"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Proverbs 13:12
I've always said that I am a big believer in hope.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Isn't that the truth? When you have your mind set on something happening and then it doesn't happen, or it doesn't happen when YOU think it should happen... yeah, it makes your heart sick. When I've completed psychological evaluations in the past for college or jobs or counseling or our adoption, one thing has always stood out about me. I am extremely relationally oriented. This means that I love being around people and I am extroverted... to the nth degree. When there is not peace in relationships, it's all I can do to hang on and HOPE that there will be restoration. And until such a time, there's a part of my heart that stays sick. That's where I am living now.
But hold on to that for a second because the second part of the verse is kind of awesome too and it all comes back together.
A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Think about some things in your life you've longed for. Not just a passing want, but an actually LONGING in your soul. For me, it has a lot to do with my family. In college, I longed to be married. After I was married, I longed to be pregnant. When God blessed us with Nia, I longed for something else, something deeper-- and that's when I found a true LOVE for our Father and His ways. I longed for Nico to come home from Haiti. I longed for Josiah to be healed. I longed to move to Haiti. I long for our children to experience redemption in our family. There's a hundred more longings I've had... those are just some of them.
A longing fulfilled is "a tree of life." What does that mean exactly? I don't know, but in the Bible starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation, it is discussed. It was something good-- present in the beginning when it was planted by God in the paradise of Eden, and it will be in there end bearing fruit and healing the nations.
Trees have always had a big significance in my family of origin. They were at the core of my father's livelihood as tree specialist. His business was (and still is, though much smaller) named, "Landscape and Tree Preservation." Sure, he cut down trees, but just as often, his job was preserving them. This usually involved heavily trimming the tree. It might be a tree with a disease or with dead limbs. It might just be old and overgrown and in need of relief from some of the weight of non-bearing limbs, or even over-bearing branches in order to preserve the tree and improve the quality of the fruit. I remember as a child watching my dad climb up to the very top of very tall trees with his chainsaw. (I always remember feeling very proud of him that he could do something like that... kind of like how I feel about watching my son Jean Louis climb a coconut tree.) He would cut the limbs and together with a partner would lower limbs down with a rope. And it was one of those things where right after a tree was trimmed (especially one that was overdue), it looked kind of sparse and naked. The branches would be thrown into his wood chipper where they would be ground up to become wood chips-- mulch essentially. They still had a purpose, but a pretty humble one. Or sometimes (in the case of disease or infestation,) the best bet was to be burned and totally cut off the potential for malady to spread. Pretty harsh, huh? Maybe. But let's not forget the goal.
It might be ugly for a time. It might be painful but inevitably, trees that are properly trimmed and cared for have the potential continue to be a thing of beauty and nourishment for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Which brings me back to the relational part of my life
My soul longs to live in peace with others. It is part of my DNA. And when I find that not happening, my heart is sick as I long for restoration and reconciliation. God brought this verse (and all its related imagery) to my mind tonight in a moment of clarity during the frustration of my insomnia.
The goal is preservation.
The goal is for our lives to be a thing of beauty and nourishment for others that makes a long-lasting (eternal) impression on others. We are all born with the potential of leaving an eternal legacy. But getting there is not an easy process. Because when allow God to trim, prune and shape us (see John 15), it's ugly and painful. It hurts like hell. It hurts like hell because it's him literally cutting the hellish parts of us away... killing them, and throwing them through the chipper to be (eventually) thrown on the ground for a much more humble purpose. (Or maybe even into a fire pit to be destroyed.) And for a time, yeah, it looks bad. For a time, it's kind of awkward. For a time you just wish things could go back to the way they were before you were trimmed because at least you were symmetrical in your un-health. Even though you were bearing crappy fruit, you were bearing fruit, right?
And now, here you stand. Awkward. Ugly. Unproductive. And you long to be NORMAL. BEAUTIFUL. PRODUCTIVE.
It sucks now, but hang with me here because, if properly channeled, you've just been perfectly set up for HOPE.
So may we all be trimmed and pruned. May we be awkward and ugly and unproductive. May our limbs be chipped and thrown on the ground and even burned. Because it's only by cutting off the potential for disease that we can be healthy. It's only by cutting off the over-bearing limbs that we can have the potential to bear good fruit. May we endure when our hope is deferred so that we may experience the fulfillment that comes from being a well-watered tree of life, a tree that bears fruit in season and is useful for healing the nations.