The Problem With Being an Optimist

One of the upsides of being a pessimist is that you are rarely disappointed.

You already expect life to go badly, people to let you down and the world to generally be a fairly difficult place – and you generally get what you expect. So you live in a constant state of gloominess and are rarely caught off guard.

I’m not a pessimist however. I’m generally an optimist with a seasoned tinge of realist/pragmatist – which unfortunately means I am inevitably more prone to disappointment – or to finding ways of managing that disappointment. Because while I always expect and hope for the best, the world does get hard, people do let you down and I am not the person I’d like or hope to be. But if the Christian message is true and genuine transformation is possible then surely we ought to be people of hope and expectation? If the kingdom of God is a reality, albeit partial, then surely we should hold much greater hope both for ourselves, for others and for the world.

We have been exploring this idea at church in Yanchep recently – that if we are followers of Jesus then our calling is to ‘live as he lived’ (1 John 2:6) – not simply to live morally and develop in character, but to also expect and practice the dynamics of healing and the miraculous – because that is part of the ‘Jesus package’.

But when you’ve lived with undiagnosed chronic pain for 3 years, despite the occasional prayer for healing then you end up developing (rightly or wrongly) a way of explaining why this is your experience. When you’re an optimist in pain there must be an explanation.

God must want me to learn something… maybe…

I am now able to sympathise with those who also have pain… nice…

Or maybe it’s just a function of aging. If I were a car I’d be a well used 4wd with 300k on the clock and a full expectation that some seals and joints were due for replacement. Stuff breaks… we eventually get old and worn out. Everyone dies – pain is a precursor to death. Of course – that’s so sensible.

After 3 1/2 years I had just accepted that this sucked but that it was how my life was panning out and I had to either enjoy the good parts or be destroyed by the struggle. You know you’re in the ‘difficult patient’ space when they refer you to a pain specialist rather than trying to fix the problem and this was where I had been. For two years I had been knocking back daily doses of lyrica and amitriptyline that definitely took the edge off the pain and helped me cope.

Then recently a couple of friends asked if they could pray for me regarding this pain. ‘Sure’ I said. Intellectually/theoretically I believe in healing – and I have no doubt some people do get healed. I haven’t experienced it myself and haven’t known too many people who have experienced it, but clearly its part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus so I’d sure like to have a different story to tell. So we prayed and that evening I allowed my hopes to rise again – my expectancy to surge. – my optimism to rise.

The logic is impeccable. If Jesus healed people and if his disciples did it, then it is completely reasonable to expect that with the same spirit the same outcomes would be possible. True?

If that isn’t true then we have issue with the Bible and that opens a whole different can of worms.

The next morning as I had breakfast the pain was still there – always minimal in the morning – but there nevertheless. As the day went on I had to concede that nothing had changed in the sensation of pain.

So I was disappointed – again.

I had hoped for more, so I vented with God about this. I hadn’t raised this issue for quite some time now, as it felt like it was in the too hard basket. But having fished it back out, I wanted to really smash it around before even getting close to accepting that this is ‘just how it is’. I don’t want to accept that this is how it is, partly for my own health, but partly because it does raise the theological challenges of ‘why?’ I’m old enough now to know the arguments from all sides, but I’m also tired of an experience of faith that is sub-par in this regard. Are we really supposed to see healing and miracles as one in a million experiences?

As I was journalling around this subject the next morning I had one of those bolts of insight where I felt like God said ‘You view prayer for healing in the same way as you do a raffle ticket. What’s with that?!’ I don’t buy many raffle tickets but when I do its never with the expectation that I will win. If I genuinely believed in lotto or the like I’d buy a ticket every week, but I don’t.

It was an uncanny insight, as that is precisely how I view healing. Sure I’ll pray for you and if your number comes up then lucky you! But don’t hold your breath…

I had been reading Matthew and Jesus never seemed to have a problem healing anyone. Not once. But I don’t know anyone who can reliably speak of engaging in healing others like this. Why is this?

I listen to different theological angles on healing and I sense we may be guilty of overthinking it. Do we ‘demand’, ‘claim’, ‘take authority’, ‘declare’ or just ‘ask’? Does it matter? Should it matter? How much faith is required? A mustard seed?… Do we lack faith that much? Is there a procedure to follow, or should be simply be able to ‘ask God’? Add in the fact that we all die eventually, that there is no ‘perfect’ this side of eternity and there is the question of ‘what can we expect?’ I have as many ‘skeptic’ questions as I do faith convictions.

A month on from that prayer – and others – I am still sore and somewhat frustrated. Puzzled even – but still hopeful – that’s the problem with being an optimist! The sense I had as I have journalled about this over the month is that there is a wrestle going on – a significant wrestle that has something to do with what form I am going to allow my own faith to take over the rest of life. Do I put my hand up and say ‘Nup… not good enough… Not how it’s supposed to be.’ Or do I quietly rationalise away the possibility of a more dramatic experience of God both for myself and others?

So I have opened the door yet again to the possibility of divine intervention and in doing so I have created the opportunity for great joy and a story of something pretty special – but also the possibility of great disappointment – maybe even skepticism and disillusionment.