It was my verse through seven years of infertility. It has been my verse through hard times of struggle, sadness, disappointment, and longing. It is my verse now in this season of anxiety and uncertainty and heartache. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” (Prov. 13:12 TLB).
Hope, on its own, implies delay; the word means to wait for, to be patient. Paul wrote, “Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait patiently for it” (Rom 8:24-25). But it’s more than waiting. It also means to expect. To borrow from Paul; who hopes for what she doesn’t think will ever happen? Hope is patient expectation rooted in trust. But there’s one more word connected to hope: pain. I’ll bet somebody is shaking their head. Waiting can be painful. Just ask me thirty-something years ago in that season of waiting for God to bless us with a baby. I trusted God, but my empty arms ached.
But this verse adds another layer: Hope deferred . . . This means hope dragged along. To the waiting, we add tension. One definition means “to draw the bow” and it reminded me of taking archery in high school. First I would seat the arrow in the bow and find my target. I fixed my sights on the bullseye, lifted the bow into firing position, and pulled the arrow back, stretching the bowstring taut. In the moment between setting the arrow and letting go, there was incredible tension in the string and in my arm. We had to wait until the instructor gave the firing order. If that order was delayed, my arm would start to ache and tremble. But I had to hold my position. If I dropped my bow, I might miss the call. If I lost my visual focus, I would lose the target. Hope deferred often causes pain and we may tremble in the waiting, but we do not lower our bow – or our shield of faith. We do not take our eyes off the target – the faithfulness of God.
This verse says we may even become heartsick – grieved and weary. We may feel like all we do is beg God to act. Believe me, I’m there. “But” – oh how I love the “buts” in the Bible – “when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” You know what jumps out at me? “When” not “if.” When the arrow hits the target dead center. When God comes through. And I’m counting on God to come through. Beloved, take up your position, don’t drop your faith, and keep your eyes on the Lord. When. Not if.