How do you see your world? When it gets tough, gets dark, gets close to hopeless, gets near the end of the game, what is your reflexive expectation of what will happen next? Are you hopeful or not? Most people would likely categorize this as the classic “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” question: the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. I wouldn’t. Why? Optimists or pessimists–both are people who spin information.
We have to come up with a new word. A new name. A fresh description for the right way to see the world. I’ll suggest one. EXPECTANT: the all-encompassing ability to anticipate or experience the difficulties of life with honesty, but, because of hope, not have to view it through a dark lens. Historian Charles Beard once said it like this:
“When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”
Neither optimists nor pessimists do well with a quote like this. Optimists will rarely admit–willingly–that stuff is tough. (They usually have a hard time admitting, “It’s dark.” ) On the other hand, pessimists (rarely) would say in the midst of darkness, “I can ‘see the stars'” because they’re normally not looking for them. (They’re busy anticipating the sky will fall.) I have a great friend who humorously self-describes his pessimistic thoughts like this: “I can find a cloud in every silver lining.”
Pessimists and Optimists don’t see the real world clearly. But, Expectants do: “When I encounter hardships, I am not surprised because life can be brutal. But, the outside world can’t crush my internal world. I am expectant of something redemptive to come.”
Solomon expressed it this way: “For the despondent, every day brings trouble; [but] for the happy heart, life is a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15–nlt). In other words, we always see what we EXPECT to see. A darkened-souled person expects bad news each day. Guess what? They always seem to get it. The optimistic person refuses to honestly label trouble as “trouble,” so they don’t know how to internally reconcile the pain they feel with the positivity they espouse. So they cover their confusion with platitudes and cliches, like “Things are looking up.” The Expectant, though, knows pain is real and an important part of life. But they’re expectant of something good in it or through it…even if it’s an undefined future. “Life right now may be hard, but I’m going to try and experience it as I would the extensive labor and well-timed preparations leading up to Christmas dinner.”
As Christmas approaches, Bethlehem is a perfect example of this internal conflict and reconciliation–how to see the world. Bethlehem–Jesus’ birthplace–wasn’t a lyric in pretty songs in the ancient world like it is today. The dusty, old village had an inauspicious history long before Jesus gurgled or cried for the first time in Mary’s arms. Jacob and Rachel, patriarch and pregnant wife, were on their way to Bethlehem 1700+ years before Jesus was born there. Rachel suffered in childbirth and named her newborn Ben-Oni (“son of my trouble”) there. She died soon after this birth. Bethlehem had the heart of a burial place more than a birthplace. The little village had been a flash point for skirmish, tragic death, and war between ancient peoples long before the current conflicts in the Holy Land…even before Christ. Bethlehem was the fill-in-the-blank thesaurus word whenever ancient people thought of famine or poverty or loss or obscurity. And this is precisely why, I believe, God the Father sent Jesus to be born there. Bethlehem is a parable on life all on its own. Bethlehem is a way of looking at the world through God’s eyes: Good News, in the midst of tough news. Bethlehem is why I’m Expectant.