This is part 4 of Dream Killer. Please read the first three posts prior to this one.
A seed has to give up its familiar form as a seed, allow itself to be buried in the dark earth, and trust that God will bring new life – even lush life – when the seed sprouts. In the same way, we need to be willing to give up whatever is most familiar, comfortable, and precious to us, allow ourselves to sink into the darkness, and trust God to bring life out of what feels like death. This is the mystery of fruitfulness: Life multiplied many times over from what seems like death. Carol Kent, When I Lay My Isaac Down
I find it interesting that the story of Joseph takes up more space than any other character in Genesis. When we come to Joseph, we’ve already experienced the beauty of creation, the defeat of the fall of mankind, the torture of the flood, the disappointment of Babel, the promise to Abraham that he never saw fulfilled, the promise to Isaac he never saw fulfilled and the promise to Jacob he started to see fulfilled. In so many parts to this narrative, God’s heart must have been broken. He created a being he longed to choose to love him. And yet humanity turned from him over and over and over again. So tragic. God’s dreams for those he loved so much continued to end in ruin. It’s a good thing I’m not God. I would’ve smote them all and been done with the whole blasted thing. So much pain, so much suffering.
I’ve heard people say, “I’m at the end of my rope.” I never really understood that phrase. When I was at the bottom looking up, I just kept braiding more rope until I could get out of the pit. But that’s been my problem. I’ve braided the rope. I threw it up, and I climbed out. Now, though, now I don’t have the strength or ability or even the materials to make the proverbial rope and get out of the pit. There is no rope. Just me in the bottom of the deepest pit ever made, crying for God to come and rescue me. And I think that’s the point. I’ve never really needed to rely on God. Sure, things were hard, but I figured it out. I needed to speak Arabic, one of the hardest languages in the world, so I studied really hard. I was opening a cafe, so I drowned myself in books and articles and meetings with lawyers and accountants.
But I can’t fix this. I can’t make women come to the cafe. I can’t fix the genetic “fluke,” as the doctor called it, so we can have a child. There are no books. There are no strategies. There is just me and God.
Recently I received an email from someone joining our team for a couple of years. He was quick to tell me of his accomplishments: graduating early from high school and doing whatever in college. He shared the titles of books he’s reading as preparation for coming here. As I read his words I thought, “This was me.” I, too was younger than everyone else. I read everything I could about the Middle East, Islam and church planting. I still do. Because I do believe in reading and gleaning information.
But as I read that email I saw the ugly truth: my intelligence, my ability to see down the road at the bigger picture, my quick thinking, none of it was helping me. And it wouldn’t help him. And so I cautioned him. I told him that this will be the hardest thing he’s ever done. I told him that his character and spiritual growth meant more to us than if he had a doctorate in Arabic.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. (Genesis 37:5 NIV)
Whenever I read this passage, I picture Joseph: a haughty teenager, still waiting on his frontal lobe to fully develop and so unable to really understand the depth of what is happening. He’s all decked out in the nicest clothes while his brothers are in farm wear. And much like a little puppy all excited about a stick he’s dragging, Joseph enthusiastically shares his dreams with his brothers. They were less than amused.
I wonder if Joseph was deflated that his brothers didn’t share his delight over these dreams. I wonder if he walked back to his tent, shoulders hunched and head down. Or, if he just simply didn’t notice. In my mind, I think he didn’t notice. Because he does it again. Only this time, his brothers aren’t just annoyed, they’re irate.
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19, 20 NIV)
And at the bottom of the cistern, I wonder what Joseph was thinking. Was he regretting that he shared his dreams with his family? Was he wondering what God was doing? Was some of the haughtiness that plagues most teenagers beginning to wane? I imagine he was more than a little upset. “I have dreams! You gave them to me, God! I’m to rule over my family. Why am I in the bottom of this cistern? Why am I a servant in Potiphar’s house? Why am I in prison for doing the right thing? Have you forgotten about me?”
And I see that Joseph changed. No longer was he the haughty teenager. Now he was a humble man who did his best to be faithful to God. He accepted his fate and made the best of every situation.
I heard recently that in life there are parallel train tracks. One track is sorrow and the other joy. Sometimes we’re riding along on one, something happens and we’re jumped to the other.
But I disagree.
I think that sorrow and joy make up the two sides of the same track. And the train, our life, continues to roll down. Occasionally there’s a bump on the sorrow side, sending us reeling, but eventually, everything will straighten out. Even though there are twists and turns and at times it seems like joy isn’t there at all, if I look down at the wheels of my train, I see joy’s steady iron fittings holding me up.
Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” (Genesis 40:13-15 NIV) emphasis mine.
Joseph chose hope. Even in the darkest prison, he still hoped that he would be free. He was waiting for his dreams to be fulfilled. They were almost dead, but Joseph was clinging on to that last shred of hope, knowing that he had been faithful.
The enemy wants us to waste our time angry with our situation, bitter over betrayals. He wants to destroy our ability to function and to disengage from sharing Christ with others. He wants us to give up or to control things with such tight fists that we’re blinded to God’s hand.
And what about me?
