Suffering, Hope Deferred and Desire Fulfilled

For most of us, we fight disappointment throughout our lives. Our dreams never seem to come to fruition. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….”

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“[U]unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies[1], it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses[2] it, and whoever hates[3] his life[4] in this world will keep it for eternal life[5]. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”[6]

Things aren’t necessarily as they seem. Our lives seem vibrant, filled with import and purpose when we are children. Everything is fresh. Summer days, puffy white clouds and blue skies seem to last forever. The older we get, the faster the days seem to go, the less the sun seems to shine. The more fleeting becomes the clouds and the blue skis. The polish of our lives, which seemed so fresh once, begins to dull.

For most of us, we fight disappointment throughout our lives. Our dreams never seem to come to fruition. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….”[7]

We learn to carry on. We have nowhere to go but forward. Those of us who don’t spend our time thinking of what could have been, might have been, make an awkward peace with the past. We try to make the most of the present and adjust hope for our future.

We learn to dream less. We learn to rein our hopes in, tethering them closer to the ground. Disappointment lowers our expectations. We cling to what we can hold onto, and we risk, thereby, losing it all.

Few of us actually achieve our dreams. Jordan Burroughs is one dreamer who climbed the mountain of his dreams and reached that summit. Jordan won an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling. The summit was exhilarating, but couldn’t live on the summit. For one thing, no one else is there. He had to return to the valley where life is lived, and the exhilaration wears away.

Jordan reached his dream, but he didn’t feel complete; he didn’t feel fulfilled; he found that he carried with him an emptiness that wasn’t filled by that gold medal.

Sometimes reaching our dreams brings us closer to the reality that life is disappointing than continually having our hopes deferred. Wealthy people, even millionaires, commit suicide.[8] Popular, attractive and talented people commit suicide.[9] Money, popularity, beauty and talent doesn’t bring fulfillment, but many of us stubbornly hold on to the hope that it does. And, most of us continue to chase those things, thinking that we will be happy if we attain them.

In Matthew 6:20, Jesus urges us to store up treasures in heaven where thieves cannot steal and rust can not destroy. Implied in this statement Jesus spoke is the reality that happiness rooted in this world is fleeting. Ask someone who has the things that most of us are jealous to obtain, like Jordan Burroughs.

Life has a way of wrestling even the humblest treasures from our hands. We are sold on the idea that we have rights, and justice is attainable and we can have, should have, the things we deserve. But they always seem just out of reach. As a white person, we may feel that all is well with the world, until we stop and consider the world through the eyes of people of color. We live uneasy lives, knowing that the picture of the way things should be is not the world in which we live.

Many of us live decent lives. We don’t have everything we want, but we have what we need. We aren’t married to the prince or princess of our dreams, but we have a spouse we get along with and who loves us. We have a modicum of success, we don’t hate our jobs and we are mostly content. But, death is always lurking in background. We get older. Loved ones die, and we know we will die.

If you read the obituaries every day, you know how fleeting life is. Death is all around us

My neighbor and good friend just lost her father. It was unexpected, the result of a routine surgery gone wrong. Her father was a pillar of the community, humble, hardworking, a community servant filled with vigor for life and having good genes. He was expected to live another ten or even twenty years, but his life ended in pain and uncertainty just two days after entering the hospital for day surgery.

There was no warning, no time for preparation. In her grief which we share, we wonder, “Why?!”

Just days later, a 31 year old young man I have known since he was a young boy died in a sudden motorcycle accident. His girlfriend lies in a coma in a hospital bed, their two young boys wait at home without a father, now, and don’t know why their mother is also not there.

Why do we have to suffer? Why is life so disappointing? We do our hopes go unfulfilled? When we do achieve success that other people can only dream of, why is it not all that we thought it would be?

This life is a only catalyst for what is to come. This life is the shadow; the life to come is the reality. God has made us in His own image with the ability, the option, to reflect His love back to Him. But, we also have the option to reject Him, and many of us do – by going our own way, unmindful of the God who created us, who emptied Himself to become one us, and who went to a cross for us to open up His kingdom on earth to us.

In spite of the His great sacrifice, he gives us the choice to engage Him or go our own way. If we didn’t have that option, we could not reflect His love back to Him. If we had no choice, we would not be capable of love.

We have the option to settle for what this life brings, and we are tempted to settle for what we can gain in this life, even knowing that it will inevitably come to an end.

In this world of life and death choices, the things we suffer help us to put things in perspective. Suffering helps us to let go of the false promise of this life that we cling to. It gives us a hunger for the life to come. Suffering helps us come to the end of our love of this life so that we will let go of it and grab hold of the kingdom of God that will lead us into the next life.

We are seeds. We have possibilities. Our dreams are shadows of those possibilities. Those dreams are fleeting glimpses of the life to come where thieves cannot steal and rust cannot destroy, where we will live with God and He with us, and where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”[10]

The suffering we experience in this life helps us to let go of our attachment to it. A seed remains just a seed unless it falls to the ground and dies. The seed must “die” and be buried in the ground before it can emerge as a tree. We must be born again, Jesus said, born of the spirit, born from above in order to see the kingdom of God.[11]  The roots of our life to come begin in this life, but only if we allow ourselves to die to the self, the psyche, that is rooted in this life.

The death Jesus invites is to embrace is the separation of our hopes and dreams from what this life can offer in order to place them in the life that God offers us. Because love is not compulsory, we have the option of choosing to be content with our self-life, but we are offered God-life.

In an ironic twist of divine goodness and grace, if we die to our self-life, we gain not only the God-life; we gain our very selves back. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”[12]

If we cling to the self-life that is finite and limited to the things that can be obtained in this world, we not only will find that we remain unfulfilled; we will lose even what we have. We can’t take those earthly treasures with us when we die. We will forfeit our very selves if we cling to this self-life, but if we let go of the self-life to which we are so strongly tempted to cling, we gain not only the infinite, eternal life of God; we become the very people we were created to be, becoming  all that our shadowy hopes and dreams only hint of.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” All the longings we have are fulfilled in God. All that we are created to be and meant to be is realized in God when we let go of ourselves.


[1] Apothnēskō (from apó, “away from,” which intensifies thnēskō, “to die”) – properly, die off (away from), focusing on the separation involved with the “dying off (going away from).” Apothnēskō stresses the significance of the separation, conveying the idea that the ending (of what is “former”) brings what (naturally) follows.

[2] Apóllymi (from apó, “away from,” which intensifies ollymi, “to destroy”) – properly, fully destroy; to cut off entirely (note the force of the prefix, apó). Apóllymi implies permanent (absolute) destruction, i.e. to cancel out (remove); “to die, with the implication of ruin and destruction”.

[3] Miséō – properly, to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. renounce one choice in favor of another.

[4] Psyxē (from psyxō, “to breathe, blow,” the root of the English words “psyche,” “psychology”) – soul (psyche); a person’s identity (unique personhood), i.e. individual personality. Psyxē corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word nephesh (“soul”). “You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.” C.S. Lewis

[5] Zōē – life (physical and spiritual), including all creation derived from (sustained by) God’s self-existent life.

[6] John 12-24-26

[7] Proverbs 13:12

[8] 10 Millionaire Businessmen Who Committed Suicide posted on November 30, 2011, in the Business Pundit.

[9] Why Do Popular, Attractive, and Talented People Commit Suicide? By Tracy Moore published online July 30, 2105, at Jezebel

[10] Revelation 21:4

[11] John 3:3

[12] Luke 9:24

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