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‘Things Like This Happen All over Planet Earth All the Time’: The Key to Optimism in Hard Times

“This is Odessa, Texas. Things like this don’t happen here. This is small-town Texas.”

This is what Senior Pastor Del Traffanstedt told his congregation Sunday morning after a shooter killed seven people and injured twenty-two in his community. His church is within sight of the movie theater where the violent chase ended.

Then the pastor added: “The reality is, things like this happen all over planet Earth all the time.” 

The latest on Dorian 

The apparent randomness of the attack in West Texas underscores the threat it represents. It seems that anyone, anywhere, can be a victim of violence. 

The same is true of natural disasters. As of this morning, Hurricane Dorian has killed at least five people in the Bahamas and left countless people homeless. The National Hurricane Center warns that the storm will get “dangerously close” to the Florida coast late today through Wednesday and will threaten Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina by Thursday. 

In other news, a dive boat caught fire off the Southern California coast Monday morning, leaving at least twenty-five people dead and nine others missing. A twenty-seven-year-old minor-league catcher for the Detroit Tigers died yesterday from injuries sustained in a skateboarding crash. 

A five-year-old girl was killed in Brooklyn when a decorative stone fence fell on her. Earlier this summer, a fifteen-year-old Tennessee girl was killed on a church mission trip in Mexico when a tree fell on her group’s van.

Why do optimistic people live longer? 

You and I can neither predict nor control the future, but we can control how we respond to its unpredictability. Our response, in turn, plays a pivotal role in our personal future. 

A new study suggests that people who tend to be optimistic are likelier than others to live to be eighty-five years old or more. Researchers from Boston University and Harvard found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11–15 percent longer lifespan. 

How can we become more optimistic? A clinical health psychologist explained that she works with patients to “uncover systems of beliefs and assumptions people are making about themselves in their lives” so they can “begin to change those.” 

When we begin making optimistic assumptions, our attitudes toward our experiences become more positive, our stress levels respond, and our physical health can improve as well. In other words, when we choose to view life positively, life often responds in kind. 

The key to relational truth 

This psychological principle also holds true spiritually. 

When tragedy strikes, it’s human nature to cry with Christ from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). We want God to explain his ways so we can decide whether or not to trust him with our pain. 

What if we cannot experience God’s help until we trust his heart? 

But what if we cannot experience his help until we trust his heart? 

Relational truth must be chosen to be experienced. You cannot prove you should get married until you get married. You cannot prove you’ll recover from surgery until you trust the surgeon. 

You should examine the evidence, but then you must step beyond the evidence into a relationship that becomes self-validating.

“Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small” 

So it is with God. He wants us to develop and use our intellectual capacities as fully as possible (cf. 2 Peter 1:5; Matthew 22:37). But when it comes to understanding the mind of God, he tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Our finite, fallen minds may not be able to comprehend his perfect will until we are with him in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

And as long as we hold our Father at arm’s length while we wait for explanations that may not help us, we forfeit the mercy that will. 

President John F. Kennedy kept on his desk a block of wood inscribed with the words, “O God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” They were adapted from this poem by Winfred Ernest Garrison:

Thy sea, O God, so great,
My boat so small.
It cannot be that any happy fate
Will me befall
Save as Thy goodness opens paths for me
Through the consuming vastness of the sea.

Thy winds, O God, so strong,
So slight my sail.
How could I curb and bit them on the long
And saltry trail,
Unless Thy love were mightier than the wrath
Of all the tempests that beset my path?

Thy world, O God, so fierce,
And I so frail.
Yet, though its arrows threaten oft to pierce
My fragile mail,
Cities of refuge rise where dangers cease,
Sweet silences abound, and all is peace.

Will you trust your boat to your Lord today?

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Publication Date: September 3, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Cengiz Yar/Stringer

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