“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Prov 13:12
It’s pretty much the same feeling for me every January. Either the Cowboys narrowly miss the playoffs, or they stumble their way down through a playoff elimination game leaking with “what-ifs.” The same heartsick feeling ensues – a wasted hope with nowhere to go. Langston Hughes muses over the question of what happens to a dream deferred? “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore?” What do you do with the feeling that remains when its object is denied? However you try to resolve it, it hurts.
We are hoping creatures. Hope is what keeps us alive. Hope is what gets you out of bed in the morning. But what do you do when your hope never comes true? What do you do with those larger hopes? Those farther off hopes? Those hopes that always sprout outward into bigger and better, just as soon as you think you’re about to lay hands on them? Perhaps we all walk around a little bit heartsick, but then we scroll on our phones, and learn to feel a little less.
The trouble with this world is that it can’t contain our hopes and desires. Either we defer the hope, or we get a little bit of it and defer the heart sickness, but nothing is permanent. Jesus wants us to have our desires fulfilled by desiring the one thing that will prove fulfilling, and then will prove to be just as fulfilling, and even energizing the next day.
The remarkable thing about the right desire fulfilled is that it’s a tree of life. The imagery isn’t merely a full belly, or satisfaction at a job well done. The desire fulfilled becomes itself a source of future life, strength, and nourishment. Consider a woman who successfully designs and sells her first shirt. That’s a good feeling, but where does it lead? Does she brush off her hands, lean back, and retire? Unlikely. That desire fulfilled becomes itself a motivating, life-giving tree which produces more and more fruit.
Bud Light’s motto used to be that “it won’t fill you up and will never let you down.” That’s essentially what we want from our desires. Of course we don’t want to be let down. But we also have a capacity for the infinite. We want more. We want to go on desiring and fulfilling, but without the nasty side effect of discontentment. Only Jesus can do that.
On its surface, this proverb, like many, is merely observational. This is what happens when your hope is deferred – heartsickness. This is what happens when a desire is fulfilled – not only happiness, but you have planted a source of energy and life. But what do we do with that observation? It begs the question: how do you get more fulfilled desires, and less deferred hopes? It all depends on the object of your desires. How sure can you be of obtaining it? Jesus urges us to seek and to knock, promising that He will never fail to show up, never fail to open the door. On the other side, He will never leave you or forsake you. (Mt 7:7; Deut 31:8)