I have a new bad habit. Actually, it’s an old habit. These days I am thinking about all the things that are closed or canceled.
- Graduation ceremonies – canceled
- Graduation parties – canceled
- Trips to see family – canceled
- Baseball spring training – canceled
Recently I read a sermon by Lloyd Stilley, who is a pastor in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Rev. Stilley says one of the most heart-wrenching words in human language is the word “closed.”
Imagine if you were nine years old. You get a new glove for Christmas. Your dad plays catch with you in the back yard. When April comes, you ask your father, “Daddy, can I play baseball this year?” And he says, “Sorry son, Little League is closed.“
Imagine if you were sixteen years old. You have taken driving education, and your father tells you that together you will get a car on your birthday. Now it’s your birthday, but the car lot is closed.
Or perhaps you are in your mid-forties. A few years ago, you stopped and took an honest review of your life and what you hope to accomplish. You decide to stay with your employer and give it your best shot. And in five years, after hundreds of late nights and long weekends and working vacations, instead of getting a promotion, you are laid off because of the lousy economy.
Canceled and closed are both devastating words when we have been hoping for and dreaming about a big moment. In these strange days of COVID-19 and too many closures to count, we all need hope that there are still good and great days of blessings ahead.
King Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, wrote in Proverbs 13:12,
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
We actually feel sick or heartbroken when our dreams are canceled or even delayed. We don’t use the word “deferred” much anymore. In the King James Version of the Bible, the word deferred sounds like we made a choice like when a football game is started with a coin flip. The football team who wins the coin flip can defer receiving the football until the second half (which is a good strategy). The Hebrew word here can also be translated as “dragging on” or “drawing out.” Solomon is speaking to times when the situation is out of our control, and we simply have to wait.
No one likes to wait. As a teenager, I was on the high school hockey team (I live in Michigan). Sitting on the bench, I was giving up hope that I would ever start a game. There was another high school junior who was a better goalie than me. My dream to start was fading, and I considered giving up and quitting the team. Thankfully, my father listened and encouraged me: “If you quit now, you have no chance to be the starting goalie. Hang in there and see what happens.” Before the next year, the other goalie moved, and I was the starting goalie!
Let’s return to Proverbs 13:12 because we have only looked at the first half of the scripture.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Solomon is saying that after we make plans, then we have to wait. When our hopes and dreams are realized, the feeling is even better than we imagined.
In the Bible, the Tree of Life represents the greatest reward God can give us. Some scholars believe the Tree of Life represents knowledge (Genesis 3). Other scholars see the Tree of life representing eternal life. I think Solomon is saying that when a plan or a long-awaited dream comes true, it is like heaven on earth!
So think back to the best times in your life. Weren’t the very best moments in your life when a dream you hoped for came true? The joy of hope realized is indescribable, and many people are speechless and have tears of joy. Even the most masculine men, professional athletes, cry when they finally win the elusive championship.
So today, during this pandemic, I am holding on to the idea of my hopes being deferred – not canceled. With faith in God, I am waiting with endurance and hope.
The most famous person in the Bible who represents hope deferred is Joseph.
- son of Jacob or Israel.
- owner of the multi-colored robe
- favorite son, the spoiled son, sold into slavery by his brothers.
- a slave who worked hard and still ended up in the Pharoah’s prison.
If I had Joseph’s life, I would be hopeless and would not have much faith in God. God didn’t seem to present or helpful. But the story wasn’t over yet.
Let me take a break here. Like Joseph, your story is not over yet. Despite this tough season, the final chapter of your life has not been written yet. We can think God is done with us, but that would be wrong. Joseph’s story is evidence of what the famous Yogi Berra, Catcher of the Yankees, said, “It’s ain’t over until it’s over.”
For Joseph, God had always talked to him through dreams. And when the Pharoah had a dream that no one else could interpret, Joseph was brought out of prison to tell the Pharoah what the dream meant.
Many of you know the dream of the Pharoah. The Pharaoh saw seven fat cows and then seven lean cows in his dream. Joseph told the Pharoah it meant the region of the Middle East would have seven years of great harvest, and then seven years of great famine. After many years of waiting on God’s blessing, Joseph became the second in charge and managed the harvests and storing food (only reporting to the Pharoah).
But being out of slavery and wealthy was not Joseph’s greatest dream. His greatest dream was being reunited with his father, Jacob, and his family. Waiting nine more years, and after some drama about food and stolen items, Joseph’s hope was realized, and his family came to live near him. Joseph’s story is a journey of faith, hope, endurance, and blessing. Joseph learned lessons of humility, service, and keeping your faith and integrity even in the bad times of life.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 8 wrote:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
Something good can come out of something bad. We all experience hope deferred and that sad, sick feeling, but when we hang on, there is joy in the future.
Solomon’s father, King David also wrote this truth in Psalm 30:
Weeping may stay the night, but joy comes in the morning.
So much of life is about holding on not growing weary. Let us not give up hope, for there are still blessings ahead.
Paul Arnold is a husband, father, grandfather, and currently serves as a chaplain to a senior living facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He hosts several podcasts – Man to Man (career advice for men) and Pardon the Confusion (Sports) that are found on iTunes and www.redcircle.com