It was the summer before sixth grade when I discovered the box of musty old children’s books and novels that belonged to my grandmother and her sister. It was full of great classics that included Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, first published in 1912. Later that year, I watched the 1960 Disney film based on the very same book in Mr. Lawrence’s science class. (Apparently it was not necessary that enrichment activities should have anything to do with subject matter.) I’m not sure if it was the endearing character I read about in the aging yellow pages or the charm of actress Haley Mills that most won my heart, but I adored Pollyanna.
The orphan daughter of missionaries, Pollyanna was sent to live with her wealthy, stern and unmarried aunt in the town of Harrington. Undaunted by her severe-faced guardian and the disgruntled community in which she found herself, the young girl won the hearts of everyone with her relentless optimism as she taught them to play “the glad game.” Having learned the game from her father, the child bravely sought to find something about everything to be glad about—no matter how disappointed, sad or lonely she felt. In the words of Pollyanna, “when you’re hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind.”
In recent weeks, I have found myself in a hard place at the end of a busy ministry season, which was followed by the unexpected death of Don’s father and then compounded by the sadness I felt for his mother who lost her love and companion of 63 years. I yearned for the balm of some great spiritual discernment to lighten my heavy heart, but God seemed, if I may say, disappointingly quiet. As I indulged my disappointment and made no attempts to hide my discontent in conversations with Him, unsummoned visions of my sixth grade science classroom interrupted my brooding. I seemed unable to dismiss the unwelcome and seemingly irrelevant memories, and as I clearly recalled the quiet hum of the old reel to reel projector and the three days it took us to watch the entire film, I forgot myself and remembered Pollyanna.
I am aware of the “Pollyanna principle” and the psychological risks of the tendency to relive pleasant experiences more accurately than unpleasant ones. To those who think of my literary friend in this context only, I suggest they have missed the point and have likely not read the book. Pollyanna eventually found herself in a dark place where her mental and emotional state threatened her ability to overcome a tragic accident. She needed the help of those who loved her to find something to be glad about. Sometimes it takes much effort, but what we choose to think and do can positively affect the way we feel.
Pollyanna’s missionary father called it the glad game. I think Paul called it giving thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thessalonians 5:18). In unexpected ways, there has been help these past weeks to find something to be glad about. Perhaps God was not as quiet as I thought.