Years ago, I went through a particularly difficult season. It felt like my life was a sand castle, which after years of careful building, was suddenly being eroded and swept out to sea. I watched as each wave came crashing ashore while retreating with a piece of my life firmly in its grasp. Powerful and overwhelming forces were at work acting like the ocean tide. It seemed at the time that I had very little power against these determined currents. My life was being forced in a direction which was not of my own choosing. It left me stunned, exhausted and completely disoriented.
I love the ocean, the sound of its crashing waves soothes my soul. I have a particularly vivid memory of staying at a friend’s beach house and falling asleep with the windows open. As I lay in bed, mesmerized by the rhythmic singing of the sea, I drifted off into one of the more relaxed and refreshing sleeps I have ever experienced. For eight hours I was back in the womb of life surrounded by the calming waters of Mother Nature. It was adult pre-natal therapy and totally unexpected but greatly appreciated.
GOT MY BOOGIE ON
So it was with great excitement that the next day I would throw myself upon these waves of love and tenderness and go Boogie Boarding. For those of you who don’t know what that is let me explain. It’s sort of like surfing, but doing it while you are lying down. For those non-sea worthy creatures such as myself, it is a much more enjoyable way of experiencing the thrill of riding waves. Otherwise, one has to endure the embarrassment of lasting a few feet while attempting to get up on a typical surfboard which you can’t control.
The great thing about boogie boards is they are relatively easy to use and one really only has to focus on learning how to “catch a wave”. Well that was my assumption anyways. There is an old saying “Assumptions can get you killed”. After a few near misses, I finally caught my first wave and hung onto the board while thoroughly enjoying the thrill of the ride. Those waves move faster than you might imagine while standing looking out from the beach. After a few more successes I knew I so had this!
With each ride I learned to balance myself on the board and to get further and further out over the crest of the wave to look down at the curl below to see how high I was. It was all terribly exciting until, like Icarus of Greek mythology, I went too far. I went over the tipping point and fell straight down into the fast moving curl of the wave. It was one thing to experience riding the wave while on top. It was an entirely different experience when I was in it! I realize I’m dating myself, and the last two generations will not understand my reference, but for you children of the 1960’s who remember Tooter the Turtle spinning while crying out “Mr Wizard, Mr Wizard!”, that was my experience as well! I was wondering where Mr. Wizard was?
Mr Wizard in this case was God as I was terrified. I had never experienced being in the midst of such power. I was spinning and churning in the wave with my extremities flying outward and not enough strength to pull any of my limbs back in. I had lost complete control of myself. I was completely powerless when suddenly I found myself face down, pinned against the ocean floor. I could feel this force rolling over me but I could not get up, it had me trapped. I was also running out of air and wondering if it was going to let me up before I ran out. Suddenly, it picked me up again and I started spinning uncontrollably as it dragged me somewhere not of my choosing. Just as I was about to breathe in the ocean water and drown, it spat me out on the sand. I laid there watching the waves retreat but too exhausted and breathing deep to move.
I looked around, saw my board washed up a few yards down the beach and retrieved it. I then started looking for the people I had come with and realized that they were a quarter mile away. Wow, this thing had not only overtaken me, it had redirected me. It was an eye opening experience which would leave an indelible imprint on me. I never again have been so cocky and presumptuous with nature’s power. I know each of us has our own stories to tell as we’ve came face to face with how really small and frail we are in the larger scheme of things. If it’s not nature, it can also be the power of organizations such as “governments, militaries, corporations even religious groups”. Then there is culture and its many systemic prejudices, attitudes and perspectives which can be oppressive. Learning how to stay on top of these waves of life and not go crashing down into them is a lifelong learning experience. We all have a few scars to show for the lessons we’ve learned and the wisdom we have gained.
WHEN THE TIDE OF LIFE GOES OUT
A few months later, I had a rather vulnerable phone conversation with my mother, who had gone through her own unexpected and overpowering experience with the forces of life. She had lost my father at a young age and was devastated by the pain of loneliness and the shattering of her dreams. She said to me; “Life is like the ocean. The tide goes out and when it does, it feels in the moment like it will never come back in, but it always does. Sometimes life is simply about surviving those few hours or that day until the tide comes back
I suspect the biblical figure Joseph could attest to such a scenario. His life was one of powerful tides coming and going while he was swept up into many of the them feeling powerless at the time. I suppose in his mind he would have thought; my life is filled with far too many dramas!
When we last left the story he was being swept up into yet another drama. As a quick refresher; remember he was first swept up into a family drama which resulted in him being deposited into a water cistern and later sold as a slave. Next, he would find himself swept up into a workplace drama where, though he responded rightly with integrity, he was unjustly thrown into prison. While in prison he was thrown into the personal dramas of two ex-government employees. The result of his involvement at that point would result in him spending another two years in prison being forgotten. I suspect he was starting to wonder if he had a target painted on him.
