Long ago, I determined to look on the bright side of life. Earlier focusing on the dark side and possible problems and what others thought of me led to contemplations of suicide. My own. To balance my natural negative take, I made my life verse “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, …think about such things. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4-9, slightly paraphrased).
And the Lord knew I needed peace. In the years since, that decision has brought peace and tranquility when facing life and its issues. I try to look for the good in people, knowing they can change. I try to look for the good in difficulties, knowing God can work in all situations. Most times, that strategy is good and wise and effective. Most times.
Several years ago I built a waterfall in our backyard. The first pic shows it before greenery was planted. Pretty sparse. So we did some research and viewed other backyards and put in the plants and let them grow. That’s the second pic.
But even in moderate SoCal winters, the papyrus reeds that formed the centerpiece went dormant. OK, brown. The tops looked dead, but they slowly began to regenerate as spring arrived. Slowly, but my now optimistic nature KNEW they’d soon look nice again. At Easter, our kids visited, and our son-in-law David, a certified arborist who runs a commercial nursery, suggested I prune out the yellow stalks with brown tops.
“But they’re turning green! See the small green fronds coming out?”
“No, trying to regenerate those stalks will suck the energy out of the plant and it won’t send out new shoots. When you prune them, you encourage new growth.”
Now, despite my optimistic bent, I know what I know and what I don’t. So, I pruned them. That hurt, not just in the immediate appearance of the fountain, but my optimism took a hit.
Guess what? David was right. We soon had the corner filled with fresh, tall, green beautiful stalks of papyrus. If you look closely at the second pic, you can see it’s time to prune again.
So, what’s the spiritual pruning hook here?
I’m still convinced that optimism is the most effective and godly approach to life. Our God, the majestic and transcendent Creator and Sustainer of the universe, loves us and transforms us and works in all situations. But bad certainly occurs. The papyrus going dead was not a big issue, but it’s a fine metaphor that mere optimism alone doesn’t always work. Realism needs to be in the mix. Now, realists think realism means to expect bad. I disagree.
Try to avoid expectations and replace them with hope. The gap between them is huge. But when we optimistically expect that things will work out, when God hasn’t specifically promised that, we set ourselves us for major disappointment. Not just in the situation, but in God.
Kick Starting the Application
What’s your natural bend—toward optimism or pessimism? Are you at one end or the other, or do you balance them both? How does your faith inform and shape your bent? How has it helped or hurt your walk with God? Do you have any specific verses that you use when evaluating a situation (like Phil. 4:8-9 for me)?
How often does a situation turn out like you anticipated? Did your anticipation possible contribute to the outcome?
How can you balance optimism and realism in more practical manners?