Should Christians be Optimistic or Cynical?

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

In my earlier years, I constantly swung between being optimistic and cynical. Whenever I wanted something desperately, I would fix my mind on it and pour my 110 percent into it, along with a few prayers.

But whenever things didn’t work out my way, I would react like a spoilt child who didn’t get the candy she asked for. In those moments, overwhelmed by disappointment—and sometimes, resentment toward God—I would tell myself that it was better to be a cynic than an optimist. After all, I figured, optimism didn’t seem to pay off.

A friend of mine shared that he gives his best in everything he does, but keeps failure as a viable option. His reasoning was this: expecting the worst protects one from too much disappointment when things don’t work out.

But not for me. In my case, whenever things didn’t work out, I would be haunted by thoughts that maybe my wishes would have come true if I been a bit more optimistic. After all, if the blind man hadn’t cried out to Jesus to have mercy on him and heal his blindness, maybe Jesus would have walked on by. If he had sat back wallowing in his disability and believing that Jesus wouldn’t care and that there was no hope for him, then he would not have been healed (Luke 18: 35-42).

Over time, I realized that the root of our unhappiness—regardless of whether we are the cynical or optimistic type—is usually the same: we want something but we don’t get it. So how do we address the root problem?

The simple answer is hope.

Czech writer and philosopher Vaclav Havel once said that “hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”.

The ultimate difference between hope and optimism is that the former is rooted in a deep trust in God. It is an assurance that God’s will would be done, regardless of the outcome. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That came before praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:9-13). It was something that Jesus himself demonstrated at the most painful point of His ministry on earth.

In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus faced the reality of His impending death on the cross. But though the prospect of what lay ahead of Him distressed Him to the point where His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44), He did not abide by His will but by God’s will.

To be honest, trusting God to the point of death is no easy feat. The human reflex is to flee from pain and sacrifice. A friend of mine once held a job that did not honor God, and she was restless in her spirit. She knew that if she quit that job, she would have no income to support her child and herself. She had no family support in the country she resided in and being an immigrant, it would be particularly difficult for her to secure another job.

But it came to a point where she knew she could not continue to dishonor God by her choice of career. So she took a bold leap of faith and quit. The first month went by and there were no offers and no interviews, but she hoped, and had faith. Three months later, a recruiter called her and offered her a better job that would sponsor her work visa and grant her child support.

I have since learned to change my prayer from “I want this and that” to “let your perfect will be done”. I’ve learned not to be optimistic but rather to have faith, to persevere, and to hope—in God.

Just a few years ago, I found myself in a job that was not what I had prayed for. At the time, I could not understand why God wanted me there. It was grueling work; my boss was so difficult that no one could work with him except me. After two years, however, God gave me a new job that was even better than what I had initially prayed for. Ironically, I was selected for that job because of my experience in my previous job—the one I had disliked. I realized that good always comes out of every circumstance no matter how difficult the situation is, and this truth has given me peace.

I have come to realize that God always answers our prayers with what is good for us (Rom 8:28), even though what we hope for may not come to pass in the particular way we envision it. He gives us what we need—and not necessarily what we want.

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