I’m tired of people complementing me. I’m tired of hearing how much potential I have or how great I am at whatever. Those have been the anvil tied to me, pulling me down, limiting me to my own abilities and gifts. No, it’s time to cut the rope, release my gifts and wait on God. Because when he moves it will be miraculous.
And he can do so much more through my brokenness than he ever could when I had everything planned out and together.
But simply cutting off the anvil of my gifts today isn’t enough. Because there’s tomorrow and the temptation to try to fix everything. And there’s an hour from now when I’m looking at my staff knowing how much they rely on the cafe for income. And how much they need Jesus. And there’s later when I’ll see precious pictures of friends’ babies. This is a continual laying down. Every minute. Over and over. Casting everything, not just my anxieties, but my plans, thoughts, desires, gifts, everything on Jesus because he cares for me. And he cares for Arab Muslims. And he cares for Syrian refugees. And he cares for my little family of me and my husband.
And he cares about my tears.
Jesus wept. (John 11:35 NIV)
I learned something recently. There is a difference between happy tears and sad tears. Happy tears, the ones we cry when we’re laughing so hard, are merely salt water. But sad tears are altogether different. They contain chemicals and enzymes that are found in tumors, ulcers and other sicknesses throughout the body. The body, when crying in sadness, is literally flushing out all the toxins that accumulate and are a part of the heartache experience.
Crying is healthy. It’s healing.
And I’m sure Joseph cried at the bottom of the cistern. I’m sure he cried when he was sold and when he was wrongfully put in prison. And I think that maybe some of those tears cleansed him of his toxic thoughts. Thoughts that he was better than others. Thoughts of what he deserved.
Hopefully my tears are cleansing me of the toxins in my mind as well. Tumors that continually try to take me over, like thinking I did something wrong or didn’t hear God or that I wouldn’t be a good mother or that I deserve better than this pain.
And when my tears are dry and I’m left with a few empty sobs, maybe I’m able to think a little clearer, cast everything onto God and recognize that the pit I’m in is only temporary because God is faithful. Joseph continually rose to the top, just like the proverbial cream. And as I continue to let go, so will I.
A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Henri J.M. Nouwen
When two full years had passed…. (Genesis 41:1 NIV)
Two years is a long time to be stuck in a prison for something you didn’t do. I can’t imagine what Joseph thought during that time. Every morning having to attend to the needs of the prison. Every night going to bed knowing he would do the same thing tomorrow. It can really play with one’s mind. The easy thing is to give up. Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened during those years but I wonder if Joseph just resigned himself to the life he now lived.
I live in a high risk area, so we all go through security training, it’s designed to help us if we’re interrogated or imprisoned or kidnapped. Honestly, not the greatest way to spend a few days, but it’s important information. One thing they teach us is to always hope. There are two groups of those who are in situations like this: those who keep hoping for a way out and those who resign themselves to their situation. Those who keep hoping, keep looking for a way out, they are the ones who come out of the situation and are able to continue on. They aren’t susceptible to the “Stockholm Syndrome” when a captive takes on the thinking and beliefs of the captor. They make the best of an impossible situation and thrive. Like Joseph, they rise to the top. Maybe not physically, but mentally and emotionally they emphatically resist despair.
But let’s be honest for a second. No one can do this all the time. No one can be wrongly imprisoned and hold on to hope every second.
There are dark moments in the pit.
I don’t remember much about my experience with the internal security of my previous host country. I do remember them coming into my home. I remember them shutting my friend in my kitchen. I remember them going through everything I owned looking for, and finding, incriminating evidence of being a missionary. I remember being questioned. I don’t remember every question, but it remember trying so hard to answer their questions honestly but without hurting anyone else in my life.
And I remember when they left, knowing I was going to have to leave the country that had stolen my heart. And I wept. I was in a pit of despair. God could’ve moved. He could’ve blinded their eyes to all my Bibles. He could’ve done something. But he didn’t. And in the darkness of those moments I desperately held on to hope that a faithful God had a plan in this.
I’ve thought on those moments a lot recently. As I sit in the morning trying to pray or read Scripture, I think back on those moments knowing that God was faithful to me. When I’m sitting in my empty cafe wondering what God is doing, I think on those moments and remember that God was faithful. And when others ask me why we don’t have children, I remember those moments when God was faithful.
And he still is.
I may not understand the pit I’m in. It is dark and cold. I can’t see what God’s doing. But I trust that he’s doing something. I trust that he’s moving. I trust that during my time of waiting in the pit, God is accomplishing his will. I trust that he’s here and he’s drawing me closer to him. I trust that one day in his perfect time, he will reach down and pull me out like Pharaoh pulled Joseph out of the prison.
The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Genesis 41:52 NIV)
I trust that even now, God will make me fruitful in my suffering. It is true, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12 NIV). Right now my heart is sick. My hopes have been deferred for so long that I can’t see an end to the pain. But I trust that one day my longings will be fulfilled. I trust that God is at work and my heart will heal. I trust that my pain and my fruitfulness will bring glory to God.
“The closeness to God, the similarity to God, the conformity to God, not just the feeling of being close to God but the ontological real closeness to God, the God-likeness of the soul, emerges from suffering with remarkable efficiency.”
Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith