Deferred Hopes and Trees of Life

There is a tree I love that stands next to the preschool where I teach, and though I rarely get a chance to look at it for long, I always enjoy a passing glance on my way into the chaos each morning or as I herd my group of three-year-olds up the hill to the gym for lunch. Something about the way it stands there, alone and resolute through each new season, inspires me. It is the sort of tree that I imagine when I think of a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” This is a verse that has occurred to me again and again over the last few years, largely because I have known the sickness of heart that comes of deferred hopes.

Recently, I experienced a whole week of them—little things that meant so much to me, all thwarted. And I remember sitting on my bed, talking to the Lord about the impression I had gotten that my whole life has been a series of one disappointment after another.

In some ways this is just how life is for the follower of Christ. There are so many good things to do or to enjoy, but often they simply have to wait as we tend to the more pressing needs of the people He loves so much. Maybe we will be able to enjoy those things later. Or maybe our longings will not be fully satisfied until eternity. That’s okay. Christ laid down His life for us, and we can do that too—for Him and for the people He loves.

But lately I have found myself coming back more and more to the second half of Proverbs 13:12: “Desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

I lived a quarter of a century (at least) under the haunting question “What do I do with my life?”

The generic answers were there: Love the Lord Your God with all Your heart, soul, mind, strength. Love Your neighbor. Read the Bible. Pray. Take up your cross and follow.

But what I desperately wanted to know were the specifics. My interests and passions seemed to pull me in a myriad of wildly opposing directions, and I routinely over exerted my mind, trying to make sense of the person God made me and where I fit in life.

And then—finally—it came—that tiny seedling of an answer pushing up through the dirt. Teach preschool. And I didn’t even recognize it at first. Nor did I want it. It wasn’t the mighty tree I had been searching for all my life, and I spent a couple of years trying to evade it.

But it was different than all the fleeting whims I had about what I might do. This thing had roots. And one day I looked up, and there was a thick trunk and sturdy branches and rich, green leaves, waving at me in the wind. A tree of life!

Words cannot describe how much I LOVE teaching little kids. Teaching weaves my varied interests and skills and knowledge and passions together in ways I never imagined possible. And I sit back in awe of what the Lord has done and continues to do in me and my class every day. Of course, there are hard days, but it’s comparatively easy to be committed when you know you are exactly where you are meant to be.

My life is a testament to how little the heart knows of what it truly desires. But God made me and He knew what He made me for and He knew how to get me there, even though I felt like I was wandering around in the dark for most of my life. Looking back, I’m thankful for the waiting. I doubt I could admire the beauty of where He has brought me so much had I not waited so long for an answer.

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