessimism is just as oppressive as unvarying optimism.

What I think we need is the proper balance of the two. That Sonship curriculum I mentioned in my previous post includes these two key statements: “Cheer up! You’re worse than you think” and “Cheer up! The Gospel is greater than you ever dared imagine.” Our pessimism and optimism both need to be extreme; the balance isn’t a mixture or cancelling out balance, but a both/and balance.

Only as we grasp the full tragedy of sin can we see the full glory of what God has done for us. Only when we catch a glimpse of that glory can we bear to look at the tragedy of sin.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV).


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