It’s difficult for me to choose a favorite Biblical figure, but Joseph of the Old Testament is definitely high on my list. You’re probably familiar with the Genesis account of Joseph (especially if you, like me, grew up on the tunes from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat). If not, here’s a brief overview: Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob (son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham), the father of the nation of Israel. Because he was the firstborn son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph was the favorite child and given privileged treatment, something he lorded over his begrudging older brothers. When Joseph was a teen, his disgruntled brothers’ envy led them to throw Joseph into an empty pit with the intention of telling their father Joseph had been killed by wild animals. While Joseph was languishing in the pit, a caravan of Egyptian merchants passed by and the brothers altered course, deciding instead to sell Joseph into slavery.

Joseph went on to become a servant in the home of Potiphar, a powerful Egyptian official, and Joseph was soon made head over the household—a position that abruptly ended when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of raping her, for which Joseph was thrown into prison. He remained there for years until his gift for dream interpretation earned him favor among Pharaoh’s cup bearer; that man was freed from prison and two years later, when the Pharaoh began having unsettling dreams of his own, Joseph was summoned to offer interpretation. The Pharaoh was so pleased with what Joseph had to say that he released Joseph from prison and named him second in command over all of Egypt. Joseph was given authority over gathering and storing food during Egypt’s seven years of plenty, which ultimately preserved the lives of many Egyptians during the seven subsequent years of famine.

It was in the worst days of that famine that Joseph’s long-forgotten brothers came to Egypt, searching for food and ultimately arriving at Pharaoh’s court, where they unknowingly bowed at the feet of the brother they had left for dead. After hiding his identity from them for a time, Joseph eventually offered a grace to his brothers that they did not deserve, welcoming them back into his life and bringing redemption and wholeness to his very broken family.

In studying Joseph’s story with my Bible Study group this month, we were asked to reflect on how Joseph likely felt as he huddled at the bottom of the pit where his brothers had left him to die. Sliding into his skin in that desolate moment, I imagine that he was frightened: he probably assumed that death was imminent, and he would not have known how long the process would take or how he would suffer as his life slipped away. He was likely confused: he knew why his brothers had treated him this way, but how could his small acts of arrogance have prompted such vehement animosity from his closest kin? He was probably also angry: he did not deserve this treatment, especially when his crime had more to do with his father’s favoritism than anything Joseph himself could control. Above all, I can imagine that he felt hopeless: he assumed his life was about to end before it had even had a chance to begin, and there was nothing he could do to change his circumstances. With no means of escape and no hope of rescue, this pit would become his grave.

Joseph’s feelings in that moment were entirely valid: he had a good reason to feel frightened, indignant, downhearted, and dejected. But Joseph’s in-the-pit feelings did not tell the whole truth—the truth of a God who was bigger than His feelings and his seemingly hopeless situation. A God who had worked out an alternative ending to the one Joseph was imagining, an ending that far outshone Joseph’s wildest dreams.

I am certain that if Joseph had known, as he huddled in the depths of the pit, how his life would unfold, he would still have felt frightened, angry, and confused at his temporary circumstances. Knowledge of what was to come would not have vanquished all of his trepidation or frustration over his discomfort and present unknown. But those agonizing feelings would have been tempered by the foreknowing of what was in store. Joseph’s confusion and fear would have been mixed with excitement and anticipation for the adventures and greatness that God had planned. His hatred would have been softened by an awareness of God’s goodness and presence, the gaping wounds of indignation soothed by the abiding faithfulness of his Rescuer. If Joseph had known what was to come, he would have seen this pit for what it was: an unfortunate blip on the long road to success, fortune, purpose, and redemption.

Our study prompted us to remember Joseph’s pit situation when we encounter our own pits. When we face life’s deepest pains and challenges we, like Joseph, will likely experience grief, fear, anger, and confusion. Those feelings are probably valid and should not be ignored, but they shouldn’t exist in isolation. Those crummy feelings can be wrapped in comfort and hope as we balance the pain of those pit situations with an awareness that our future is not unknown to God. In the midst of our pain, He is still sovereign. He still knows our future, and He is still working out His master plan for our lives. Our earthly trajectory may not be as spectacular as Joseph’s (though it might be!), but we do know the ULTIMATE end that involves an eternity in the glorious presence of our Lord and Savior. With this future glory in mind, it is impossible to continuing wallowing in our despair. The pit may be dark, but that darkness will be vanquished by the blazing presence of God whose light gives context to our temporal pain.

Joseph’s story offers us encouragement when we find ourselves in similar situations, and I think it is just as important to reflect on this encouragement when we aren’t in a pit. It can be hard to reflect on the light from the depths of a hard time. Rehearsing the joy, comfort, and presence of the Lord outside of the pit prepares our hearts for the pits that will inevitably come. We can make trust in God’s faithfulness our default so that it comes naturally, in good times and in bad.

These lessons are beneficial for us as adults; they are also important ones for us to be teaching our kids. In her most recent book, Abigail Shrier talks about the current mental health crisis among today’s youth that she believes is a result of allowing kids to wallow in their feelings. (I should note that I haven’t yet read the book, but have heard Shrier talk about it on several podcasts.) In spending too much time letting our kids focus on their negative emotions, we’ve forgotten to train them in resilience. We’ve neglected to teach them that those negative feelings can be overcome. In other words, we’ve taught kids to give in despair when they find themselves in a pit.

Our kids’ feelings are not bad or wrong, but they are not the whole story. Our kids (like us!) need training in experiencing their emotions within the broader context of what God can do and is doing in their lives. Those bad feelings are not the end. For them and for us, there is hope and a future in Christ! The pit is not the ultimate end. And how we feel about being in the pit is not the whole truth. Joseph learned this. My prayer is that we will, too.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of our emotions that help us make sense of our circumstances. And we thank you that our emotions are not the whole story! We give you thanks and praise for the hope that you offer, and we pray that you will help us to remember this hope when all seems hopeless.

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