I can hear him now talking to himself “Enough with the dramas already!!!” He was not so lucky, God had other plans and they included a geo-political drama with national and international ramifications. At each and every turn what was at stake kept ramping up. Joseph would now find himself having to step up his game in order to navigate what was in front of him. What was in front him at the moment was a grumpy man with the power of life and death who had very little sleep the night before. Not a good scenario! Standing around the irritated Pharaoh was another group of people who were clueless as to what to do about the situation and fearing for their lives. They had no answers! Joseph was being pulled into a huge leadership vacuum which he wasn’t too sure he wanted to fill. How was he going to handle this situation was racing through his mind? It was fraught with pitfalls. A great deal was resting on how he proceeded from here.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
The ancient Egyptians were the Metrosexuals of their time. They greatly detested facial and body hair and went to great lengths to remove it. Joseph had been incarcerated so long he had to first shower, shave and get into some clean clothes to make himself presentable at the palace. Can you imagine what was going through his mind while cleaning up? He had to have been battling with a myriad of conflicting emotions. On the one hand he was temporarily getting out of prison which would have brought a sense of relief- maybe even euphoria. On the other hand, he was dealing with the Pharaoh who if he didn’t like you, would have you hung or your head lopped off immediately. He really didn’t know if he was a “dead man walking” or if he was on “the long road to freedom.” Nonetheless, off to Pharaoh’s court he was taken having absolutely no idea what was going to happen next.
Understanding the extremely precarious situation he was in, and in light of all he had been through previously, we have a clue to understanding why he responded to the Pharaoh the way he did; “I cannot do it,” [Interpret your dream] Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41:16) These are the words of a prudent man who has learned to be “slow to speak and quick to listen” while assessing the situation. This is not the same young man who was so quick to tell everyone that one day they would all bow down to him.
In weighing out his options, being humiliated and sent back to prison for ignorance was not a bad option. It was a much better option than being wrong and dying like the Baker by losing his head. As a younger man, Joseph would have proudly and confidently blurted out “I know exactly what your dreams mean because I’m God’s minister and here’s what you need to do.” His painful journey, learning the tides of life, had made him wiser, more cautious and hesitant to speak. A lesson that time and life teach us all.
NO IS NOT AN OPTION
Even though Joseph had told the Pharaoh he could not do it and God would give him his own interpretation, the Pharaoh insisted on telling Joseph his dreams. He was not taking “no or I don’t know” for an answer. Something one learns in the art of negotiating is there is a time to stay silent and a time to walk away. Often, particularly strong individuals who do not like to lose, cannot let go. That “need” becomes leverage in getting better terms. I don’t think Joseph in this situation was necessarily negotiating, but in the end it worked out the same as he got a great executive package with decision-making autonomy in his new role.
Somewhere between the events of verse 16 and verse 25 (Genesis 41) something happened inside Joseph whereby he changed his mind or his strategy. It’s possible he had one of those moments we have all had where we suddenly have clarity. Those moments can be a bit unnerving as we have no idea why suddenly something which has perplexed us is now so easily understood. These epiphanies can also be tremendously exhilarating moments much like when you are spinning your tires in the snow and they suddenly grab and you go flying forward at great speed.
God had interjected Himself into a geo-political situation and was about to change the direction of the most powerful nation in the world at the time. He gave Joseph specific insight and understanding which was going to impact the destinies of a number of other nations as well. It was a pivotal time in human history and Joseph was at the vortex of it. While those can be scary moments, Joseph had been on a difficult journey for years which had prepared him for this very strategic time in history. While possibly nervous on the inside, he composed himself well on the outside, and proceeded to meet the need of the moment with a quiet confidence this time around.
Not only did Joseph interpret the two perplexing dreams the Pharaoh had, he then proceeded in verse 33 to lay out for Pharaoh a strategic plan to fix his serious national security related economic problem. Joseph was on a roll! One cannot help but wonder how much of what Joseph was communicating to the Pharaoh was learned while a slave running Potiphar’s personal affairs or as a prisoner running a prison? For those of you familiar with the 1984 movie “Karate Kid” this was a “wax on, wax off” moment. The little individual life lessons he did not understand at the time they were happening, were now all coming to bear in one significant moment. He suddenly realized the “why” of his life. So many seemingly disconnected pieces abruptly came together resulting in Joseph having an Aha! Moment.
GOD’S WAYS ARE OFTEN UNCONVENTIONAL
Due to the fact, feeling safe and secure is such a basic human need, we love the logic and predictability of science. We love formulas with predictable outcomes which give us some sense of control over our lives. It is one of the reasons why within the religious world books which are formulaic in nature sell so well. We all want to know how to do the “right’ things to get the “right” results from God. Of course “right” always seems to look identical to what we want. Imagine that! The problem we have when reviewing the biblical narrative is facing the reality that so much of the who, what and how God does things is outside our neat and tidy perspectives and paradigms.
Don’t you find it interesting the avenue through which God strategically positioned Joseph, was by being a prisoner. Unlike a Moses, he was not born or raised in affluence or to a politically connected family. He did not go to Harvard or Yale or have any connections. As my kids would say…he wasn’t hooked up! Not only was Joseph considered a felon, his friend the Cupbearer also had a “record” and was at one point in his life likewise an outcast and reject. This is another “yeah/but” scenario which God seems to love pulling off over and over again. When looking at the situation from the perspective of how we are all trained to see, taking the advice of two former criminals would not be our first inclination. In fact, most often within the Christian community our focus would default to their supposed bad behavior and we would be unable to move past that. Most of us would have never allowed Joseph out of prison and hence there are times God chooses what we would consider pagans to accomplish His purpose… ouch! In the particular moment it was Pharaoh, in the future it will be Nebuchadnezzar King of the Babylonians and after him Cyrus King of the Persians. Over the epochs and ages, God has continued to refuse to stay within the thought boxes mankind has built to try and understand Him and control Him.