Yesterday I was thinking about how funny it was that both my brother and I have been writing posts, in a lamenting sort of way, about how well things are going for us. You know you’re a first-class whiner when you can whine about things going well. Be it him complaining about soaring toward the sun or me complaining that I’m getting good grades and everyone thinks I’m smart–neither of us seem to be able to find any contentment.
There’s a lot of places one could go with that. . .how nothing in this life satisfies, how we are more prone to see the bad than the good, how we are aware that none of this is a result of ourselves, how people are prone to anxiety—any number of places.
Instead, I was transported back to a memory of myself, at a younger age, reading the story of Joseph. First, Joseph is hated by his family and shipped off as a slave, which is–you know, kind of a rough time. Next, it says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand.”
Then Joseph gets accused of a crime he didn’t commit–and in fact when out of his way not commit–stripped of all his authority, comfort, freedom, etc., and thrown in jail. Which is about as unfair as you can get. And then it says, “And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hands all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.”
It always confused me.
The narrative in the Bible always took such a “zoomed-out” view, and made you wonder what it really looked like to Joseph. Could Joseph really get hated by those who ought to love him, thrown out of his house and homeland, sold into a stranger’s household as a slave, and say, “Lo, my God is with me; whatever I set my hand to prospers”? Or did he muddle through the hurt every day, doing his best at whatever came his way during the day, wondering and crying out to God at what seemed a cruel and unfair turn of events?
It says Potiphar saw God was with him. It says the jail-keepers saw that God was with him. Did it really look so obvious to Joseph? You would expect that after all that happened to Joseph, he would have been a very hurt, bitter and angry man–and rightfully so, by our judgment. He doesn’t sound like the slightest bit of any of those three, when he reveals himself to his brothers. Then you read what he named his children—“. . .the name of the firstborn, Manasseh [literally, making forgetful]: ‘For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.’ And the name of the second he called Ephraim [literally, fruitfulness]: ‘For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.'”
Was that “it’s all good” attitude all retrospective? Was he hurt, bitter and angry for most of his life?
And then I would wonder, what would my life and the lives of my family look like, if it was told in a Biblical, “zoomed-out” sort of way? What would be written, as though it were obvious, that we could not see at the time through our clouded eyes? I could never imagine it. It seemed like those accounts only picked up on the major landmarks, the meaningful events, and those things never happened to us.
I haven’t thought about Joseph in a long time, I guess. Looking back on my thoughts, I can see that I was starting pick up on, in some small way, what it means to keep your eyes on the things above instead of the things below. I might have used thought-concepts like “zoomed out” and “if our lives were written into the Bible”, but it was a realization that God’s points spanned so many years. He would always tell it like it was a deliberate, neat, planned-out story–which of course it was–but that never meant that was the way it felt at the time.
And now, as memories of those thoughts came flooding back to me, it makes me smile. Here I am, raging against the unfairness and frustration and toil of all these petty things around me–professors and flu shots and too much information and not enough time and it’s hard, and on and on.
And God is writing, “And what she put her hand to prospered, for God was with her.”
The secretary at work just about threw something at me when, in response to her questioning, I told her that “I got a 99 on my physics exam, but only an 88 on my medical terminology.”
“Only!” she cried. “ONLY!” she was fairly spluttering.
Yeah. Only. Also, one could have gotten 106 on my bio exam, and I only got 99.
Somehow it was easier for her to see that I was “prospering”, though I rather suspect her first thought wasn’t that it was God’s fault that I was. And somehow, it is easier for me to get fixated on the fact that it isn’t my doing, and I’m just waiting for my true humanity to betray me. How hard I work is not making this happen, and it isn’t my brilliance, either.
I can’t help but feel that my response to how well I’m doing is sadly lacking. I don’t think I should be “proud” of myself. I’m not “beating myself up” over my 88 in medical terminology. I feel like I’m scared, and getting dragged along more than riding on top. I wish I could just see it as the gift and a blessing from God that it is, and rejoice in it. I wish I was better at letting go of my frustrations and angers. I wish that, in recognizing that it was all from God, I could let go of my anxiety and fear, and rest in trust and peace. I wish I would not get so caught up in thinking it is my story, and pay more attention to the story God is trying to tell.
And I know that this is horribly longer than 300 words, but I had to say it all.