Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
I’ve been thinking about this verse for over 3 years, beginning with our desperate longing to have children. I’ve come to the conclusion that this proverb doesn’t mean what we often say it means: it doesn’t mean that when I don’t get the thing I’m hoping for, my heart becomes sick, but when I do get it, I feel full of life. Nah, that’s too safe and too self-focused. Rather, this proverb means that when we actively defer hope by choosing not to live in it – choosing not to hurt, not to pray, not to wait it out – our hearts become sick. After all, we are created to live in hope, persistently asking God for the bits of his kingdom that we have vision enough to desire. It’s when we defer this eyes-wide-opened life that we languish in self-sufficient delusion.
In 2003, when we were begging God for a baby, I often wanted to move beyond the hope of motherhood; it hurt too much to want something that was completely out of my control. I thought of pursuing my doctorate degree, establishing a career. Sometimes I convinced myself that Ryan and I would just be one of those couples who never has children, but travels the world instead. Yet, I knew that God himself had established the hope of motherhood in my heart and that I would never be as alive as I was when I was living in that hope… even when it meant kneeling in prayer on our living room floor with tears of desperation streaming down my face. In those moments, contrary to what outsiders might say, my heart was very healthy. For it was relying fully on God.
And truly, when that desire came, it came as a tree of life. Vivienne: “full of life”… But more, Jesus Christ pouring His life into our family through a child…
As we waited for our second child, I faced some of the same questions again, grasping at an explanation for our life if God didn’t grant my heart’s desire to have a large family. A dear friend directed me to Psalm 128, a beautiful description of a man who fears the Lord: his labor is satisfying, his heart is happy, his wife is fruitful, his children shoot up like olive plants around his table. “Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.” I started praying these promises over and over again, focusing my heart towards Ryan, letting my desires be fashioned by Scripture as I prayed these beautiful blessings for my husband. And now, as we eagerly await the birth of our second child, my hope is richer than it was before; I’ll always hope for a large family, but now I’ll also always hope for Ryan to be a man blessed abundantly by the Lord God. And I pray that neither laziness nor faithlessness steal these hopes from me; may I never defer these hopes for something less.
All of this is fresh in my heart because I recently passed it along to a friend of mine who is an unmarried mother who desperately wants to be married and have more children. She said that even the title of the book, If I am Waiting on God, Why am I in a Christian Chat-Room?, challenged her belief that God himself could meet the desires of her heart. If she feels led to pray Psalm 128 for her husband, how deeply she will ache until she meets him face to face. But how healthy her heart will be as it surrenders to hope, hope, hope. And how beautiful her love and respect for her husband will be, since she will have already cultivated a heart of blessing towards him. We both agreed that hope can hurt, but that it hurts in the way a good workout burns our muscles or cool air stings our cheeks; they remind us that we are alive.
May we never defer hope, but may we actively believe that God will fulfill His promises. And may we rely on Him so deeply that our longings become the very longings of His kingdom…
1 Corinthians 13:13
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love…