Realism and Optimism: Is it either/or? Can it be both/and?

Mar 19, 2024 | 0 comments

Recently our Global Trellis team discussed a chapter from the book Lead with And by Tim Arnold around the topic of resiliency. The chapter reflects on how resiliency is made up of BOTH realism and optimism. We need both in order to be resilient people! I would imagine that we all have a sense of how we see ourselves—as either realists (pessimists?) or optimists.

I have often called myself a realist as I came from a family that tended to be more realistic. Some might have said I was a pessimist. But when my husband and I faced burnout, we were faced with an invitation for rest. Our Sabbatical year became a year of wondering—could we serve God and also feel joy? We had lost a sense of delight and joy in the trenches of being driven by our work. We had lost our idealistic views that had brought us to the field initially. Time had weathered us to become more cynical. We had lost our way.

A Sabbatical year gave us permission to cease the striving and wonder—what does it look like to serve God and be healthy? What do play and laughter and rest have to do with working with God? 

One evening, I was tucking my boys into bed and my youngest son said something that made me laugh—like truly laugh from that sincere deep-down place in you that just feels like a contagious giggle erupting. My older son noticed—“Mom, you haven’t laughed in a long time!” He was jealous that it had been his brother who made me laugh and not him. But this moment seared itself in me—where had laughter gone? I found myself grieving over all that had been lost in our faithful service to God. It had cost us more than I had known. I knew we were tired, but I hadn’t realized the fading away of fun and laughter. My son’s noticing was profound.

A decade later, I can see the fruit of this intentional year to reflect on and begin the process of healing and seeking God’s vision for our future. We ended up returning to the States (which was a hard decision, but clearly the next right step for us at that time in our lives). In some ways it looked like we were leaving our work of serving God. But God was restoring us to be whole people—people who are both optimistic (hope-filled) and realistic (faithful in doing what we are called to do). I am thoughtful of what it would look like if we could be both—both optimistic AND realistic in our work with God (wherever we are called to be). What keeps us from being both? What helps us move towards a healthier balance of both?

I’d like to offer you a few reflective questions to begin to wonder where you are in the spectrum…

Do you find yourself feeling stuck, depressed, or driven by work? 

Do you feel weary but unable to rest or stop?

Do you see the goals and what needs to be done and are unable to set the work aside?

Do you play?

Are you practicing rhythms of rest/sabbath in your life?

What is your image of God? (Do you see God as a taskmaster? Do you see God as one who gives rest to his beloved?)

Do you feel grounded and centered?

Do you have a clear sense of who you are even when you are not working?

How does God see you in this season of your life? (Take a moment to consider how you picture God seeing you).

Notice what comes up as you reflect on these questions and your answers. Perhaps you can find a safe person to reflect on your answers. What do you notice? What do you long for? What do you need in this season of your life? Where do you notice imbalance? 

Finally, take a moment to pause and breathe. Welcome God into this ongoing conversation. God, where are you inviting me to grow? What do I need to let go of to make room for your vision for my life? Where am I stuck in unhealthy thinking about life and work? 


As we journey through Lent towards Easter, we invite you to pause in the midst of Holy Week for Centering Prayer in community with others. Lori Ferrell will give a short intro into Centering Prayer, and then we will practice centering prayer together for 20 minutes. Afterwards, there will be time to share our reflections on this experience before we close our time together. Whether you are familiar with this practice or curious to try it for the first time, you are welcome to come. No prior experience necessary.

Wednesday, March 27th at 9:00 a.m. EDT for an hour. Click here to see the exact time in your location. We’ll meet for an hour, and this will not be recorded. For men and women. We hope you can join! Sign up here.

Lori Ferrell

Wife. Mom of boys. Founder of Sanctuary Vero. Spiritual Director.

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