Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, writes that when he and his wife divorced, his son David was five. Every explanation failed to get across to the child that the divorce was final.
At length, Seligman told his son straight out, “We don’t love each other any more, and we never will again.”
The author writes, “He looked up at me, nodding agreement, and then, having the last word, concluded the discussion: ‘You might!'”/1
Seligman uses this sad personal story to show that children are hopelessly optimistic.
I soon went to Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Perhaps Jesus means to recommend humility to us here as he does explicitly in Matthew 18:1-6./2 But he does not specify what characteristic of children, if any, he has in mind.
I suspect we would not do the passage violence to suggest that children’s optimistic nature is a characteristic worthy of imitation.
Optimism — the biblical name for it is faith — means believing the impossible can happen.
When people are optimistic like little David,
– Marriages can be put back together again.
– Sophisticated intellectuals can find joy in simple faith.
– Fallen saints can make their way back to God.
– Sinners can free themselves from addictions and harmful habits.
– Evangelists can keep preaching the gospel when no results appear.
Optimism ignores the harsh realities of the world to see the invisible God with infinite power.
Optimism revels in what can be and in what will be.
Optimism looks for the best in people and actually discovers it.
Optimism sees a land of well-armed giants behind high city walls and says, “we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
Hearing the cold facts of abandoned love and lost hope, optimism has the last word, “You might!”
Somewhere along the way, children lose optimism to become jaded pessimists.
And if an atheistic author tells us that optimism can be relearned, don’t we need to heed our Lord and Savior even more when he says, “Believe in God, believe also in me”? (John 14:1).
1/ Martin E. P. Seligman, Learned Optimism (Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, 1992), pp. 125-26.
2/ Even when using children to teach humility, Jesus still has optimistic faith in mind, calling them “these little ones who believe in me” (Matthew 18:6).
Be like a child; be optimistic!