Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 13:12
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life"
This is the Hebrew word tohelet which means hope, good expectation in the future. This word carries a meaning of confidence of the future.
Solomon tells us one of the cause-and-effect relationships with the soul. This result produces this outcome. When you have been expecting a good result and then that good thing that you have been expecting at a particular time is postponed, then it causes a reaction in the soul of ill health. Your soul can be sick even while your body is healthy.
We do not think enough about soul health in our day. We are preoccupied with physical health. Physical health is important, but soul health is far more important. If your soul is sick, then it doesn't matter how healthy your body is; you are not healthy. Soul sickness most often comes from relational difficulty. Here it is relational difficulty with yourself and/or with God. You were expecting a certain thing to happen and it didn't, so you are down.
Let me just say at this point that this is normal. Something is not wrong with you if you get disappointed or discouraged from time to time when things don't work out as you have planned. In fact, it is not healthy for you to be so numb or unaware as to treat tragedy and triumph the same. Your soul will react to the situation and circumstances in your life.
One of the things we do need to do is understand our expectations and assess whether they are realistic or unrealistic. One of the things I tell my daughters and myself all the time is that almost all of my anger and/or discouragement is because of unrealistic expectation, or in this verse it would be unrealistic hope. I regularly have expectations that things would work out perfectly for me as though the whole world was waiting to please me. It never works that way and I can get discouraged or upset or irritated, or I can realize that God has helped me find an unrealistic expectation and I need to change my expectation. I regularly interact with the Lord: Okay, Lord, what would be a more realistic expectation in this situation because I am getting ticked which means that I have an unrealistic expectation in this situation.
Let's take a look at this verse from a little different angle. If Solomon is right (and he is) that your soul is affected by the lack of meeting an expectation or not realizing something you were hoping for, then you can expect to be down if things don't go the way you had planned. It is not unspiritual to be down when a romance doesn't work out; when a promotion doesn't come; when your team doesn't win; when you don't get accepted to the college you wanted. Realize that life is full of hoping and that some of these will not happen which will produce a sickness or weakness or depression in your soul – which is not wrong or a lack of faith but instead is natural. It is to be expected and normal.
This is the Hebrew word taawa which means desire, lust after both good and bad objects. It is important to notice that this verse – as well as others in the Old Testament and especially the 10th Commandment – do not condemn desire but only restrict what you can set your desire upon. If you are greedy for dishonest gain or someone else's wife or possessions, then it is bad. But to desire good things is a good thing.
When what you desire is actually obtained, then there is a level of rejoicing and health in your heart. In fact, this is what life is all about – finding and fixing your desire on a righteously obtainable end and then obtaining that end and enjoying the tree of life that the obtaining results in. If all pushing forward and desiring has stopped in your life, then you are dead even though you still live.
Notice that Solomon uses the picture of a tree of life which echoes the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden. He suggests that how we give meaning and purpose to our life and life to our life is by fixing our desires on good objects, relationships, attainments, accomplishments, and then achieving them. This is the fruit of the tree of life for us. It is how we are wired – to accomplish things: raising children, building businesses, getting married, building a good marriage, saving money, acquiring skills, honing those skills, receiving praise, etc. In fact, Jesus uses the same idea when he talks about heaven. He says that we will present the business that we have done for the Lord here on earth, and we will receive praise or blame for what we have accomplished. Have we used the skills, talents, desires, and abilities that God has given us to accomplish righteous desires? If we have, it will fill us up here and in heaven. If we have not, then we will be sick here and in the afterlife.