The Difference between Hope and Optimism
I just finished reading a book about death, one I picked it up in a thrift store a few years after my VEDS diagnosis. Fragility of life is on my mind probably more often than the average 42-year-old, and this year, collectively, we’ve all been thinking about life’s fleeting nature. My precious small hometown is in a deep season of grief over several recent losses due to covid-19.
Don’t worry – my thoughts aren’t morbid or macabre. As a Christ-follower, I know I need not fear death, but I want to live with hopeful expectation for an eternity that is sure to come for all of us.
“The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t fear death because it’s natural.’ The Bible says, ‘Don’t fear death because it’s been defeated,'” Timothy Keller writes in O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.
Then I read this headline and I began thinking about the difference between optimism and hope:
“I’m out of the lemonade business”: Michael J. Fox on the day his optimism ran out
In case you don’t know him, Michael J. Fox is an icon of my childhood. He was an 80s sitcom star on Family Ties, he played Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies, and he’s had a decades-long career as a successful actor. He’s also battled Parkinson’s disease since his 20s, and he is known for his advocacy and optimism in spite of his obstacles.
Fox is back in the news because he’s released a new memoir, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality, after an extremely difficult 2018 which included loss, injury, and literally learning to walk again. At his lowest (and I’ve been there, trust me), Fox said this: “That was the point where I went ‘I’m out of the freakin’ lemonade business. I can’t put a shiny face on this. This sucks, and who am I to tell people to be optimistic?’”
From this point, he journeys back to optimism, giving a nod to gratitude and noting the frailty of life. In this interview (which you should read), he goes on to say:
“…[T]he future is the last thing we run out of. We run out of breath. We run out of everything. Then there comes a point where we have no more future and that’s the end of it. But until then there’s always something in the future to be optimistic about, to look forward to. It may change our circumstances or it may not, but that will run out, so enjoy it while you have it.”
While I applaud Fox’s resilience and appreciation for life even when we suffer, I sense his lack of true hope: “There comes a point where we have no more future.”
Optimism versus hope.
Aware or not, we all have an everlasting future, an eternity facing us. And for the blood-bought believer in Christ, that eternity is filled with joy, completion, and unity with Christ. Hope.Optimism can fuel us only so far, but Christ-centered hope provides a never-ending supply of endurance, peace, and joy. Click To Tweet
Optimism can fuel us only so far, but Christ-centered hope provides a never-ending supply of endurance, peace, and joy. Our circumstances can be grueling – illness, loneliness, unfulfilled longings, heartache, grief – but hope supplies the adrenaline to get to the finish line.
The object of our hope is Jesus.
The outcome of our hope is eternal life and an inheritance beyond our imaginations.
The evidence of our hope is to keep putting one foot in front of the other in obedience, patience, and faith.
Michael J. Fox has it almost right: “There’s always something in the future to be optimistic about, to look forward to” – in Christ. (my edit) Not just Pollyanna platitudes — true hope in Christ is life-changing.
No more lemonade from lemons, y’all, but lasting hope in everlasting life. I pray you move beyond optimism and ground your faith in the true Hope-Giver. You can download a printable of hope-filled verses here.
10 Grief Resources for the Holidays
This December, many people are dealing with grief – whether it’s fresh loss in an already difficult year, a season full of reminders of a loved one long gone, or ambiguous grief over what is missing. Some of the resources below are for the grievers, some are for those who love the grievers. Let’s handle each other with care and wisdom this season.
The main takeaways from the articles below are:
- Listen. Don’t speak.
- Provide a practical help without waiting to be told what they need – food, gift cards, errands, help with the kids. Those in deep grief have a hard time naming their needs.
- Be personal. Say the name of the one who’s gone. Share a memory. Give a meaningful gift in their memory – an ornament, a photo, a tree or memorial stone.
- Don’t offer a verse or platitude, even if it’s true. Pray for discernment in timing. Some people need to talk through the loss, others need distraction or laughter – sometimes it’s both. Let God work through their grief, He is close to the brokenhearted.
ARTICLES & PODCASTS (5)
What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Suffering
I just want someone to be there. To weep with me. To say she is sorry things are so hard. To not expect me to have perfect theology…What an amazing gift it is not to feel judged by every word I utter in desperation.
Three Things to Consider Before Sharing Scripture With a Hurting Friend
There is a back door for sharing Truth when the amygdala has taken over the brain’s logic center. For me, the back door is music and a hand to hold. For my child, it is food and/or the dog.
What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving
We don’t have to say words to send a message. We can tell someone how much we care by showing up and by listening.
Podcast: Navigating Grief during the Holidays (38 minutes)
But to use their actual name somehow esteems your loss in it. It somehow demonstrates, “I remember.” And this person you loved, I loved him too and I miss him, too.
Podcast: The Surprising Power of Lament (32 minutes)
[T]he Bible gave voice to the fact that there are two things that happen in suffering: I believe that God is good, but this is really hard. And lament is the language of what you pray when you’re in pain that leads you to the point of trust.
The One Year Book of Hope (devotional) by Nancy Guthrie
Quiet Assurance – Meditations for a Grieving Heart (devotional) by Thelma Nienhuis
What Grieving People Wish You Knew – about what really helps (and what really hurts) by Nancy Guthrie
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Eareckson Tada
These links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase from these links, I will receive a small stipend – at no extra cost to you. Thank you!
This song, Blessings, was a lifeline to me during our four years of infertility; even now, I listen with tears. Joni Eareckson Tada, introducing the song during a conference last year, offered this wisdom:
“Be with people. Don’t slap biblical truth down like it were a pint of blood and say, ‘Here! Ingest this, this will do you good. You’ll feel a lot better; it will show you how to rejoice in suffering.’
Hook your spiritual veins up to the one who is bleeding out of control with depression and infuse your life into them. It’s going to cost you something, but normal Christian service is always sacrificial service.”