As a little boy I once ate several boxes of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (not all at once) just so I could have enough box tops to send away for my “free” Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon. When I had accumulated the appropriate number of box tops which, coincidentally meant that I had also consumed several thousand sugar-frosted calories, I mailed in my order.
My mother told me the instructions on the cereal box said to allow four to six weeks for delivery of my prize. What did she know. She was a mother. She was not a kid. Mailman Tony, the neighborhood postman, and no relation to the Tiger, would see to it that my Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon would reach me in shorter time than that. After all, if neither snow, nor sleet, nor hail nor rain, could keep Tony from his appointed rounds, surely he and his erstwhile compatriots at the United States Postal Service could find a way to conquer time. Four to six weeks?! Who was Mom kidding? Four to six days was more like it! I pinned my hope on Tony and I waited. I waited with the confidence of a gambler at the blackjack table when he knows the next card will give him twenty-one.
I did not know it at the time, but I would soon learn what Solomon meant when he wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life,”—Proverbs 13.12.
Hope deferred makes us heartsick when what we are waiting for takes longer than we had prepared to wait for it. Hope deferred makes time crawl. When time crawls today cannot be over too quickly and tomorrow cannot get here soon enough. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, hope deferred means it is always Winter but never Christmas. Hope deferred can be dangerous because the longer we wait, the greater the temptation to doubt God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.
Even so, not everything we hope for is necessarily good for us. Solomon’s words are true in a general sense, but they are not necessarily true in an absolute sense. Sometimes God defers our hope in the knowledge that the longer we wait the more time we will devote to thinking and praying about what we are hoping for.
As a child I hoped for many things. Mostly, I hoped for things that would make me happy. I hoped for things that would elevate me above my friends (like a Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon). Now that I am older, I have learned that not everything I hope for is necessarily what I need. I have learned that while God knows what I want, His wisdom is such that He gives me what I need.
I have also learned there is a difference between waiting and waiting in hope–even hope that is deferred. Hope deferred may make the heart sick, but rather than cause me to question God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, heartsickness is cause to seek God more earnestly for patience and lean on Him heavily in faith.
By the end of the sixth week, I still had not received my Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon. I was no longer on speaking terms with Tony the mailman. He failed me. Kellogg’s failed me. And worst of all,Tony the Tiger© failed me. After ten weeks I had converted to eating Cheerios. I forgot to check the mail. I forgot about Kellogg’s. I forgot about TTony the Tiger©.
But God had not forgotten.
Three full months after sending in my order, my beloved, and long-awaited, Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon arrived. “A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Inside the box was a brilliant orange bowl decorated with black tiger stripes and an orange spoon with Tony the Tiger’s head at the end of the handle.
Among the treasured possessions of my childhood, none was as valuable to me as that silly bowl and spoon. And I suppose the thing that increased its value was the time I waited for it to arrive. An old gospel song says, “God may not come at the right time, but He’s right on time when He comes.”
Amen. And Amen.
You think about that.