Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hope in the Manure of Life

The Optimist and the Pessimist
You probably know the old saying that the optimist sees the glass half-full while the pessimist sees it half-empty. There’s some merit to this old saying, which is why it’s survived as long as it has, but I don’t think it gives you an accurate picture of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist.

The real difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the optimist has hope. The pessimist doesn’t. An optimist and a pessimist may both be presented a pile of horse manure. Same pile. Same smell. Same amount of work to clean it up. 

The pessimist frowns. The optimist smiles, and it isn't because he doesn't know what manure is or because he's ignorant of its nature. In fact, it's precisely because the optimist knows its nature that he smiles.

Hope Points Out Opportunity

The difference between the optimist and the pessimist, and the reason for the differing reactions, is that an optimist can spot the opportunity in the pile of manure. The pessimist can't.

The optimist is filled with hope for a brighter future, because he’s confident that he is loved. He assumes that this love will bring good things into his life. He may not know what the ultimate source of that love is, but he has full confidence in it. So he believes that if something that seems negative is dumped in his path, it’s an expression of this love in some way that he doesn’t yet understand. It’s not meant to harm him, it’s meant for his good.

So, he looks for the good that can come out of the manure. And, he thinks about the nature of the manure and how that can help him. Eventually, he realizes it has the potential to help him accomplish his goal of feeding his family. He knows that the manure will make rich fertilizer for the garden.
He understands and accepts that it’s going to take work and time and effort to get the benefit out of the manure, but he’s excited by the manure rather than bothered by it because of its potential to help him accomplish his goal.

The pessimist lacks hope. He doesn’t believe he’s loved, and he doesn’t expect good things to come. Depending on just how much of a pessimist he is, he may even believe that life delights in tormenting him. So he focuses on the negative – the smell, the mess, the work involved in cleaning it up. He sees it as a nuisance and an obstacle in his path, just one more proof that he’s right about the world being a place of torment.

He never stops to think about the nature of the manure, or what can be done with it, because he assumes nothing good will ever happen to him. He doesn’t believe anything in life has a point to it, unless that point would be to cause him misery. That’s why he misses out on the opportunity it represents.

Hope Assures Us God Wants Good Things for Us

I’ve already discussed this at length in the chapter on Hope in Something Greater, but God does want good things for us. As Christ put it,
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:11
God does want good things for us, but in order to get us to the point where we’re ready to receive the best stuff He has to offer, He must teach us to trust in Him. So, a lot of times in life, He’ll wrap his greatest gifts to us in some of the nastiest looking and feeling wrapping paper imaginable. It’s a wrapping paper that will offend our senses and our hearts, leading us to the temptation to reject that gift because it isn’t presented the way we want it.

Hope encourages us to accept that gift, knowing that God loves us and that He works all things for our good. Accepting it, we begin to look for the gift hidden inside the terrible circumstances. We start thinking about the nature of that gift and what might be done with it, and then we start noticing that with a little work, some time, and some effort, it has everything we need to help us accomplish the desires of our heart.

Hope Keeps You Open to Opportunity

When you go back to the example of the man who sees the opportunity in the manure, there may come a day when he’s tried the manure thing and it didn’t work out too well. Maybe he planted that garden and used the manure as fertilizer, but there wasn’t enough rain that year, or there was too much rain, and all the hard work he put in came to nothing.

Maybe that’s happened more than once to him, and he’s starting to feel his stores of hope depleted with every failure. Hope is what keeps you looking for and opening the doors to opportunity even though you may meet with failure a hundred or a thousand times. Hope teaches you to believe that there is an opportunity in the failure to learn, and that encouragement allows us to try again.

The pessimist may gather up the courage to roll up his sleeves and try the advice of the optimistic man. He may take that manure and do the work to create and fertilize the garden, plant the seeds, and water them. However, if he meets with failure, he soon quits and gives up.

He counts himself a fool for having listened to hope and sees this as proof of the pointlessness of having hope. He doesn’t look for lessons in the failure, and he doesn’t try again.  Consequently, what was a temporary setback becomes a permanent defeat.

Hope Speaks the Truth

Dirt. Manure. Earthworms. Bacteria. Water. Sun. 

These are the ingredients necessary for the healthy growth of a seed. Bacteria breaks down the manure into nutrients that the plant needs, earthworms keep the soil loose so the roots can get in there and absorb those nutrients, water allows the plant to circulate the nutrients to the right parts at the right time, and sunlight is what powers the plant's circulatory system. All six are necessary to produce the greatest fruit.

Most people don't want to deal with life's dirt, manure, earthworms, and bacteria - all the yucky parts of life. But those are just as essential for the seeds of your future success to come to full fruition as the sun and the water - the good parts of life. Notice the ratio, too. It's no accident that in this recipe the yucky parts outnumber the good parts by a ratio of 2:1. That's how life is, too.

When you feel like complaining about some yucky thing going on in your life, hope reminds you that this is part of what it takes for the seeds of success planted in your soul to be able to take root and flourish so they can produce the bountiful harvest that you desire.

Tomorrow: Hope Gets Us Moving

Yesterday, I talked about the role that hope plays in keeping us moving. Today, I’ve talked about hope’s role in helping you see opportunity and in keeping that door open to opportunity. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about hope’s role in getting us motivated to actually do the work needed to seize the opportunity. I hope you’ll join me.

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