Was Joseph as a spoiled brat who loved to lord it over his brothers and pretty much got what he deserved? Was he a wise determined young man who did everything he could to end his family's sad history of deception and dysfunction? Was he simply as an innocent victim of the twists and turns of life?
Were the events in his life chance happenings, so all he could do was make the best of it? Or were they results of his choices - or God's choices - or both?
Could it be that what happens to us is meant to affect what happens in us? Could it be that the events of our lives are invitations from God to enter into partnership with Him? Do our choices and God's choices somehow work in partnership to move us through the tough times into the next chapter of our life story?
A faith grip helps bring an attitude adjustment to life. Consider Joseph, Jacob's youngest son. He had two grand dreams in which he saw his brothers and family bowing to him; since his father already showed favoritism to him, his brothers were jealous and despised Joseph. One day, his father sent him to bring greetings and supplies to his brothers, who were in a distant field. But out of their spite, his brothers threw him into a pit to die. One brother, however, thought better of it, so they sold him into slavery. "Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there" (39:1). Joseph became a slave. Imagine what it must have been like for this seventeen- or eighteenyear-old hitched to a camel, bound to people he didn't know, leaving behind his family and home, with no idea what the future held, and wondering, Where is God? What's the future hold for me? What about my dreams? He was a hostage, taken where he did not want to go, with a people he did not want to be with, in a situation he did not create. Talk about the going being tough. When have you been a hostage held by a situation you didn't create, a situation beyond your control? An illness? A handicap? A job for which you weren't prepared? Or no job at all? Maybe you're being held hostage by the loss of a loved one or the pain of a shattered relationship.
You cannot seem to move forward. Perhaps you feel captive in your marriage or family. Whatever your situation, you're in a circumstance in which you'd never put yourself, in a place you do not want to be. When there is no apparent way out, you have a choice. You can sit and moan, gripe and complain. You can reminisce about how great life used to be and how unfair it now is. But fretting over what's lost or left behind only immobilizes you. Fighting, griping, and complaining only wastes energy. Like a horse in a halter, if you struggle too hard, you'll strangle yourself. So what can you do? Like Joseph, you can apply a faith attitude and use your pitfall as a launching pad. Begin by accepting your current situation. Joseph accepted his. He was learning what an anonymous poet captured beautifully.
We climbed the height by the zigzag path
And wondered why-until
We understood it was made zigzag
To break the force of the hill.
A road straight up would prove too steep
For the traveler's feet to tread;
The thought was kind in its wise design
Of a zigzag path instead.
It is often so in our daily life;
We fail to understand
That the twisting trail our feet must tread
By love alone was planned.
Then murmur not at the winding way,
It is our Father's will
To lead us home by the zigzag path,
What about your zigzag paths? Can you identify some? Are you traveling one now? Can you accept it?
Joseph accepted his situation and did the best he could in it. He wasn't just an ordinary slave; he was a faithful, obedient slave. Later, he wasn't a common prisoner; he was a helpful, obedient prisoner. He wasn't any household manager; he was an extraordinarily loyal and responsible manager. He did what was required of him and then some.
On your zigzag paths, do what is required of you and then some. The parable of the pencil portrays the principle.
A pencil maker took a pencil aside just before putting him in a box. "There are five things you need to know," he told the pencil, "before I send you out in to the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be. "One: You'll be able to do many great things but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone's hand.
"Two: You'll experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you need it to become a better pencil.
"Three: I will be able to correct mistakes you might make.
"Four: The most important part of you will always be what's inside. "And Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write."
When the going gets tough, turn your pitfall into a launching pad. Keep writing your story. Your mind-set makes all the difference in the world.
Consider two paraplegics who appeared in the news about one week apart. One was Kenneth Wright, a high school football star, an avid wrestler, boxer, hunter, and skin diver. In 1979, he sustained a broken neck in a wrestling match. He underwent therapy; the doctors were hopeful he would one day walk with braces and crutches. But at age twenty-four, he committed suicide. The second paraplegic was Jim McGowan. At age nineteen, he was stabbed and was paralyzed from the middle of the chest down. He was confined to a wheelchair. Yet eventually, he made news by making a successful parachute jump into the middle of a target in the Pocono Mountains. He has lived alone, cooked his meals, washed his clothes, and cleaned his house. He drove a specially equipped automobile, wrote three books, and did the photography for America's first book on the history of wheelchair sports. He has since attempted to swim the English Channel.
Attitude and mind-set make a difference. As the legendary John Wooden wrote, "Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out." No matter what, keep writing your story.
You might as well serve the best you can where you are because you cannot serve where you are not.
The Rev. Curry Pikkaart earned his BA degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa and his Master of Divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Since 1974 he has pastored congregations in Sioux Center, Iowa, and Holland, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and South Haven Michigan. He is a trained Bethel Bible Teacher, Stephen's Minister, Ministry Coach, and Prepare Enrich Pre-marital Inventory Administrator. He retired from full-time pastoral ministry in September of 2015.