The Paper Pulpit
God’s Little Devotional Book for Graduates (Honor Books) contains the story of identical twins: one is a hope-filled optimist who always looks on the bright side of life. He says things like, “Everything is coming up roses.” The other twin, however, is a sad and hopeless pessimist who continually expects the worst to happen. The concerned parents of the twins carried them to a psychologist in the hope that he might be able to help them balance the boys’ personalities.
The psychologist suggested that on the twins’ next birthday, the parents put them in separate rooms to open their gifts. “Give the pessimist the best toys you can afford,” the psychologist said, “and give the optimist a box of dried horse manure.” The parents were by this time willing to try anything, so they did as the psychologist suggested.
When they peeked in on the pessimistic twin, they heard him complaining, “I don’t like the color of this toy. Besides, I’ll bet it will break! I know I won’t like to play this game. All my friends are given bigger toys than this.”
Tiptoeing across the corridor, the parents peeked in and saw their optimistic son gleefully throwing manure up in the air. He was giggling gleefully as he said, “You can’t fool me! Where there is this much manure, there’s got to be a pony around here somewhere.”
Obviously this is just a story, but it accurately describes the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The optimist says his glass is half full; the pessimist says his glass is half empty. The optimist looks at an oyster and expects to find a pearl; the pessimist looks at an oyster and expects ptomaine poison. To the optimist a fireplace is a center of warmth and beauty; to the pessimist a fireplace is the source of smoke and ashes. The optimist has no brakes; the pessimist has no motor. Both the optimist and the pessimist can be wrong, but the optimist has a lot more fun.
Two shoe salesmen, one an optimist and the other a pessimist, were sent to a country in Africa by a shoe company to see if a new market for their line of shoes might be opened on that continent. After they arrived in Africa, the pessimist called the company’s main office back in the states and said, “I’m coming back home. Almost nobody wears shoes here.” The optimist called home and said, “Almost nobody wears shoes here; send me some help.” The pessimist saw absolutely no opportunity; the pessimist saw nothing but opportunity.”
The optimists we have known in the past are likely the persons we remember best, and who made the biggest impression on our lives. Why is this true? They were not afraid to dream dreams and accept challenges. They valued others, and their world did not revolve around themselves. They saw the possibility for improvement and advancement. On the other hand, the pessimists who have crossed our paths were very likely persons who were opposed to and stood in the way of progress. Give a pessimist a choice between two evils and he will choose both of them. Both optimists and pessimists are found in every area of life — in the halls of government, in education, in business — and, yes, in the church.
As a pastor I have encountered lots of pessimists. They did not dare to dream. They were not always even satisfied with the status quo. Whenever anything new or challenging was proposed they said things like “We’ve never done it that way before!” (Often called “the seven last words of a dying church”) ... “It simply can’t be done!” ... “It will cost too much!” ... “I know a church that tried that, and it failed!”
If anybody ever had a legitimate reason to be a pessimist, it would have been the Apostle Paul. He was physically beaten on more than one occasion, involved in a shipwreck, bitten by a poisonous serpent, and opposed on every side by Judaizers when he tried to preach the good news of Christ. Finally, he was thrown into prison in Rome. Most people would have wanted to throw up their hands in desperation and quit. Not the Apostle Paul! He faced obstacles constantly, but he was always an optimist. What was his secret? He could say, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content ... I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.