Monday, January 13, 2014

Have you ever felt forgotten?

Yet the chief cupbearerer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. -Genesis 40:23
 After TWO WHOLE YEARS, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile,  -Genesis 41:1, the very next verse)

Today, I read Genesis 40-42, basically the story of Joseph's journey from a prisoner in Pharoah's prison, to his rise as the one in Egypt second only to Pharoah in power and rule.   The thing that really caught my eye today were the verses I highlighted above.  All along, Joseph was being faithful with the responsibilities God had given him to do, and using his gifts and talents to be a blessing to those around him.  Up to this point in this story, it seems like Joseph is just continually getting the short end of the stick.  He even gives the cupbearer and the baker the interpretation of their dreams, and asks the cupbearer to remember him when he is restored to his place in Pharoah's house.  But no.  Instead, this verse tells us that TWO WHOLE YEARS pass before anyone remembers Joseph. 

 For us, it is the span of two verses, that we read in an instant.  But for Joseph, I wonder how slowly that time passed.  I wonder how often the temptation crept in to doubt God, or to wonder if God had forgotten him.  As I read these passages, one of my favorite psalms came to mind, Psalm 13.  It is a pretty short psalm, one written by David, and it begins,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

I always liked this psalm, because I could identify with it.  I mean, sometimes, it is a painful thing to wait on the Lord.  Especially when you feel forgotten.  

Maybe you are the girl who is still single, and the greatest desire of your heart is to marry a  young man.  And you are watching all your friends marry, you are being the bridesmaid at all the weddings, and meanwhile, there is no young man in site for you.  So you keep trudging on, to school or to work, day in, day out, and wondering why others make falling in love with the right person look so easy.  I am not that young anymore, but I remember feeling that way at one time. 

Maybe marriage isn't the issue at all. Maybe, like me, you have struggled with the two headed beast of anxiety, or depression.   Maybe you had a dream at one time, like Joseph, but instead of living that dream, your life feels like a treadmill of work and eating and sleeping.  Or maybe, for no reason you can pinpoint, you just struggle to get up in the morning, because it feels like you are living underneath a cloud of sadness.

Or maybe you are married, but childless.  And for months, or years (though when you are waiting on something, months can often FEEL like years), you have attended baby showers for your friends, and made dinners for those friends when their babies came, and hoped and prayed for a child of your own.  And no child has come.  yet.  But when your arms are empty, while you watch others' arms so full, that waiting can feel like forever.  And though you can keep the doubts at bay most days, on some days it's harder, and you wonder: has God forgotten me, or does he really care about my pain at all?

Or maybe you have a child, but instead of the dreams you envisioned for that child of a normal, healthy life, you are instead watching that child struggle, day in, day out, with a life-altering disease, say for instance,  Crohn's disease.  I will use our experience here, because it is what I know, but it could be any diagnosis, like juvenile diabetes, or asthma, or even as rare as renal HSP.  Whatever it is, I know God is a healer, and he still works miracles.  I believe he guides us as parents to help our children.  But sometimes, for whatever reason, God holds back.  You are waiting, and trusting, and your child is still struggling.  And you watch, and it hurts so bad to watch, you wish that YOU were the one struggling to breathe, or having stomach aches.  Because what you want for your kid is that they can be well, that they won't have to deal with inhalers and nebulizers, with medications and colonoscopies and NG feeding tubes, with specialists  and wheelchairs.  So you read, you study, you get advice left and right (some of it conflicting, by the way), but ultimately, you know it is in God's hands.  And while others around you seem to think nothing of taking their kids to the park, you realize that your life has changed fundamentally, and things that used to be no big deal feel like planning an expedition.  And the temptation is there, to doubt and to wonder: has God forgotten me? 

Or maybe, it's worse than that.  And I admit, I have never gone through this, but I have loved those who have, and my heart has ached for them.  Maybe you are the parent of a child who is now in the arms of Jesus.  I can't begin to fathom the pain of missing them, or the hole that must fill your heart.  It seems unendurable to me, and it is easy for those like me who have never experienced such loss to whitewash over it, to breeze past it.   Because, frankly, pain makes most of us uncomfortable.  We want to sail onward to the happy ending, not sit with you in the sackcloth and ashes.  But for you, the reminders are there daily.  And God is faithful; he can indeed give the garments of praise for the garments of mourning; he can give you peace in the midst of deep despair.  He can work supernaturally in your heart to cause you to dance when the world says you should be on your face in the dust.  I have seen him do this, for dear friends.  But that doesn't mean there won't be any dark days, or it won't still hurt to miss them.  I am sure the temptation is there, to ask that question at times: Has God forgotten me? 

I have never lived all these situations, but only a few of them.  I have never been in prison, like Joseph in the Bible.  But that doesn't change the answer the Bible has given me here: the answer, my friend, is NO!  God has NOT forgotten you!  We  should not judge God's love for us by our circumstances, but by His word.  And that is why we need His word, day in, and day out: to remind us and to transform our thinking, so that when the trials come (I said WHEN, not IF), we will persevere in them, and our faith will be such that we will be able to say, like the Psalmist in Psalm 13, when he has remembered and reminds himself:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 

 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The thing I see in Joseph's story, also, in Genesis 40-42, is that with the plans of God, no pain is pointless, for the child of God.  When we give our heartaches, and our struggles to Him, when we submit ourselves to him in faith, he doesn't promise immediate deliverance, but he does promise he will not leave us or forsake us; he will walk with us through every struggle and trial.  And we cry out to him, he will give us peace that passes understanding.  And he will use every trial, every struggle, if we give it to Him, for our good and His glory.    And best of all, he will open our eyes more fully to all the ways he has indeed dealt bountifully with us, even in the midst of pain and suffering.  

We may be like Corrie ten Boom's sister, who praised God for fleas in the concentration camps during WWII.  In Corrie's book the Hiding Place, Corrie writes, 

We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw.

..Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me asecond to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ’He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

“‘Oh yes:’…“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’

She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

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