BLOG: (March 7-13) Genesis 37-41, "The Lord was with Joseph"
Joseph’s story is a study in extremes: from favorite son to slave, from slave to overseer, from overseer to prisoner, from prison to palace. He was the eleventh (and favorite) son of Jacob, who became Israel; he was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly accused, and cast into prison; and he eventually rose from that prison to become the governor of all Egypt, second only to Pharoah. And through it all, “the Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23). What can we learn from Joseph that will help us in our own experiences dealing with life’s extremities?
Lesson 1: I don't have to be a victim.
The first lesson comes from Joseph himself. Even with everything that had happened to him, Joseph held on to his agency. He didn’t see himself as a victim. In his book The Power of TED: The Empowerment Dynamic, David Womeldorff teaches that our lives can be viewed through two lenses, victim orientation and creator orientation. He explains that those who see themselves as victims - of circumstance, of persecution, or of any other outward influence - feel as though life is happening to them, and they are powerless to do anything about it. They lose sight of their power to enact change in their lives. This view, born of fear, stops their progress and prevents growth. Those who see themselves as creators recognize that they still have power to move forward in faith, even in the most difficult of circumstances. They retain their freedom to choose their attitude, and they choose to learn and grow from their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.
Anthony Ray Hinton was 29 years old when he was falsely accused of murder and sent to death row. He spent nearly 30 years in solitary confinement, only spending an hour each day outside of his 5 by 7 foot cell. Anthony spent his first three years in prison suffering in anger and bitterness. But in the fourth year, he had a change of heart. He chose to forgive those who had put him in prison, and “take [his] life back.” Anthony became a friend and counselor to other prisoners and to his guards, who eventually lobbied for his release. In his book, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, written three years after his release, Anthony said this about those whose choices led to his incarceration:
I forgive them. I made a choice after the first difficult few weeks of freedom, when everything was new and strange and the world didn’t seem to make sense to me. I chose to forgive. I chose to stay vigilant to any signs of anger or hate in my heart.
They took 30 years of my life. If I couldn’t forgive, if I couldn’t feel joy, that would be like giving them the rest of my life. (source)
As children of God, we are born to be creators. We have the power to choose what we do with whatever life hands us. This power is called agency, and it is so critically important to our growth that a war was fought in Heaven over it. The choice to see ourselves as creators is the choice to recognize and use our agency to do what we can with the circumstances we have been given. Choosing to forgive, to trust God, and to work toward change invites the Lord’s blessings into our lives. As President Nelson has taught, “The Lord loves effort!” (source) The Lord wants to bless us, but we have to keep moving forward, keep our faith and trust in Him, and keep working, if we want to qualify for and be open to His blessings when they come.
This is not easy. It will even feel impossible at times. But we don't have to do it alone. We can turn to our Father in Heaven in prayer and He will always help us. He makes it possible for us to keep our focus, to forgive, to press forward. "With God, all things are possible." (Mark 10:27) Anthony Hinton came to a point during his time in prison where he recognized that in order to move forward, he had to forgive. But he knew he needed help. He said this about his experience:
After a period of three years, I began to look at myself, and I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror. I didn’t like the person that didn’t smile and didn’t laugh anymore. That’s the type of person I am. I believe in laughter. I believe laughter is good for the soul. I believe in making other people laugh to make them feel good. And so once I looked in the mirror, going into the fourth year, I decided that I would take my life back. The only way that I could take my life back was that I knew I had to forgive. I knew this. There was no doubt about it, but I knew I needed help in forgiving these racist white men that had did this to me.
How do you forgive somebody that don’t like you just because of the color of your skin? I prayed that God would remove the hatred that I had in my heart for these racist white men. I prayed daily that he would remove this hatred from me. I will not sit here and tell you that he did it overnight. All I can tell you, eventually, at some point, in some time, I began to smile again, and I forgave those racist white men that did this to me.
Once I could feel that forgiveness, I realized one thing: They had to give an account for what they did to me to their creator. I knew that I wanted to live and I wanted to be the person that my mom brought me up to be, and that is a loving, kind, generous person. I just couldn’t live with that anger anymore. (source)
We don’t know much about Joseph’s journey to forgiveness and hope. All we know is, when faced with the choice to sink into despair or to trust God and go to work, Joseph chose to trust and work. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and concentration camp survivor, wrote this in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Joseph did this. He chose to keep moving forward, pick himself up again every time he was knocked down, and work to be the person he wanted to be no matter what happened to him. Joseph’s willingness to work gave the Lord something to work with, and He did. The Lord wants to do the same for us, wherever we are and whatever we are going through. He is always there, ready to bless and help, and when we act in faith, He responds. He is with us.
Lesson 2: The Lord can use my trials to put me into position to receive His blessings.
Joseph’s trials were not a surprise to God. He knew they would happen, and He was able to use them to bring Joseph to the right place at the right time to accomplish His purposes. Joseph’s journey from Canaan to Egypt, through slavery and prison to the palace of Pharaoh, was nothing Joseph could have expected or planned, but because he stayed faithful throughout those experiences, the Lord was able to use this unusual path to bring Joseph where he needed to be to save his people, and for the Lord’s promises to him to be fulfilled. I believe that the Lord was also able, through these experiences, to help Joseph develop the wisdom and empathy he would need to lead the people during a time of great suffering and want.
“And Pharaoh, said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:
“Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
“And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.” (Genesis 41:39-40, 55)
God used Joseph’s trials to help Joseph become more than he already was, and to prepare him to bless and help so many others. The Lord knows what our trials will be, too. He is not surprised or daunted by them. He can use them for our good, and he often works through them to position us to receive His blessings. I don’t believe every trial we go through is sent by God. He loves us, and He does not wish to hurt us. But I do believe that He can use every trial for our good, if we keep our faith and trust in Him.
Like Joseph, we will all face extreme times in our own lives. We will have to make the choice to keep our trust in God and in ourselves, no matter what happens to us. We have the power to be creators in any circumstance. We are never helpless. And we will have the Lord’s help. He can work through every setback, disappointment, injustice, failure, heartbreak, betrayal, and even tragedy to bless us. When our lives, like Joseph's, take unexpected turns, when others use their agency to hurt us, when it seems like everything is going wrong, we can always trust in the Lord and find peace in Him. The Lord is with us, and He will use our experiences - all of them - for our good.