Joseph is one of my favorite Bible characters. After studying his life for the past year, I have developed a love/hate relationship with this Old Testament hero, both for the same reasons. He stood faithful in God, no matter what happened.
No matter who lied or betrayed him, no matter how far down in the pit life pushed him, he kept serving and looking to God. He stayed centered on God when most of us would have given up on God and our dreams.
But I want to look at one aspect of Joseph’s life that is often not discussed but is both encouraging and challenging.
Most people agree that Joseph came from a very dysfunctional home: 9 older jealous brothers, 3 step-moms, and a doting father who was clued-out as to the effect that his favoritism was having on his family.
After studying Joseph’s life, what I see is a loner. He was a loner but never alone. He was too Egyptian for his family and too Jewish for the Egyptians. At the end of Genesis when Jacob dies, his brothers are still living in fear of Joseph, and have never really accepted him. Before Joseph dies his wish is to be buried with his ancestors and not as an Egyptian hero.
He was a loner to the end who I believe really never belonged anywhere except with God.
It makes Joseph’s story all the more amazing that he was able to stay centered on God without the benefit of church groups, men’s ministry, or any support network. He stood centered on God with little help from his “brethren”, and he made it, big time.
I am not advocating pulling back from fellowship, living in a cave with Jesus and not going to church. Joseph had no choice. We all need to be part of one another; we all need fellowship. But there are those of us who, like Joseph, just don’t seem to fit. I can personally relate, which is why I am so intrigued by Joseph’s life.
My Personal Struggle to Belong
In many ways I identify with Joseph. Like others who find themselves struggling to fit, I tried the usual things – impress others by getting more education, being better at sports, making more money – but the outside stuff won’t heal the inside.
It is exhausting to continually try to fit and belong in the kingdom, yet always feeling like an outsider, wondering if the feeling of being part of “the team” will ever happen. The defense mechanisms that go along with this are like band aids – they may seem to protect – they may try to hide a nasty wound, but they don’t actually heal.
On the other hand, I’m not suggesting that the answer is to do the “lone ranger” thing either. What I am saying is that our hope is in being centered on God.
God has been showing me so clearly that I need to be focused on Him. My kudos, my value, my worth, my identity is all in Him and Him alone. To often those of us who struggle with belonging set ourselves up for failure because we either try too hard to fit and people react, or we expect to fail, and end up annoying people by our attitudes, and then walk away confirming our rejection.
The Lesson of a Dog
I received an epiphany on how to deal with this from our family dog. It came to me as I was walking and praying about this whole issue one day. God kept saying the same words to me as my wife says to our dog: “Look at me!”
To explain, our mutt was a pound puppy who came to us with a lot of fears and reactions – came from what you might call a dysfunctional background! He had been at the shelter for his fifth, sixth and seventh months of life, and we adopted him literally the day before he was to be put down. He was quite wild and crazy, and “needing a home with people who were willing to work with him”.
My wonderful wife worked with him until he now almost seems normal. One of the keys to training him are the phrases, “Look at me”, and “What do I have?” My wife has become our dog’s focal point, the calm in the midst of the storm.
She is the source of all that is good for our dog – treats, praise, pets, love, and again, treats! When squirrels and cats are line dancing on our front lawn and our dog is losing control, those few words change his whole crazy world.
I yell and the dog hears nothing; my wife calmly gets a treat and says in a normal voice, “Look at me,” and everything else fades for our dog as he centers on my wife’s face, tail wagging, sitting obediently, licking his chops and centered on the one person who can make sense of a crazy world.
God’s Lesson to Me
When I cried out, “God, what am I to do?” the answer came back from my heavenly Father, “Look at Me.” When the cats of life are driving me squirrely, and I don’t seem to know where I fit or belong, the answer is, “Look at Me.”
Remember this heart cry of our loving Father to all of us, even if we feel like outsiders or lepers. As we respond by being centered on His face, all the other “stuff” just fades into oblivion, and He will make sense of our world.