Every other year at this time our daily lectionary readings take us through the Joseph saga. He is the 11th and favorite son of Jacob. His brothers are jealous of him, sell him into slavery, and let their father believe he is dead. Joseph is taken to Egypt and sold again but experiences some good fortune even as a slave. He shuns the affection of his master’s wife, whose scorn leads to imprisonment for Joseph, but there he proves himself a wise interpreter of dreams. When Pharaoh begins to have troubling dreams, he calls on Joseph and his interpretations lead to good fortune for Pharaoh and for Joseph himself. Eventually Joseph is reconciled to his brothers who come to Egypt during a famine and are forgiven by Joseph for all they did to him.
How was it that Joseph was able to come to a place of forgiveness? How did he find the grace to set aside all the wrongs that had been done to him by his brothers? His life turned out pretty good in Egypt but how much better might it have been had he not been sold into slavery? Joseph is famous for his generous statement to his brothers, when they ashamedly discover he is still alive and now has power over them: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good….” (Genesis 5:20). He could have had them all killed but he forgave them and moved on.
Moving on is pretty hard to do. We all have things which hold us back, things we continue to hold onto which hinder our progress in life. Old wounds, abuse and negligence, grievances, are hard to get past. Every time we see those who have offended us, or even think of them, all the old pain rushes back and holds us captive. Moving on sounds like such a good idea but how do we do it? How did Joseph get to that place? Was he just a better person than you and me, or can we learn from his story and find ways to move on in our journey?
It seems that a great advantage Joseph had was that he was sent far away, to Egypt, instead of having to remain in the same town with his brothers who hated him and mistreated him. Had Joseph been rescued from the pit he was thrown into by his brothers and gone back to living amongst them, I wonder how long it would have been before they actually did kill him. His being sent to Egypt saved his life, allowed him to get some distance from the situation and develop some perspective. From that more detached perspective, Joseph came to see God’s grace above his brothers’ cruelty. But had he not developed that detached perspective, I bet the story would have turned out much different.
Modern therapeutic wisdom speaks of detachment as necessary for a healthy life. If we are hooked or enmeshed in a problem, we get caught in a series of harmful reactions to pain. If I can step back from a problem and look at it from all sides, if I can protect myself well enough so that I don’t take the actions of others so personally, then I can find some understanding and the ability to take care of myself. If I can’t do that, I get stuck hating the people who have hurt me and blaming them for everything that is wrong in my life. “If only they had not done that to me, or if only they had provided for me, then I wouldn’t be in this horrible place.”
Sometimes in our relationships we just have to go Egypt. We have to find a way to get a little detachment. We have to separate ourselves from the hurt and the pain so that we can see things more clearly and begin to take responsibility for the things that are within our control. One of the problems with being enmeshed in the pain of a relationship is that we don’t really know where the other person stops and we begin. We give all the power to the offending person or the painful situation. We feel like there is nothing we can do to stop the pain and we lose all sense of hope. We sink into victim mode and act like a victim even around the people who are not hurting us.
It might be said that, with this pandemic, we have all been sent to Egypt. Along with the many disadvantages of our situation, there is the advantage of being allowed some space to develop perspective. While we tend to our more immediate circumstances, we are removed for a while from our more normal encounters, and that may form a place of relief. Just not having to deal with a certain relationship or situation for a while might very well be helpful. Some healing and forgiveness may be formed in our distancing.
But what if we are now isolated with someone that we’re not really in a good place with? Most of our more challenging relationships are with family members after all. If that is the case, then this is a necessary time to develop some detachment. In those situations, we can remind ourselves that everyone has their own struggles. We can focus on healthier ways of communicating. We can coach ourselves to remember that we are not in control of the behavior of others, but we certainly are in control of our own behavior. We can learn to “go to Egypt” for moments at a time and detach from the pain someone has caused us. We can pray for the ones who cause us harm. We can pray for wisdom and patience. We can examine unreasonable expectations we have in our relationships. We can address painful behavior directly and ask for what we need. We can learn to take our pain less personally. We can give more power to God than we give to our threatening situation.
How might you need to go to Egypt? How might these unusual times of distancing become a time of growth and transformation? The abundance of God’s grace awaits.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Public Gatherings in Churches Suspended through April
The Bishop of Alabama has suspended all public gatherings in churches, including Sunday worship, through the end of April. We will continue to offer daily Morning Prayer at 8:10 a.m. and Compline at 9:00 p.m. on Facebook. We will also offer worship on Sundays at 10:30 via Facebook and YouTube. Recordings of those Sunday services will be posted on our website. Please contact Robert with any pastoral needs or concerns: 334-312-0347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping Pledges Current
During the time in which St. John’s is closed to group gatherings and public worship, our expenses continue. You can mail your offerings in using your pledge envelopes and adding a stamp. You also can use Bill Pay through your bank or instruct your bank to do an automatic draft. Thank you for your continued faithfulness in your stewardship.