Christians Aren't Pollyannas

Sometimes people call me a Pollyanna. 

The name comes from the 1913 novel Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter describing a girl who plays the "glad game"—trying to find something to be glad about in every situation. 

Generally viewed negatively, Pollyanna people are those who are not only positive, but are so positive they’ve lost their grip on reality. They might tell someone with terminal cancer that everything’s going to be OK without acknowledging the very real danger of her disease. 

Our society often perceives Christians as Pollyannas. Those who believe this think our hope in the sweet by and by negates the realities of the nasty now and now. They think we slap on our rose-colored glasses and skip through fields of daisies, blissfully ignoring the hand grenades exploding around us. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, Christians are more aware of evil and suffering. We recognize that sin has dragged its poisonous tentacles across everything beautiful and pure with one objective—to destroy it. Christians are also more aware of what God has done and is doing to conquer the power of sin and put an end to its reign of death and destruction. 

Some call me Pollyanna because I’m committed to practicing gratitude instead of grumbling. I’m in good company then, because the apostle Paul shared a similar commitment. (Maybe his colleagues called him Paulyanna.) 

Listen to his words of encouragement: 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phi. 4:4). 

He wrote these lines from prison. Chained between two guards. Surely the only way he could write such happy words in light of his circumstances was to have lost his grip on reality. 

There’s one problem, though—the text doesn’t support this. Instead of sunshine and roses, Paul’s words to the Philippians are awash with the gory details of his life: 

He had no hope of rescue and expected to die for his faith. 

“. . . I am being poured out like a drink offering.” 

He was shackled between two guards 24 hours a day. 

“. . . I am in chains for Christ” (Phi. 1:13). 

He lacked food, clothing, and essentials. 

“. . . not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;” (Phi. 4:15). 

Yet he chose gratitude instead of grumbling. Listen: 

About his impending martyrdom: 

“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phi. 2:17). 

About his imprisonment: 

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phi. 1:12-14). 

About his deprivation: 
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. . .” (Phi. 4:11). 

Paul didn’t maintain this optimistic outlook because he was denying the reality of his circumstances, but because he believed God was at work, for good, in his circumstances. With this theology firmly in place, he channeled his thoughts toward gratitude, not grumbling. 

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phi. 4:8).

This discipline, combined with prayer, helps us triumph over life’s most difficult circumstances. It enables us to echo Paul’s words from his prison cell: 

“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phi. 4:13). 

What are the difficult circumstances of your life right now? How might things change if you apply the principles of Philippians 4:8? Why not try it and see? A dear friend once told me, “I don’t think it would have changed my circumstances, but it sure could have changed how I handled them.” 

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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  1. We are realists, with a reality show. We know where we would be without Him and know His plans for us (no matter what) are good. Everything He does is right. When His people delight in His way then, and only then, will they find the beauty in knowing Him. Thank you for a thought provoking post. You're a blessing. Writing to you from a yielded heart at

    1. Well said, Christine. You're absolutely correct. Thanks so much for stopping by.