Hope Deferred

Read: Proverbs 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12, NRSV).

What are you waiting for?

We’re all waiting for the end of what seems like an endless pandemic. Maybe you’re waiting to see someone you haven’t seen in a very long time. Maybe you’re waiting for a call from your lawyer, your doctor, or your employer. Maybe you’re waiting for justice.

Or maybe it’s “all of the above.”

Waiting is hard work, and all of us know a bit too much about it these days.

Perhaps that is why this proverb jumped off the page at me recently. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, it observes, and one gets the impression that whoever said it knew exactly what they were talking about. This is hard-won wisdom, and we recognize its insight because it rings so true with our own experience.

Hope itself is what helps us through the waiting, of course. But the brilliance of this proverb is that it zeroes in on that excruciating moment when hope itself is postponed. It’s that moment when we realize that the wait is going to be a lot longer than we realized. That moment when some mean-spirited hand reaches out to turn the hour-glass over just when the last bits of sand are spilling through the neck of the glass.

And so our hearts become “sick.” I think this means more than just being sad—although, goodness knows, that’s bad enough. The Hebrew word for “heart” makes room for more than emotion. It involves our intellect and our volition as well. So, for instance, when Pharaoh’s heart is “hardened” in the Exodus stories it means that his heart has stopped working well. Not only are his emotions out of control, but he’s not thinking straight, and as a consequence, he makes some really bad decisions.

I don’t know about you, but I think my Hebrew heart is sick. Call it “pandemic fatigue” if you will, but whatever it is, it’s taking a toll on my emotions and my ability to think. And something tells me it may not be a good time to make major decisions.

I suspect that this proverb’s diagnosis is “spot on” for many of us. But what wisdom is there for us as we wait?

I was thinking about this while listening to a retrospective of the life of Britain’s Prince Philip. When asked about all the ups and downs of his extraordinary life, Philip simply replied, “Well, that’s life. I just got on with it.”

There is something to that, and it speaks to a certain grim determination that one doesn’t see as much anymore. It brings to mind the women who made their way to the tomb early on that first Easter morning. Talk about “hope deferred.” Resurrection must have been the last thing on their minds as they gathered the spices and headed off in the dark toward Jesus’ tomb (Luke 24). But off they went anyway, putting one faithful foot in front of the other—just getting on with it.

Hope, as it turns out, is amazingly elastic. By God’s grace, it will stretch until we find the truth of the second half of the proverb: a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Until that day, all we can do is get on with it, putting one faithful foot in front of the other.

Ponder this saying (often attributed to Augustine): Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. What does this saying suggest about faithful waiting?

Pray: Our hearts are sick with waiting, Lord. Give us what we need to wait faithfully and well.