There’s an old joke about some parents who wanted to test the irrepressible optimism of their little girl. So for Christmas they presented her with a load of manure to test her reaction. Surely this stinking gift would be too much and her optimism. But instead of bursting into tears as they expected she grabbed a shovel and started digging into the pile with a shining smile and great excitement. “What are you doing?” the parents exclaimed. She replied with a squeal of delight: “I just know there’s a pony in here somewhere!”
You might wonder what gave that child such amazing optimism. But if you were told that she had the most unimaginably wonderful parents there ever were, you might begin to understand why even a pile of manure would be met with a spade in hand.
Now let’s shift the image a bit. Imagine that it is Christmas morning in a shanty town and a selfless missionary has come to distribute gifts to the children. As they all wait for their gifts they see two large trucks arrive. One is filled with brightly colored packages wrapped up in silver paper and gold ribbon. The other truck is laden down with a pile of coal.
In this moment the children have a choice. Shall they be optimists or not? Shall they hope, despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, that every child shall receive a lovely gift? Or shall they conclude that a significant portion of the children shall receive a lump of coal?
Let’s say that the children have known the missionary in the same way the little girl knew her parents: as the most loving parental figure they have ever known or could ever know. Should they not hope that every child shall receive a brightly colored package? As those two trucks round the corner and prepare to unload, you might not be able to say surely that every child shall receive a gift and none shall receive a lump of coal. But if you love your fellow children and have experienced the unparalleled love of the missionary, why wouldn’t you hope for this?