Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The fight for optimism

I've never been known for my optimism.  People might even be quick to label me a pessimist, but I would have to disagree.  I consider myself a realist.  In my definition of these terms, and since I'm writing, I get to define them, a pessimist is someone who often or always thinks the worst based on nothing in particular.  A realist is someone who thinks the worst based on past history.  See the difference? For example, I happen to be someone who is very time sensitive.  Some might say anal I suppose ... whatever ... the point is that I live amongst a people who aren't ... time sensitive I mean.  A pessimist would assume that everyone would be late for everything.  I only assume this of people who have proven this to be so.  For the others I cling to my optimism and try not to look at the clock. 
It seems to me, in my corner of the world, that we as a culture are far more pessimistic than I remember us being.  What's more alarming to me is that, for those who share my faith and hope in Jesus and a promised eternity, pessimism seems to be the attitude of the day.  I see far more hand wringing than hand raising.  I hear far more about things of king and country than I hear of the King of kings.  I experience more suspicious and gate keeping conversation than grace and "let me hold the door for you".  I'll admit that with all of the bandwagons passing by it's easy to think that we ought to jump on one lest we miss out on some elusive answer to our anxiety. 
So from one struggling realist to another, let me share 3 spiritual disciplines that I am finding useful in my quest to err on the side of optimism:

1. Screen Fasting
At the risk of showing my ever advancing years I will admit to an anxiety level that rises in direct proportion to screen time.  I currently have my office in a neighborhood workspace community.  I have daily witnessed some of my co-working neighbors literally working 3 or more screen driven devices at the same time.  Just the sight of them nudges my blood pressure upwards.  It's not necessarily the screens themselves that cause anxiety, although there is mounting evidence to support this.  Mostly it is what is contained on the screens.  Facebook, twitter, and email are all landmines that I need to take time away from when I feel the pessimism coming on.  I'd love to say that I'm successful at this, but if anything is going to trip me up it is the idea of screen fasting.  I'm not a fan of fasting period but it can prove to be a valuable time of refocus.  Try it for a planned and designated section of time.  I'm shooting for one day a week.  I have all kinds of excuses why the world needs me to be online, but they are not true. No one ...let me repeat it for those in denial ... no one is so valuable that they cannot unplug for a few hours or days at a time. 

2.  Relational conversation
This continues from number 1.  Try engaging in a real, as opposed to virtual, relationship.  It can be intimidating to actually have to deal with a persons real emotions, body and facial expressions and the like during a real as opposed to texted conversation.  Now my iphone 6 may have a ridiculous number of emoji's all designed to "express" my deepest emotions, but I have yet to see one that really truly mimics a good "middle school girl" like eye roll.  Be honest now ...  how many "misunderstandings" could have been resolved or sleepless nights avoided by a good face to face, "I think I hear you saying", real time conversation?  We are created for relationship, we are wired for it.  So whenever possible, stop texting, turn off Face Time, grab some coffee, a table and friend and just talk.  Laugh out loud as opposed to Lol.  Don't even Rofl.  Just talk, relate, converse, and role your eyes.

3. Sacred listening
If you knew where I lived then you'd know what a stretch that this can be.  Where I live, if there's not traffic, there are cranes.  If there are not cranes, there is crazy lived out in a multitude of "well you don't see that everyday" ways.  So how do the people in my neighborhood resolve this?  Probably the same way you and millions like you do ... they pull out their phones, put in their ear buds, and try to drown the noise of life out by more and louder noise.  As I write this it occurs to me that this seems a bit irrational and perhaps even a crazy way to avoid crazy.  Allow me to share the one thing out of these three that I have found the easiest to accomplish.  I will admit that walking the streets with a great soundtrack or some inspirational words can seem more appealing.  However, you easily drown out what God is doing right in front of you.  We have so conditioned ourselves to believe that God really only works and resides in a church building on the weekends, or for those of us in the Northwest in the trees or on the water.  That is at least bad theology and at worst heresy.  The reality is that God is at work all around us.  To experience it in the buzz of humanity, even traffic and construction, is to give yourself the opportunity to enter in to his work.  To dedicate some of your day to a heads up, phones down, earbuds out, awareness of the life around you is to accumulate prayers that can be offered up, if not on your own behalf, better yet on behalf of those who surround you.

This all comes with a warning.  It is difficult.  Living intentionally can be difficult and living intentionally when everything around you conditions you otherwise is a constant challenge.  I would love to be able to write this as an expert, but I'm only one who is constantly fighting for optimism.  I called these spiritual disciplines for a reason.  First of all, I do think that optimism is a spiritual condition.  I follow one who has promised eternal life.  If that's not cause for optimism, I don't know what is.  They are disciplines because they take discipline to be able to engage in.  Sometimes I do well and sometimes not.  It's hard but, as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, "Of course it's hard.  If it weren't hard, everyone would be doing it.  It's the hard that makes it great".

No comments: