Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Is our optimism sustainable? This is a question posed by a recent interview People magazine conducted with Michael J. Fox, in anticipation of his forthcoming memoir, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. The book’s November 17th release date couldn’t be more fortuitous, especially in the year 2020. In it, the inimitable ’80s icon recounts his “darkest moment” since acquiring Parkinson’s disease in the late ’90s. Fox details an incident in which he fell in his New York apartment, breaking his arm and further complicating his already compromised condition:

“I just snapped. I was leaning against the wall in my kitchen, waiting for the ambulance to come, and I felt like, ‘This is as low as it gets for me.’ It was when I questioned everything. Like, ‘I can’t put a shiny face on this. There’s no bright side to this, no upside. This is just all regret and pain.'”

Fox was suddenly, frighteningly unable to tap into the optimism that had long buoyed him. He even feared he had never been qualified to offer hope to others in the first place.

“Parkinson’s, my back, my arm … it still didn’t add up to moving the needle on the misery index compared to what some people go through,” he continues. “I thought, ‘How can I tell these people, “Chin up. Look at the bright side. Things are going to be great”?’”

At this critical juncture, Fox avoids both the extreme of reinforcing a naïve optimism as well as the temptation to descend into fatalistic despair. Instead, he ironically discovers a hopeful outlook that is not based in a merely subjective anticipation of finding the silver lining in his suffering. He finds “gratitude” as the lens for viewing all of life:

Optimism is really rooted in gratitude,” he says. “Optimism is sustainable when you keep coming back to gratitude, and what follows from that is acceptance. Accepting that this thing has happened, and you accept it for what it is. It doesn’t mean that you can’t endeavor to change. It doesn’t mean you have to accept it as a punishment or a penance, but just put it in its proper place. Then see how much the rest of your life you have to thrive in, and then you can move on.”

Through what Fox himself describes as a “crucible,” he discovered an optimism that is sustainable: one grounded  ultimately in grace and reminiscent of what St. Paul wrote is “the hope stored up for you in heaven … about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel.” The objective hope of the gospel doesn’t provide us with all the answers to our sufferings. Neither does it always empower us to look on the bright side or redeem our afflictions in this age. Some stuff we go through can’t be redeemed — some lemons make terrible lemonade.

The hope we have in Christ grants us assurance there’s a world to come beyond this age, where there will be no tears, no sorrow, no sickness, no Parkinson’s disease, and no Back to the Future sequels. The good news is you don’t need enough road to get up to 88 miles per hour to get there. You just need to learn to think fourth-dimensionally. And faith in Jesus can help you with that.

The road to heaven is paved with gratitude. Not for what we do or what happens to us, but for what Jesus has already done and what we eagerly await on the other side of death.