Our Earthbound Longings and the Art of Deference
Hope deferred makes the heart stronger.
Just kidding. No, it doesn’t.
Proverbs 13:12 reminds me: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”.
Yes, I know. God is the only one who can provide for and fulfill our eternal salvation and eternal longings. But I also know God made us so that practical, human solutions solve practical, human hurts. It’s why, even though Adam walked with God, He decided Adam’s condition was not good and gave him Eve. It’s why He instructed them to be fruitful and multiply so that they would supply the siblings, parent-child, and friend relationships we were designed to thirst after. It’s why Paul told Timothy to medicate his weak stomach with soothing wine. It’s why we’re not instructed to simply pray for and encourage someone who’s freezing, but put a blanket on them. While we’re on earth, God usually uses earthly means to solve the problems that won’t plague us in heaven; that is, if solving them here happens to be in His sovereign plan.
“Oh.” Last July, that evidence of realization escaped my chapped lips.
I quit my job and moved across the country to be with my mother’s mother for the first time in a decade. I assumed I’d be the hero. She was hardly able to walk, doped up on narcotics, and the same person she had always been. Her closets vomited their contents into the dusty rooms around them. Stratified layers of aged makeup pots lent the bathroom a stench of rancid oil. I cried as I threw away frozen Lean Cuisine packages that had expired in the late 90’s.
Grandma’s long distance-call solicitude receded like a chain smoker’s gums. Once she saw my humanness with those cloudy eyes so uncannily like mine, she spurned my love like she had my mother’s. I was too fat. My hair was too long. I yammered about forgiveness like some foolish Pollyanna.
The barbs that this shriveled, compassion-worthy woman dragged across my thick, grown-up skin drew a little blood. But in the midst of it, a vivid scene conjured itself before me: there stood my mother, a tiny and anemic child, under the neglectful and angry authority of someone bigger, stronger, and smarter than herself.
A memory of my own always followed it in sequence. As Mama drove me home from school on a temperate afternoon in her zippy red sedan, she carefully recounted yet another event of her deficient childhood. Her thin lips quivered and French-tipped fingers scarcely tightened around the steering wheel; my mother never used to cry in front of me. I pressed my elbow against the glass, flippantly thinking, “You have Jesus now, and He’s enough. Aren’t you over it yet?”
God has regenerated Mama beautifully, and she never exploits her hurts as an excuse not to grow. She loves Him with all her heart, but loving Him more and more won’t remove that absence and trauma He has providentially allowed in her life. This side of heaven, my mother will never stop longing for her mother’s love until her mother loves her.
Hasn’t God fixed you? Why do you still walk with a limp? If you really love God, why are you still sick and weak?
Thankfully, it’s because the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a prosperity gospel. God doesn’t magically make our problems vanish. He uses those heart-based sicknesses to sanctify us but does not normally make us feel less pain.
According to the apostle Paul, I need to get married (1 Corinthians 7:9). No, I’m not lonely, and I seek to place God before everything else in my life. I just wish I didn’t have to be a Gnostic in front of others. I’m spiritually rescued and fulfilled, but must I pretend physical, here-on-earth issues hardly matter? Jesus won’t personally fulfill my sexual longings because that would be weird; it’s why He invented husbands.
But He’s using this humiliating ache for a beautiful end. It’s effectively quieting my wonderings as to why other people are so annoyingly broken, forcing me out of my callous tendency to decide they ought to buck up and stop hurting. I no longer want to miss the blessing of bearing the burdens of others. We are visibly sickened and weakened, and God has written it into our scripts with meaning.
As that principle’s sapling to takes root in my conscious thoughts, I’ll be gentle to my beloved mother when it comes to her weakness, not chiding her to pray harder for the erasure of her heartbreak. Likewise, my words and manner toward my dearest wisp of a friend when she needs to cry yet again shouldn’t communicate: “Aren’t you over your brother-in-law’s suicide? It was over six months ago.”
God’s earthbound means are what satisfy our earthbound longings. The human need for a mother’s love is resolved in receiving a mother’s love. My friend’s longing for her brother-in-law’s presence would be resolved with her brother-in-law’s presence. And, relatively less momentous, the solution to burning and wanting to be married is getting married.
We are humbled in this broken world. God didn’t numb Paul to the thorn in his flesh but used it to draw him closer and encourage him to thirst for heaven, where all of our sicknesses will be cured and we will finally have open access to the tree of life.
I’m still trying to muster up a boast as my hope-hungry heart defers to His strength in my weakness.