When I was studying literature and theatre history back in my BYU days (when we rode dinosaurs to class and dirt was new), the prevailing thought was that there would never be a great LDS tragedy. The reason: the atonement is essentially a message of joy and reconciliation, and tragedy is not part of The Plan.
That may be, but it still seems there are plenty of folks in and out of the church who struggle, who do not see hope, or who simply prefer to tear down rather than build up. Optimism, they say from a jaded perspective, is naive; it ignores the pain and suffering of the world; criticism makes us stronger.
My son taught family night last night, and his lesson came from Gordon B. Hinckley’s Standing For Something (thanks to my lovely wife’s arm twisting – er, encouragement).
My son started with the quotation from the beginning of Chapter Nine ("Optimism in the Face of Cynicism"):
My plea is that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life, we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment and endorse virtue and effort (p.99).Perhaps because my son is 15, and perhaps because I am his father, my son tends to favor cynicism, so his choice of this topic was ironic and delightful. It’s frankly a topic my lovely wife addresses regularly in our home. And she, I must say, is a pretty great example of seeing the positive without living in a sugar-coated world.
When I think about President Hinckley, it’s hard not to think of his unbounded optimism. He spoke often about the positive things of the world in which we live, the brightness of the future of the church, and hope for those who love the Lord.
I’m not surprised by his optimism, either. He was a prophet. He more than anyone understood the way this game of life will end. He understood better than most who would win, and he was aligned with the winning side.
Optimism does not require our ignoring suffering. But what it allows us to do is to have hope in the face of suffering. The savior’s atonement allows us relief from our personal suffering, knowing the Lord knows what we feel and experience. And as we bear one another’s burdens and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, as we care for the poor and needy, as we live our lives filled with the pure love of Christ, we can be conduits of hope for others.
I do not believe President Hinckley’s optimism was based in naiveté, but rather grew out of his prophetic mantel. And I’m happy to try to reflect it in my own life, as well.