“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12)
A cynic is one who has been wounded by hope, who has, as Solomon put it, had “hope deferred.” A deferred hope is to have a promise go unfulfilled or dreams dissipate. A deferred hope is to have our passions yield more sorrow than joy. The wisdom writer said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Wisdom indeed.
A sick heart is a heart that has been trampled on, bruised and ignored. It is a heart that has stared down the shadowy abyss of loss and shame, and has been able to see anything beyond it. A sick heart has caved in to the unrelenting pressure of a hope postpone far too long.
Hope does not, as some suggest, “spring eternal.” A fully redeemed hope would offer an unending supply of optimistic anticipation, but unfortunately, nothing in this tragic world is fully redeemed. So, at moments, ecstatic joy’s pierce our hearts, and hope flourishes. And other moments, distressing realities overcome us, and hope languishes. This dichotomy we live – between a flourishing and languishing hope – is normal, part of the routine of the human condition. Some simply refer to it as life. Uncomfortable as it is, it does not debilitate. It does not paralyze. We don’t look forward to the swinging pendulum, but we expect it. And in each stormy episode, we find ourselves looking up for the next hopeful ray to break through our overcast hearts.
The tragedy is not in these customary dim days where hope is briefly muffled. The tragedy is when we surrender our hearts to these murky shadows, and in doing so, hope is ultimately silenced. For some of us, we have been disappointed one too many times. The pain to hope has grown too difficult, and our sick hearts have believed a fatal lie: the risk of hoping is more costly than the benign shelter found in never hoping at all.
When we take that misguided turn, we cede passion, desire and all that offers us life. We become cynical in order to stymie hope before it can ever take root, before I can ever disappoint. We nurture the belief that what we are is all we will ever be, and we settle in for a safe, shallow and utterly empty existence. We become like Snoopy. “ Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.”
Solomon concludes his proverb with a challenge to the cynic: “but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” The anecdote to the sick heart of disappointed hopes is to give way too desire, to make room for it …to hope for it. To hope for God. It’s dangerous. This disappointment will mount, and it will be costly. But it is the only way to life, to truly live.
Lord, I will take the risk of hope. I will risk disappointment. Make me fully alive in you.