Being Optimistic Doesn’t Always Make It Better


It’s often said that there are two kinds of people in life: optimists and pessimists. You probably think I’m going to tell you to be an optimist, but I’m not. And that’s because optimism will not always change the inevitable. Take the case of the optimist who fell out of the twelfth-story window. As he went by the fifth-story, he looked around, smiled and said to himself, “So far, so good!” 

I think the best attitude for someone facing cancer or any other serious illness is neither total optimism (without a doubt, I’m going to be cured) nor total pessimism (without a doubt I’m going to die), but realism (without a doubt I have a life-threatening illness and I may or may not get better, so I will plan for both).

When we insist we are going to be cured, we set ourselves up for a terrible defeat if it doesn’t happen. On the other hand, if we insist our situation is hopeless, we already are defeated before we start. I believe it’s best to be realistic and make plans to be financially, emotionally and spiritually ready to depart this life. That’s not giving up. It’s coming to grips with our own mortality, so we can really life fully without the fear of death.

There’s a difference between total optimism and a positive attitude. Total optimism says: “I’m absolutely, positively going to be cured.” A positive attitude says: “I hope and pray and even expect that I’m going to be cured–but even if I’m not, I will not be defeated.”

I’ve seen scores of people who refused to entertain that thought that they might not be cured because they wanted to remain totally optimistic. And when the healing didn’t come, they–and their loved ones–were devastated.  I also know scores of people whose situation was considered medically “hopeless,” but they continued to live life fully and some of them even went on to become cancer-free!

A totally optimistic attitude insists lemons have to get sweeter. A positive attitude adds some sweetener and makes lemonade out of the lemons.

So many things are out of our control when we or our loved ones are facing a serious illness. But we can control our attitude.

Author Chuck Swindoll has a wonderful description of the power of a positive attitude: “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I am that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important that my past, my education, my bankroll, my successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances, or my position. Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right, there’s no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me.” 

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 describes our troubled situations well: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

Your heart needs to find the right attitude—a positive, realistic attitude because God will never abandon you.

Copyright 2002 by Lynn Eib . Excerpted from When God & Cancer Meet, Tyndale House Publishers.

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