By Ann Chen
It says in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
I’ve always thought about this particular proverb in one particular way: When we hope for something, and it doesn’t happen, our hearts are sad. When it does, we find joy and life. Who of us hasn’t had moments of disappointment as well as celebrations, and consequently, also our share of emotional peaks and valleys?
Recently, somebody prayed for me and sensed the Lord encouraging me to not to allow my heart to grow sick and fall into hope deferred.
As I reflected on where my heart was at, I realized I had indeed been struggling with many disappointments that I had been building over the years: the disappointment of still being single in my mid-30s while I watch most of my friends get into relationships and get married, the disappointment of still struggling with chronic health conditions that make me not fully normal, the disappointment of feeling far from where I felt God had called me to be, not knowing where, when, and how the door would finally open.
My heart was growing sick, and I had grown complacent with where I was. Up to that point, I had subconsciously justified my somewhat melancholy heart and spirit by pointing at these disappointments.
But the exhortation was not to let myself fall into hope deferred, and not to let my heart grow sick. I wasn’t sure how to do that, especially when I felt like it was such a normal response to disappointment.
Another friend who has had her own shares of difficulties and disappointments – having needed to come home from an overseas assignment after being diagnosed with a brain tumor – shared from Romans 5 as her foundation for being able to walk in hope: “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
The natural response of the human heart is to let hope grow deferred because of the disappointment. However, with God, it is actually the opposite. Disappointments and sufferings actually serve as stepping stones to true hope. As we see disappointments, it becomes an even more important to take the invitation into hope, rather than let hope slip away from our hands.
It’s vital then for me to guard my heart from the sickness that comes when I let hope slip away, or let it become deferred. Rather, with every continued disappointment or dream unfulfilled, God invites me to press into Him to give me a fresh anointing of hope. And while I don’t know that my circumstances will change, I know at least that holding onto hope will help me to keep walking.
Ann Chen was recently serving in Malawi, working to see a discipleship making movement raise up amongst the Yao. She is an International Staff member with Epicentre Church and has a degree in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary.