Hope and the tree of life

He’s a tall, tanned, lanky fellow in his mid-sixties—older than most of the other vendors at the fruit and vegetable market. He invariably greets his customers with a radiant smile.

One hot July morning when I approached his stall, I was surprised to see that he was wearing a thick brace around his neck. It stretched from the tip of his chin to his shoulders, and although he did not complain, his eyes betrayed his discomfort. He explained that he’d had an automobile accident and was recovering from an operation.

It was the peak of Taiwanese summer, when humidity levels soar and temperatures rise to uncomfortable levels. I cringed as I imagined how he felt to be wearing a brace of woven plastic in the blistering, sultry heat of an outdoor market. He saw my concern and smiled. “It will get better. All wounds heal, and whining about how hard it is won’t help any.” I paid for my purchases and promised to pray for him.

When I saw him again two weeks later, the brace remained, but so did his smile.

“Are you in a lot of pain?” I asked. “That brace must be so bothersome!”

“It is painful and stifling,” he agreed, “but what keeps me going is thinking of that wonderful day when it’ll be gone and I will move about freely again. Having something to hope for really helps!”

As time passed, that “wonderful day” seemed to not arrive. He didn’t recover as quickly as anticipated, and the brace remained for over a month. But my friend kept clinging to hope and kept refusing to despair, even as he struggled to maintain his business while undergoing treatment.

At last, the day came when he was freed from the brace’s grip. A large red scar was visible on his neck, but he held his head high with no trace of self-consciousness and willingly shared how glad he was to be free of the brace. His joy reminded me of the verse, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.”1

My friend is a testimony of what Paul calls “endurance inspired by hope.”2 His hope wasn’t just a vague desire or fanciful idealism. It was a choice to believe that no pain lasts forever, that all wounds heal. It didn’t matter how long or difficult the process; what mattered was keeping his spirit buoyant and clinging to the promise of a better future. As I weather life’s storms, his example inspires me to hang on when things look bleak. I will cling to the One in whom my hope is “as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”3

  1. Proverbs 13:12 NLT
  2. 1Thessalonians 1:3 NIV
  3. Hebrews 6:19