Your Story Matters: When Suffering Tempts Us to Shake An Angry Fist at God...or Maybe Even a Finger
Seven year old Zach thinks it’s hilarious to talk smack to his older brothers 7 and 10 years his seniors. It’s all super funny until one of them smacks him upside the head or smothers him with a pillow. He then comes crying to me and yells, “Mom, deal with him!” pointing a bony finger to the culprit brother wearing the biggest grin. That brother then whines and points back at Zach, “HE started it!!!!” Okay, tough guy who can beat up a 7 year old.
I can’t wait until Zach comes into his own and beats the crap out of them both. Big bullies.
When Suffering Doesn't Seem Fair
Watching Zach suffer at the hands of 2 older brothers gives me sympathy for Joseph, one of the youngest brothers of 12, the sons of Jacob. Did he ever have a body free from bruises or rug burns? How many wet willies and wedgies did he endure over the years? How many of them were well deserved? After all, Scripture says that little Joe worked with his brothers in the field and always brought back bad reports to his dad. So he was a tattle tale, too, and kind of a spoiled brat. His dad loved him the most, and his brothers hated him for it.
When Joe was 17, he had a dream that he was going to rule over his brothers, and like an idiot, he told them about it. Younger brothers don’t quite have the sense to keep their mouths shut. In older brother like fashion, they threw him in a well. Yeah, I get that. At our house, there aren’t enough wells for the older brothers to throw Zach in for all the wise ass comments he makes. Our neighbor has one, so that would be the first place I’d look…
Joe’s brothers can’t decide if they want to kill him or just fake his death, and they finally agree to sell him into slavery. They tell their father he was eaten by a wild animal. This is where sibling rivalry gets taken to a new level. My boys may get on each other’s nerves and do a little time in the ER, but I seriously doubt they’ve ever considered selling their brother. On second thought…
To be fair, perhaps Joseph’s brothers didn’t really think that through, either. An opportunity simply presented itself, and in typical boy-like fashion, one of them came up with the wild idea, and they all stupidly agreed. But then to watch your father mourn his death and never tell him the truth? That’s some serious dysfunction.
We are all too relieved to get to the end of that story where Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt years later and actually bow down to him, and he yells, “IN YOUR FACE!”
Well, that’s what I would have done. You, too?
What To Do With Our Negative Turns
Joseph’s story is filled with negative turns*. Not only do his brothers hate him and sell him, he spends time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and he doesn’t come into power until years later. It seems SO unfair. Sure, he was a brat to his brothers, but years of suffering before he finally gets to be who God created him to be?
I can relate all too well. As I’ve attempted to live out my dreams, I always come up lacking. I entered a teaching career in my 20s that brought pain and frustration, and I was diagnosed with severe depression, spending time in a mental hospital, and living daily with the affects of it. The year I got married, 3 of my grandparents died, and my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer and died the next. This was not how my story was supposed to go.
But in a good story, we LOVE the negative turns because they build suspense: Will our hero get what he wants? Or will he give up?
My negative turns seem to derail me from God’s vision to live out my calling. And the enemy always reminds me what a failure I’ve been. I wonder if Joseph ever felt that way. He was supposed to be a leader, not sold into slavery, accused of rape and thrown into prison!
We aren’t privy to his thoughts and feelings about this. What we are privy to is THIS scene:
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. -Genesis 45:4-7
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. -Genesis 50:19-21
Had he not been in slavery or prison, he never would have had opportunities to lead in Potipher’s house. In fact, it was the negative turns and the YEARS that trained him and got him into place when God needed him to lead Israel.
The Purpose of Suffering, But I Still Don't Like It
We all have negative turns, and we are tempted to shake an angry fist at God and sometimes even a finger. Except not any more.
Because our suffering reveals our passions and prepares us to fulfill the dreams God has given us.
What passions has your suffering revealed?
A ministry to teach, encourage and serve those who struggle like you
Skills learned you can now use to help others
Hidden gifts and talents you didn't know you had
New Career Opportunities
I still hate suffering. I still don't want to go through pain, but will we trust God with our negative turns?
Because in a good story, the hero saves a cat or 2. And it's the negative turn that leads them to the cat that needs saving.
Let’s be ready.
*Donald Miller has taught me so much about story and negative turns.