by Jared Byas
In the midst of Christian radio taglines that equate Christian with positive thinking and speakers that subtly question the faith of anyone who acknowledges that life really just sucks sometimes, I would like to share what I’ve learned from the Jeremiah tradition about optimism.
Lesson #1: Optimism isn’t ignoring how sad and uncertain the world can be but having the strength to sit in sadness and uncertainty.
“Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? 14 Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!” -Jer 12:1; 20:14
Lesson #2: Optimism isn’t the same thing as condescendingly shaming people who openly admit that they are sad and anxious because of how sad and uncertain the world can be.
“… prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace . . . Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.” – Jer. 6:13-14; 23:16
Lesson #3: Optimism is having the strength to sit with others who are sad and uncertain.
“My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.” -Lam. 1:11
Lesson #4: Optimism is, after having experienced that sadness and uncertainty, after having sat with others in that sadness and uncertainty, courageously stepping toward hope anyway, knowing full well that it’s against the odds.
“I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” -Jer 29:14
Of course, this narrative is woven more fully through the prophets and wisdom literature and is a narrative I hope to imitate more.