I think Pollyanna gets a bum rap. It seems like she is often criticized for her “Glad Game” because it brings a bright side to dark times. And when we are in dark times, we like people to be somber.
I get it, though, a little. When you mother is ill, you don’t want someone all “sunshine and daisies” telling you to be happy because God is doing something here. If the point of the “Glad Game” were to avoid reality, I’d be on board with stopping it.
But Pollyanna doesn’t skip through town saying, “Woohoo! My parents are dead and I get to live with Aunt Polly in a big house!” Or, “I’m so glad you are poor because it means I get to help Aunt Polly’s stricken conscience by bringing you lamb broth! That should make you happy, too!”
No, she simply does what her deceased father (a missionary, by the way) taught her to do. She looks for some good on which to focus to help her in the dark moments. It is not so much a denial of the darkness, but an intentional search of hope in the midst of despair. Finding ways to be thankful isn’t denying pain, it’s owning the pain and refusing to be owned by it.
We live in a fallen world. There is no denying that! People die. People lie, cheat, steal, and hurt us in so many ways. Then there are the fallen aspects of the world that have little to do with people – illness, traffic, failed crops, droughts endangering livestock, flooding, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, hurricanes, straight line winds, forest fires, hormone imbalances leading to moodiness, depression, miscarriage, memory loss, fatigue, weight gain and loss, skin changes, the list goes on…
And in a Pollyanna-ish way Scripture teaches:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
— Psalm 107:1
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
— Ephesians 5:20
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
— Colossians 3:15-17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
— James 1:17
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
— Philippians 4:6
Of course my order is backwards here – Pollyanna is really acting in a Scripture-ish way…
So why is it we insult people by talking about how they’ve gone all “Pollyanna” on us? Or use Pollyanna as the ultimate example of how not to be with someone in a difficult time?
I think it’s because when we fail to acknowledge the really, truly stinkiness of the circumstances and try to gloss over them with trite thanksgivings, we deny the reality of the pain. When we deny the reality of the pain, finding gratitude is not a gift. But that’s not what Pollyanna does.
As a matter of fact, the only one denying Pollyanna the right to feel pain is her Aunt Polly, who forbids her to mention her parents. Aunt Polly is sufficiently dismal under the difficult circumstances, but that’s just the point – she’s under the circumstances. Not in them, not rising above them. And she is miserable.
But God calls us up from beneath our circumstances by commanding thankfulness. When we look up to heaven and remember that God is on his throne (Psalms 11:4) and cling to his goodness (Psalms 107:1) we find hope, peace, even joy in the midst of dark days.
In fact, Romans 1:21 reminds us what happens when we don’t turn our hearts toward God in thankfulness in all circumstances.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
We often think of the Romans passage in light of the fallen generations who are depraved and remain in their sins and have rejected Christ altogether. Rightly so.
But even Christians are subject to the consequences of our sin. And if God calls us to thankfulness – to acknowledge him and give him thanks – and we don’t do it, we are sinning (James 4:17). And the result of dishonoring God and not giving him thanks is a darkened heart. No, I am not saying ultimate darkness of losing salvation – that cannot happen (John 10:25-30).
Once saved, always saved. But once saved does not necessarily mean once saved one always experiences assurance and confidence and peace in one’s salvation. We must remain in his Spirit through obedience for that. And failing to practice thankfulness is disobeying.
Confidence in Christ demands thanksgiving, and Pollyanna provides an excellent starting place for a lifestyle of thanksgiving.
I guess I can be glad…. (fill in the blank!).