(((Some time ago my long-time friend and artist John Vander Stelt and I had the creative idea to select a verse from the Bible. He would paint a picture and I would write a column around the verse. The catch is we promised not to talk about our respective ideas or process. What you see and read here are the two coming together. A blind date of paint and prose, if you will.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12
I’m having breakfast with a friend tomorrow. When he slides into the booth across from me I know what I’m going to see.
A face numb with sadness and disbelief. Even though he’s been to this cafe a hundred times or more he will look lost. He will stare at the menu like it’s written in French and making the simple decision between pancakes or bacon and eggs will be paralyzing. He will sound overly cheerful in saying “yes” to the waitress when she asks if he wants coffee. Then he will fidget with the salt and pepper shakers and straighten the napkin, aligning it in perfect parallel to the silverware, wishing desperately that he could straighten out his life with the same ease.
Then he will glance around the room before making eye contact and say, “I really appreciate you taking time to talk with me.” In the saying he will attempt to convey some degree of strength that both of us know he doesn’t have. His world has gone from familiar ground to unknown territory. He wants to have a handle on this. He wants it to be just a matter of time before it’s fixed. He wants to be on top of it.
But he’s not on top of it. He’s buried. He’s suffocating. He knows it. As for it being just a matter of time, it’s true. At this point, it’s all about time. It’s the question of time that’s haunting him. The years that have past. And the years to come. It’s the toss and turn, can’t sleep at night, can’t focus in the day fear that he can’t shake.
And though he won’t ask me the question because he knows it’s pointless, he will want to. He will badly want to ask.
How long until life will be good again?
They say you can’t fool kids and dogs. And you can’t fool someone who’s been there. That’s how I know how it’s going down tomorrow.
Because I’ve been there.
While your circumstances may be different, the core issue is the same. It’s about time. Time as in, “How long, God?” How long? How long until life will be good again? How long until God answers my prayer? How long until my dream comes true? How long until the longing of my heart is realized? How long until I have resolution to my uncertainty?
How long until…?
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Hope deferred. On hold. Postponed. Pushed back. Delayed. The waiting game. However you say it, it’s about time.
If you’re praying for a wayward child, you understand hope deferred. It seems the harder you pray, the further they run. While you bravely say, “God will take care of them” you can’t help but worry. And wonder, “How long, God?”
If you’re on your fourth round of chemotherapy, you understand hope deferred. You think this time you’ll hear the doctor say, “It’s in remission” but she doesn’t and you’re back to staring at the same off-white hospital walls while the IV drips and your tears run.
If you’ve been abandoned by your spouse, only to realize that while it was a shock to you they were planning it for a long time, you understand hope deferred. As you pick through the rubble of your relationship, you wonder how a lifetime commitment was dumped like a temporary job. And you wonder how life will ever be normal again.
If you’ve been on the promotion list for three years you understand hope deferred. Knowing you’re more qualified than anyone else yet continue to be passed over for candidates who cut corners, play the game or happen to have the right last name. You wonder how long until you’re recognized for your contributions.
If you’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, you understand hope deferred. Confidence, optimism, and a peaceful mind are islands you swim for everyday yet you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of angst.
If you’ve experienced the roller coaster ride of infertility, you understand hope deferred. To endure years of expensive medical tests and invasive procedures in a long shot attempt to accomplish what two teenagers achieve in 20 minutes in the back seat of a Chevy leaves you frustrated and angry.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. So when, dear God, will we finally see some trees?
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, in part, because we feel like no progress is being made. That we’re spinning our wheels when everyone around us it seems are hitting not so much as a speed bump on the way to their goals and dreams. With every day, week, month and year that passes with no apparent progress it seems we fall further and further behind.
It’s about time. And time is passing us by.
Were we solely in charge of all that concerns what we hope for, that would be true. But we’re not in charge. And that’s the good news. God is sovereign and intimately concerned with the details of our lives. If you’ll allow me a rapid fire burst of Bible references, Psalm 139 says “God had all of our days written down in His book before there was yet one of them”. Ephesians 2 tells us that “we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that He prepared in advance for us to do”. Philippians 1 reminds us that “God who began a good work in us will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”. And Psalm 138:8 gives us the wonderful sigh of relief promise that “God will accomplish everything that concerns us. His loyal love endures.”
Which is to say that the God of the universe put purposeful thought and planning into our lives, including good works He designed for us to do. In the progression of our life, He will never quit on us or on His plans for us. And best of all, at the end of our lives everything He intended for us will be accomplished. Perhaps not everything we intended for our lives will be accomplished, but everything God purposes for us will come to fruition. Guaranteed.
Whatever is making your heart sick right now, know that progress is being made even if you can’t see it. Because God is always at work, even when we’re waiting. And knowing that He promises to accomplish all that concerns us brings peace as we wait.
And when our hope is no longer deferred and God’s promise is finally fulfilled we’ll be able to say…
“It’s about time!”
“The Lord will accomplish all that concerns me.”
– Psalm 138:8
Todd A. Thompson – May 1, 2013