"Smile or Die!"

I realize that this post might make me seem like a cynic or a pessimist. But, I'm okay with that. Please note: my goal here is not to offend anyone, but to explore the concept of unrealistic optimism.

Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich explains the craziness of the concept of "mandatory optimism and cheerfulness" in this RSA Animate video. Though she focuses a lot on the corporate world in this lecture, I think she's onto something. Sometimes I feel the pressure to be unrealistically positive in my everyday life, in my job, with my family, with my friends, and even (at times) with my spouse. Throughout our struggle with fertility and in struggles with my job, I've conversed with close friends and family and have heard more than once---"stay positive." Though I do think these people are being somewhat sincere, I am at odds with this mantra of positivity. After hearing it time and time again I begin to think that something is wrong with me if I am not feeling positive. I begin to think that I am the only one in this miserable world feeling...well...miserable.

I've been reading a book called Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Loss. I actually just finished it this morning--it's an enlightening book, good for anyone to read, even those not struggling with infertility, miscarriage, and adoption loss because, to be quite frank, these issues are more common than most are aware. It's from the perspective of a woman who has truly struggled with all three issues, and the book is saturated with scripture and sound biblical advice. But that's not the point of this particular post---actually, in one chapter the author mentions what grief looks like in the Old Testament---people displayed grief by extreme weeping and tearing their clothes. She writes, "There was weeping and wailing. For a whole year, nobody expected you to look or be the way you were. How wonderful! But in our nutty society, the person who 'keeps it together,' who's 'so brave,' and 'looks so great--you'd never know,' that's who is applauded" (Saake).

I'm not proposing we go back to Old Testament displays of grief that last a year long or even more--but, I do think there is a pressure in our society--especially in the Evangelical sector of society--to be unrealistically positive--that a glimpse of grief is sometimes equivocated to a lack of faith. Saake writes, "The Bible does not say to cheer up the bereaved, but rather to 'mourn with those who mourn.' Christ does not say we grieve because we are deficient in faith, but rather [in Matthew 5:4], 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted [not rushed].'" What a concept--mourn with those who mourn.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels the pressure to give the canned answer of "Great!" with a cheap smile plastered on my face when someone asks how I'm doing, when really how I'm doing is far from great. Maybe I'm the only one who feels like people question her faith when grief is displayed. But maybe not. Maybe we could all invest in people a bit more---maybe we could all look for and encourage an honest answer to the question, "How are you doing?" Maybe we could all use a healthy dose of reality: there will be negativity, hard times, and grief in the world---and it will affect us--and it's okay to feel less than positive sometimes--it's okay to mourn with those who mourn.


skrab said...

I tend towards being relentlessly positive... but I agree there's a pressure to look on the sunny side. I don't like the flip "How ya doing?" as you pass someone in the hallway. Want a blow-by-blow account of what's not working today? What 3-second answer can I give that won't make both of us feel worse?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts... I look forward to more Insights in 2011!

Erin said...

YES! YES! A thousand times YES! I am SO with you on this one.

I think where I've rested after wrestling with this exact topic is that we need a few souls around us who are willing to be in the trenches with us...not just trying to pull us out from the top, but willing to sit with us and get "dirty" without being afraid. This world is NOT as it should be...though it will be someday. So let us grieve and be angry about the things God is grieved and angry about, however, let us do so not as the world does, but with HOPE. I am reminded of the Puritan Prayer "Valley of Vision" I'll email you the whole thing...not sure there is room to write it here. It ends like this:

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.

Thanks for letting me put in my 2 cents :)

Danielle said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I haven't thought about grieving and being angry--but not as the world does. That's great food for thought. And yes, I'd like that prayer if you have time to send it!

Hope all is well :)