Why can’t optimists be realists too?…

…or is it only pessimists who have the monopoly on realism? A good friend recently said that it was only pessimists who claimed to be realists; meaning that pessimists don’t like acknowledge they’re pessimists, they like to say they are realists, as if to justify themselves.

I happen to agree. Recently I have come up against this in my Job as a pastor, not in the local church here in town but when I meet with other pastors from the city and around the state. And nine times out of ten these so called realists are older and more experienced than my self. The question I have is this: Is it only the young and inexperienced that are unrealistically optimistic while the older more experienced are realistically pessimistic; what happened to realistic optimism?

Often talking with these older more experienced realists I get the sense that they are laughing at my optimism, I get the feeling they think I am being unrealistically optimistic. Whenever we discuss the dreams and visions for the future, often with a focus on the local and global church, I get the feeling these older realists are thinking to themselves, “he’ll change when he’s older and has more experience.” The thing is I don’t want to change. I believe I am realistically optimistic. And what is more I believe I have every reason to be.

Now my worldly experience is lacking and I’ll be the first to admit that, I’m only 27. Having said that, I have had some experience in the real world, and enough of it to do away with the naive optimism that come from youthful inexperience. I have spend two years in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations. I got to witness the realness of life in this country; death and disease, oppression and marginalization. This was very real and very raw and yet this experience didn’t turn me into a pessimist, in fact it had the opposite effect.

My wife and I are going back to Africa; not because of our pessimism but because of our realistic optimism. We are going back to Africa because we believe things can get better. I pastor a Church because I believe that people can grow in their love of God and their love of others.

Now I want to clarify the difference between unrealistic optimism and realistic optimism. Unrealistic optimism as I understand it is an optimism devoid of reality. If before putting my hand on a hotplate I optimistically think to myself that I won’t burn my hand then I am being ridiculous. However for me realistic optimism is synonymous with faith. Faith and realistic optimism go hand in hand. The author of the book of Hebrews had this to say about faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1 NIV)

For me, I want to define realistic optimism the same, it’s that “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Why do anything if you don’t believe your hope in the future will one day become a reality?

Does this resonate with you, what has been your experience? I would love to know, so collect your thoughts and start writing below. Join the discussion.

Next week we continue to explore this topic by looking at the things that help me remain realistically optimistic.


4 thoughts on “Why can’t optimists be realists too?…

  1. “You cant do it that way, we have tried that before and it did not work”
    “You cant do it that way, no one has ever done it that way before”

    Both cant be right.
    Optimism is good, hope is good. It is what Jesus gives us.
    Do good….not matter what. Be positive and try…no matter what.

    No monuments are built to critics….critics don’t do.

    Be a doer…be a believer….

    Thus endeth the sermon… 😉

  2. In a previous church, a career policeman was a blessing to me with his encouragement and affirmation. This struck me as really strange for every other policeman I’d known was cynical and/or bitter. His response to this was something like, “Yep, my default is to be cynical too. But I choose optimism.” I think the same goes for ministry. As pastors we are often called upon when everything, and everyone, else has been exhausted. People feel there’s no hope anywhere else so “what the heck, may as well give the pastor a shot!” Sure we see the high points, but it’s the low points we more often see. That’s one problem, we see the lows more often. Another issue is, pastors too easily don’t take enough time to replenish spiritually when life’s great, so when the barrel is empty, it’s really empty! And then we forget it’s God’s issue, not ours, to carry the emotional burden of caring for sheep…. Ben, I believe that spiritually maturing is deepening one’s heart and mind to the reality of who we are, where we are, and how the Kingdom is not yet here. Really, a commitment to brutal awareness and acceptance of how things are; a refusal to not be naive, innocent any longer. At the same time there is a growing inner determination to trust God for the impossible redemption which will one day be actual, physical, reality. I honestly believe it is possible, and so we need, to choose optimism, to choose to think/dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…”

    Who do I know or have known over the years as godly men/women of the faith? Those who have had great heartache in ministry, yet love the Lord, His people, and the Church. To me, they display a character like Christ… though persecuted, He responds with love to his persecutors. To me, that is profoundly optimistic. So, yep, I choose optimism!

    1. Joe, these words you have just shared have encouraged me to no end. When I read your comment your experience shines through, here is a man who has been there and yet is still optimistic, and with good reason. I believe you are one of these Godly men you talk about; one with a burden for the Church, not naive but realistically optimistic. Thank you.

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