I like gloomy characters. Well, I like gloomy fictional characters; gloomy characters aren’t nearly as likable in real life as they are in fiction. There’s something strangely endearing about pessimists and their pessimism, so long as I don’t have to deal with them personally.
Puddleglum from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair is one of my favorites. “Good morning Guests,” he says to the protagonists after they spend the night in his home. “Though when I say good I don’t mean it won’t probably turn to rain or it might be snow, or fog, or thunder. You didn’t get any sleep, I daresay.”
Then there’s Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne, and Bernard Walton from the Adventures in Odyssey radio series, and a dozen more delightfully depressing characters from all sorts of stories.
The problem with pessimism is that it’s not nearly so pleasant in real life. It’s difficult to put up with pessimists—and it’s much worse to be a pessimist.
Some time ago I realized something important. (I was actually going to write about it weeks ago, but decided not to post too many serious reflections in a row.) What I realized was simple—so simple I couldn’t believe I had overlooked it for so long.
I had become a pessimist. Not a nice, lovable pessimist like Puddleglum or Eeyore, but a genuine, depressed pessimist.
I suspect my long, dark Thursday Afternoon of the Soul, a year and a half of intense depression and anxiety, had conditioned me to expect only the worst. I expected the worst from myself, wrestling with insecurity and self-doubt. I expected the worst from life, living in anxiety of whatever difficulties lay ahead. I expected the worst from God, struggling to believe he could really be as gracious, loving and generous as he claims. Every trial confirmed my belief that life was a dreary business, and every blessing made me suspect there were strings attached.
Since recognizing my tendency toward pessimism, I’ve been working to perfect the fine art of blundering hopefully.
We don’t have to live in perpetual fear of the future. It holds difficulties, true, but it also holds blessings. It’s certainly no good worrying about the difficulties. We can only deal with them as they come. In the meantime our business is to trust God and do our best: believing that his grace is greater than our mistakes, trusting that he will walk with us through our difficulties, holding on to his promise that his love endures forever—to wit, blundering hopefully.
So I’m doing my best not to burden myself with guilt for past mistakes or live in fear of future ones. By faith I blunder onward, trusting that God’s grace is sufficient for me.
God’s grace is sufficient for you too, in case you were wondering.
One of my favorite literary pessimists: Ishmael
“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
As you said, far better to quote a favorite pessimist than to be one!