Hope deferred makes the heart sick

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

Mike is on the cusp of fulfilling a major desire: the completion of his PhD after seven grueling years. He and I have reflected on this proverb often as hope deferred has made his heart sick, especially over the past two years.

Flinders View from the rise
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Since his job technically requires a PhD, he feels unqualified everyday, even while he excels.

Time spent not working, even on worthwhile pursuits, feels borrowed and indulgent.

So many valuable activities are shelved until after the dissertation: exercise, time with friends, keeping in touch with family, starting new hobbies, giving time to help others.

The elusive, scooting finish line has made a countdown impossible, like driving in the desert. That focal point on the horizon, when reached, would signify another 500 miles of the same.

When Mike accepted his teaching job, he thought he’d be able to wrap up the entire dissertation (and move across the country) in the 11 weeks of summer before he started. We laughed last night when he stumbled across an email he sent his advisor on April 23, 2011:

“I know exactly how much work I have to do.”

He had no idea how much work he had to do. The continual sacrifice with no end in sight has made this season feel like a way of life. I’m sure you’ve felt this way before, when obstacles gradually deplete your energy and hope, and you grow heartsick.

A cursory reading of Proverbs 13:12 seems like the heart is sick until desire comes, but God doesn’t promise that all our desires will come. If we are heartsick until desire comes, we could always be so. 

It’s hope deferred that makes the heart sick, believing that hope is for another time but not today. With hope, we can endure much, and walk with a quick step and light heart for a lifetime, even if desire never comes.

In Mike’s case, desire will come. The visible progress and the hope of a real finish line have made his heart well. The amount of work hasn’t changed, but hope has renewed his strength.

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