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The Admission in Suppression

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

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The Isolation in Rejection

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? James 4:1 NIV

His brothers’ feelings toward him were intense, and not in a good way, for “they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”1 So, when Joseph dreamed of them bowing down to him, “they hated him all the more,”2 then after voicing their disdain, they hated him yet “all the more”!3 Certainly, he’d had his bratty moments, as when tattling on them to their father,4 but sibling comeuppance usually fits the indiscretion, so what could possibly drive his brothers to plan Joseph’s murder before opting instead to sell the 17-year-old into slavery? In a word, favoritism. Their father Jacob was partial to Joseph, his favorite son from his favorite wife, a measure of rejection for his brothers and ultimately an unfairness to Joseph, for any imprudence on his part, however mild, became an accelerant to the resentment raging in their soul.

Sin separates. James tells us the divisions among us emerge from the desires within us.5 Envy resents others for their good fortune, and there is distance. Lust objectifies others, indexing their inherent value to our impulsive desire, and there is contempt. Rage bursts our inner restraints to lash out at others, lest our fragile pride be toppled or our deepest fears realized, and accusations presume to know the heart of another. In our me-first world, unity is unnatural and harmony easily broken, so human-trafficking would not be Joseph’s last injustice. In fact, it portended his suffering through a steady stream of wrongs—sexual assault, false witness, wrongful imprisonment, and abandonment—that, over the next 13 years, would sweep him further into relational isolation.

Most of us have not experienced the degree of injustice that Joseph suffered, but sin—both that which we inflict and that which we endure—has brought us discord and division. Whether we’ve retaliated against others or isolated within ourselves, whether we’ve shut out or shut down, unity has become a casualty. Yet here we take courage from the story of Joseph, for despite his circumstances, “the Lord was with Joseph,”6 not in a sense of delivering him from difficulties, but in a far more powerful way—by humbling him through his trials and unto reconciliation, and in the process, blessing Joseph for God’s higher purposes and our greater good. It is in this love that God calls us, too, to walk the selfless path that leads to reconciliation, oneness, and God’s good pleasure.

Father, you love me beyond measure or understanding. In this great comfort, may I gratefully and humbly walk the supernatural path to reconciliation and oneness through Jesus Christ, in whom all things hold together.7 In His name I pray. Amen.

1 Genesis 37:4
2 Genesis 37:5
3 Genesis 37:8
4 Genesis 37:3
5 James 4:1
6 Genesis 39:2, 23
7 Colossians 1:17