Early in his college career, our son Matthew initiated a pattern of calling Peggy and me every Sunday afternoon, catching up with each of us for a half hour or so before going his merry way. This was a welcome development coming from one who, in his high school years, communicated chiefly in monosyllabic grunts at the dinner table! So great did these regular weekend conversations feel to this parent, that I began to call my mother each week, as well, a Friday appointment we kept—this weekly gift of touch—for over 10 years until she passed away.
Have you noticed Joseph never called home? Despite all the abuses he suffered, Joseph rose to second-in-command over Egypt, so how easy it would have been for one in his position to send a note to Dad, saying, “all is well” or “stop by and see me sometime.” How smugly gratifying it might have been to send a portrait-hieroglyph to his brothers, wryly signed, “in command and thinking of you.” No, he never called home, but then why would he? The past was to him something to be left behind and forgotten. He named his first son, Manasseh (forget), saying, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,”1 and his second, Ephraim (twice fruitful), saying, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”2 Suppression—in his case, forgetting without forgiving—was Joseph’s way of moving forward.
While Joseph carried the pain of yesterday’s wrongs, his brothers bore the burden of their unresolved guilt. In trouble before the high-ranking Egyptian official, their long-muted consciences found voice among themselves, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”3 The inevitable blame-shifting came from Reuben: “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen!”4 (Not helpful, Reuben.)
Whether of pain or of guilt, suppression is unhealthy and overwhelming—we are not built to bear them. Too is it misleading, for our ongoing attempts to bury our past betray our inability to resolve it by our own means. Paul urges us instead to “call home” and resolve wrongs God’s way: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”5 Forgiveness that leads to reconciliation, this is the truthful, liberating way of Christ, and He calls us to it.
Father, forgiveness can be difficult for me, for I am prideful and fearful by nature, yet I deeply desire this, your liberating way. Grace me with the gratitude, love and strength to do so. Amen.
1 Genesis 41:51 NIV
2 Genesis 41:52 NIV
3 Genesis 42:21 NIV
4 Genesis 42:22 NIV
5 Colossians 3:13 NIV