“You’re a pessimist.”
“No, I’m a realist.”
I’ve heard my dad, a pastor with several decades of ministry experience, respond to that criticism several hundred times. About half of them were leveled, with a smirk, by my mother. I’m clearly my father’s son, because last week someone said the same thing about me. I bet you can guess how I responded.
My father and I aren’t particularly optimistic, but we’re both quite hopeful. While our culture has blurred the lines between these two terms, they’re different things—and the distinction matters.
Optimism, a vaguely positive sentiment, gets spread indiscriminately over hardship. Optimism ignores the facts, and tries to feel good anyway. Optimism says, “Cheer up.” A mind-over-matter affair, optimism defies common sense.
Hope surveys all the facts, acknowledges them, and chooses to look past the circumstances to something larger. Hope hears the hardest questions, and believes there must be an answer even if it happens to be elusive at the moment. Hope doesn’t try to feel good; in fact, sometimes hope is painful. But hope can be confident where optimism wavers. Hope is hard-earned; you can’t get it if you keep your head in the sand. (Click to tweet) Hope is available only to those willing to wrestle with pain, injustice, and other difficult realities.
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