“She is a tree of life to those who embrace her . Happy are those who hold onto her “. -Proverbs 3:18
This weekend we are celebrating my daughter’s birthday. To tell her story, I have to revisit one of the most painful chapters of my life. We experienced a series of difficult circumstances in our marriage and work life (which at that time were very intertwined). We had an opportunity to live a lifelong dream of mine, and we sacrificed for several years to make that dream a reality. Then, without warning, the opportunity was withdrawn. I was devastated. Part of a Proverb kept replaying in my brain “Hope deferred makes the heart sick……. Hope deferred makes the heart sick……”
Then I got pregnant.
It’s not that I didn’t want more kids. It’s just that I didn’t want anything at that time- except for the pain to go away. My hope had been deferred for so long, I felt that I couldn’t afford to hope anymore. The weight of my despair was crushing before, now it was compounded by the hormonal upheaval and the guilt I felt because I just couldn’t get excited about the baby.
Very few people could. Relatives who were exuberant about baby number #1 had grown progressively more subdued with each pregnancy, and couldn’t seem to muster more than a “Really? Another one?” for baby #4. Friends made the customary jokes and the customary congratulatory remarks. Mostly we were alone. I knew there was a “but” at the end of “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”, but I couldn’t remember the rest of the verse.
As the pregnancy progressed, I struggled to forgive. I struggled to believe the truth about my circumstances. I struggled to peel myself off the couch to care for our other children. Through all this, Erik was my champion. He made me take expensive supplements. He spoke tenderly to the baby. He was genuinely excited about this new person. Gradually my heart healed.
During this time God gave me a vision of a stale smelling, dimly lit house. Suddenly, the tree of life burst through the floorboards and grew until it filled the living room. A fresh breeze wafted through the whole house. Erik said “That’s what we need. We need a tree of life”.
At some point after that I looked up the Proverb. It said,
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
My first response was, “Duh. I knew that already”. But I couldn’t change what had happened, and my desire was now well out of reach. So was the Bible saying I was doomed to have a sick heart?
I don’t think so. I think the first part of the verse is a statement of fact, meant to show that God knows how much it hurts to hope and have your hopes dashed. My problem was that I my hope was in circumstances rather than in him. Hope in things or circumstances is easily disappointed. But if our hope is in him, it isn’t about our desires anymore. His desires are fulfilled in us. A tree of life springs up.
When our daughter arrived, we named her Tikva (Hope) . Her name was not a reflection of hope we had, it was a prayer for hope we needed. Her middle name is Tuija (Tree of Life). She was not my desire, but she was God’s desire for me. The joy she brings our family still catches me by surprise. We are crazy about our boys. We’re not one of those couples who “tried for a girl”. Still, Tikva and I share a bond that I don’t have with anyone else.
When I was researching Tikva’s name I found that one of the meanings was “a cord”. This didn’t make sense until I realized hope isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s grounded in a tangible reality. When we hope in something, we grab on to that thing. We hold it tightly and it can lift us out of despair. By giving me Tikva, God gave me something to hold onto, a reminder to hold onto him.
I wanted my pain to go away. Instead, God sent me a companion to walk through it with me. Often, when faced with hardship, we just want stuff. We want our situation to improve. But that’s not the way God solves problems.
His solution to your pain is a person. It’s himself.
When have you lost hope? What did you hold onto during that time? Where have you seen a “tree of life” spring up unexpectedly?