Summer of SoL: Optimism and Learning to Hope

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? 

Personally, I’d say that I’m a pessimist, if only because of my penchant for overthinking every single situation and action to the point of exhaustion. So why then am I such a fan of slice-of-life shows where, as one aniblogger puts it, “good things will happen to kind people, honest effort will ensure your dreams come true, and love will always save the day no matter the odds”?

Maybe it’s because slice-of-life encourages me to rest and enjoy life in its ordinary moments, and as I do this, I begin to see that there’s something to that boundless optimism. As I reflect, I realize that there’s something to learn from the hopeful attitude of slice-of-life shows. And maybe you will, too.

Cocoa, ever the optimist

The Beauty of Hope

Humans love stories. And especially stories with good endings. When we read tales of the underdog rising out of his poor circumstances to make a name for himself, or of the closest of friends reuniting after a long time apart, our hearts skip a beat. We feel a tugging in our chest. We yearn for the same happiness. We long for the same good ending.

And that’s what hope is. Hope is waiting expectantly for the good ending.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

Psalm 40:1-2

David tells us about a time that he waited on God and was rescued from his troubles. And deep down in our hearts, that just feels right. We want this happy ending too. We long to hope. We long for the joy that comes with that hope. 

Hope is beautiful.

And we see a slice of that beauty (see what I did there?) in these shows. At the end of Is the Order a Rabbit? BLOOM, as the girls are celebrating New Year’s and hashing out their plans for the coming months, there’s no anxiety over whether their friendship will last—only excitement for what’s ahead. In Cocoa’s words, “As long as we’re together, any place on earth is fun to be. There’s no doubt!” Similarly, the girls of Laid-Back Camp encounter all sorts of obstacles during their camping adventures. But those trials don’t steal their joy. Sometimes, the trials even enhance it

To every slice-of-life story there’s always a good ending. And in that way, slice-of-life reminds us that hope is worth it. 

A Better Hope

But we pessimists might be quick to object. “Sure, we like good endings, and it’s great when your hopes aren’t disappointed. But that’s not how reality works! Things might work out in slice-of-life, but they don’t in real life. Real life is hard and messy and unrewarding and exhausting. In real life, hope just isn’t worth it.”

These are valid points! In some ways, at least. It’s true that real life is way more complex than slice-of-life. And in some ways, slice-of-life can start to feel like a child’s fantasy. Aren’t we just crafting worlds for ourselves where everything goes the way we want? Isn’t hope just wishful thinking?

It’s here that the biblical vision of hope begins to diverge from the hope on offer in slice-of-life. For while the hope that slice-of-life provides is beautiful, it’s nevertheless fragile. It can’t withstand the wear and tear of real life. It doesn’t last. It’s only a shadow, a shifting silhouette that slips away when night comes. But like all shadows, this fleeting hope is cast by something else: the hope of God, which will never fade away.

The Bible acknowledges the fragile nature of hope rooted in this world. However, it doesn’t despair of hope.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:5

The Psalmist knows that happiness in this world comes and goes. We laugh one moment and cry the next; our hearts are uplifted one day and downcast the next. But he also knows that there’s a joy that lasts, and it comes from hoping in God. When we put our hope in God—when we trust that he is taking the broken fragments of our lives and piecing them together into a grand story with a good ending—we will never be disappointed.

We know the story will end well, because we know the author of the story is good.

Learning to Hope

Because we don’t see the full thing just yet. We’re still here on earth. Our hearts hang heavy with the disappointment and injustice and chaos we experience. But we still have these shadows, which, like movie previews, show us a sneak peek of how the world is meant to be: a world full of purpose and redemption and reconciliation, a world that culminates in a good ending. 

That world is what our hope in Christ promises us. Slice-of-life just reminds us that we were meant to live in that hope. 

And as we catch glimpses of that hope, we begin to change. When we face our hardships with our eyes fixed on our hope in God, through the Holy Spirit, we begin to change. Though tempted to despair, we become resilient in joy. And resilient in joy, we begin to hope anew. We become people for whom hope is an instinct, a natural response. We become more and more optimistic (Romans 5:2-5).

In some sense, that explains the boundless optimism of slice-of-life. Cocoa and Nadeshiko and Rin aren’t just naïve, innocent children, exuding happiness because they haven’t faced difficulty. Rather, they’ve been transformed by hope. Through persevering in joy amidst adversity time and time again, they’ve learned to hope. They’ve learned to wait expectantly for the happy ending.

Of course, these characters live in a fictional world, so hope is a little easier. But we can still learn from their example. After all, happy endings aren’t just for cute anime girls in fantasy worlds. Through faith in Jesus, we know that there is a good ending to our own lives. In fact, Jesus even promises that he’s prepared the way to it himself! In him, we have a better hope than anything this world can offer.

May we wait expectantly for that good ending. May we exchange our fear of disappointment for an eager anticipation of joy. May we learn to hope.


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