How an Extreme Optimist and an Absolute Realist Process Life Together
Nancy and I have been married for 45 years. We are absolutely joined at the hip, totally united in our deepest faith convictions and our love for the Lord. But in other ways, we are radically different. How do we process life together?
Optimism, Even in Pain
This past Friday night, I had to rush to the emergency room with a kidney stone, with Nancy as my driver. Interestingly enough, this was my second kidney stone, about seven years after the first one. (I’ve been told that I need to drink more water since, otherwise, by God’s grace, I’m in nearly perfect health.) In both cases, Nancy got her first and second kidney stone a couple of months before me. Talk about being in harmony!
While we were sitting in the waiting room and I was quietly moaning in pain, I said to her, “Underneath this pain I have a real sense of excitement. Whatever the problem is, it’s about to be solved, and I’ll be feeling much better soon.”
That’s how I live, and that’s my spirit of optimism.
While being interviewed by the nurse concerning my physical condition, I was also asked questions about my mental state, including whether I was suffering from depression. Nancy and I both laughed, and she said, “He’s the most positive person I know.”
A few years ago, after taking one of our grandsons to an NFL game in another state, we got caught in bad traffic and it looked like we might miss our flight home. When I assured him that all would be well, this 14-year-old teenager said to me, “Grandpa, sometimes you’re too optimistic!” Sure enough, we made it to the airport in plenty of time, even to grab dinner together there. (And yes, I reminded him that Grandpa was right!)
Seeing Problems Before Others
In contrast with my bountiful optimism, even when it’s not realistic, Nancy is not just an absolute realist. She is also able to see problems before others can see them. This has been confirmed again and again.
About 10 years ago, our leadership team went through the Strength Finders test put out by Gallup, and one of their leaders met with me to analyze the results as a courtesy to our ministry.
He was reviewing the numbers that we had filled out without knowing who was who, when he looked at one of them and said, “This is a very unusual combination. This person is a voice the team needs to lead listen to. This one will tell you what is wrong now, and they will tell you where the train is going to get off the track.”
Of course, that person was Nancy. Her track record over the decades has been uncanny.
We once built a house with a top builder in our community, and as it was going up she said, “There’s going to be a problem with this roofline, resulting in a leak on the wall beneath it.” He and the architect, who is also a top professional, assured her there was absolutely no issue. Within a year, they had to rip out the wall which had been badly damaged by that predicted leak.
I remember going to a restaurant with her years ago, a restaurant that we had gone to many times before. She said to me one night, “This place is about to close.”
I said to her, “Why do you say that?”
She replied, “Can’t you see? Everything is going down. They won’t be open much longer.”
Sure enough, within a few weeks, the restaurant was closed.
That’s been the pattern with us for years. She really does have that sixth sense, because of which she has often foreseen problems with individuals.
I once had lunch with a minister and enjoyed some great fellowship together, calling Nancy afterwards to tell her about the lunch with my new friend. She said to me, “Something’s wrong. Be careful. Something’s not right with that guy.”
Once again, it didn’t take long to find out she was absolutely right – yet Nancy is a loving, compassionate person, not an angry, judgmental person. She just has this sixth sense of seeing what’s wrong and seeing what is about to go wrong.
She Sees What’s About to Go Wrong. I See Tomorrow’s Going to Be Better
On my end, this is how I live: today is good, and tomorrow is going to be better!
When I am eating one of my giant salads for dinner, I find myself unconsciously thinking that the second half of the salad will be more enjoyable than the first half.
Obviously, this is unrelated to reality and is simply grounded in my “tomorrow will be better than today” attitude, since it’s the exact same salad. And in that sense, it is the precise opposite of the attitude of an absolute realist like Nancy.
Holy Realism Meets Holy Optimism
So, to repeat my question, how do we process life together?
It basically comes down to this. It is my job to always be rightly connected with God, to walk in real faith versus mere human optimism, and then to hear Nancy’s realistic assessment of the world in which we live.
She too must be rightly connected to God, so that His perspective fills her heart as well. And on my part, as you know from my writings, I am constantly sounding the alarm about the dreadful state of the world and the backslidden state of the church.
But her calling is more to challenge me to walk in reality. My calling is more to change that reality through faith.
The deep harmony that Nancy and I enjoy comes from processing life together before God, and I have often joked that she is the lead weight that keeps my helium balloon from flying away.
But this is how we complement each other. This is how we enhance each other. She is not a hopeless pessimist, and I am not an airheaded optimist, but her holy realism helps ground my holy optimism.
Her realism is based on truth and is tempered by her relationship with God. My optimism is also based on truth and is tempered by my relationship with God. And even on an interpersonal level, I don’t need her to be my cheerleader in chief. I need her to be my chief critic. The positivity is already there with me all the time. She helps me to steer clear of danger and challenges me to walk in faith rather than presumption.
It’s a beautiful and wonderful union, one that we have learned to cultivate during our years together, which began when we met at the age of 19 in 1974. And it’s a constant reminder that real faith is based on truth, not denial, and that in the Lord, the best is always yet to come.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test? Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.