Hope Deferred Makes the Heart Sick

Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

There are many sporting memories that remain etched in my mind and many have come on the highest stage, the Olympic Games.  One such memory is of U.S. speed skater Dan Jansen.  Dan was a world class speed skater and favored to win both the 500m and 1000m races at the 1988 Winter Olympics.  On the day of his first race, he was informed that his sister was dying of leukemia and a few hours later he received another call that she had in fact died.  He went on to compete in the 500m that afternoon but fell.  Four days later he had an opportunity to redeem himself, but again fell in the 1000m.  It was excruciating to watch.

Four years later at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville with the whole world willing him on, Dan finished fourth in the 500m and 26th in the 1000m, again leaving the Olympics with no medals.  The Olympic committee decided to stagger the winter and summer Olympics so the next winter Olympics were scheduled for 1994 in Lillehammer.  Between 1992 and 1994, Jansen was the only skater in the world to break 36 seconds for the 500m.  Early in 1994 he won his second straight World Sprint Championship title, so as he arrived at the 1994 Olympics, he was the clear favorite in the 500m.

The 500m came and Jansen finished a shocking 8th place.  An aging Jansen’s final attempt at an Olympic medal would come a few days later in the 1000m, but this was not an event he was not favored to win.  It appeared that one of the greatest speed skaters of all time, would miss winning a medal on the grandest stage.  With the world on pins and needles, Jansen started his final Olympic race and rounded each corner and lap with determination and purpose.  Jansen won the gold medal and set a world record.  My eyes still well up watching the video.

Jansen would have fully understood the above proverb: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12).  I cannot imagine the ache he felt with his sister’s passing in 1988, then the indescribable pain of falling in both races, not being able to win a medal in her honor.  To then train for four more years and again see defeat.   To then train another two years, experience success and then fail again at the Olympics.  He certainly understood the feeling of a “sick heart”.  But in that same 1994 Olympics when he later won the 1000m, he also understood more than any other athlete at the games, the feeling of a “longing fulfilled”.

Athletes often devote their lives to their sport and therefore we can feel the pain in their defeat, but the Bible addresses issues with far greater meaning than athletics, with far greater worth than perishing rewards.  Whatever challenge you may be facing, whatever hope has been deferred in your life, if you know Jesus as your personal savior, all of your longings will one day be fulfilled in heaven.  Some may be fulfilled here on earth, but even if they are not, nothing can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8: 38-39).

Some of the most powerful and challenging words in the Bible come from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.  “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).  If you can understand and make these words a reality in your life, then you will be able to be victorious in any situation.

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