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The Difference Between Optimism and Hope

I just finished reading a book about death, one I picked it up in a thrift store a few years after my VEDS diagnosis. Fragility of life is on my mind probably more often than the average 42-year-old, and collectively this year (2020), we've all been thinking about life's fleeting nature. My precious small hometown is in a deep season of grief over several recent losses due to Covid-19.

clear pitcher of water with lemons in it to make lemonade

Don't worry - my thoughts aren't morbid or macabre. As a Christ-follower, I know I need not fear death, but I want to live with hopeful expectation for an eternity that is sure to come for all of us.

"The Bible doesn't say, 'Don't fear death because it's natural.' The Bible says, 'Don't fear death because it's been defeated,'" Timothy Keller writes in O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.

This headline made me think about the difference between optimism and hope:

“I'm out of the lemonade business”: Michael J. Fox on the day his optimism ran out

In case you don’t know him, Michael J. Fox is an icon of my childhood. He was an 80s sitcom star on Family Ties, he played Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies, and he’s had a decades-long career as a successful actor. He’s also battled Parkinson’s disease since his 20s, and he is known for his advocacy and optimism in spite of his obstacles.

Fox is back in the news because he’s released a new memoir, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality, after an extremely difficult 2018 which included loss, injury, and literally learning to walk again. At his lowest, Fox said this:

"That was the point where I went 'I'm out of the freakin' lemonade business. I can't put a shiny face on this. This sucks, and who am I to tell people to be optimistic?'​" 

In the depths of my own health crises, I have felt (and said) similar statements. To his credit, Fox finds his way back to optimism, giving a nod to gratitude and noting the frailty of life. In this interview (which you should read), he goes on to say:

“...the future is the last thing we run out of. We run out of breath. We run out of everything. Then there comes a point where we have no more future and that's the end of it. But until then there's always something in the future to be optimistic about, to look forward to. It may change our circumstances or it may not, but that will run out, so enjoy it while you have it.”

While I applaud Fox’s resilience and appreciation for life even when we suffer, his lack of true hope comes through: “There comes a point where we have no more future.” 

Hope is a Person

Aware or not, we all have an everlasting future, an eternity facing us. And for the blood-bought believer in Christ, that eternity is filled with joy, completion, and unity with Christ. Hope.  

Optimism can fuel us only so far, but Christ-centered hope provides a never-ending supply of endurance, peace, and joy. Our circumstances can be grueling - illness, loneliness, unfulfilled longings, heartache, grief - but hope supplies the adrenaline to get to the finish line.

The object of our hope is Jesus.

The outcome of our hope is eternal life and an inheritance beyond our imaginations.

The evidence of our hope is to keep putting one foot in front of the other in obedience, patience, and faith.


Michael J. Fox has it almost right: “There's always something in the future to be optimistic about, to look forward to” ... in Christ. (my edit) Not just Pollyanna platitudes, but true hope in Christ that's life-and-death changing.

No more lemonade from lemons, y’all, but lasting hope in everlasting life. I pray we all can move beyond optimism and place our faith in the true Hope-Giver.



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Maybe your faith is dangling by a thread. I get it. While living with an incurable genetic condition, I'm learning faith can be firm even while life is fragile. Join me as we journey to God's goodness on life's uncertain path...

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