Stepping Down

The story of Joseph, the dreamer, is one of privilege, falling, rising, and ultimately choosing humility. You can find it in Genesis 37-50. Joseph dreamed of his own greatness, his family bowing down to him. His brothers threatened to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery. This was his first falling. He rose to prominence in the household of an Egyptian noble named Potiphar, but fell again in a scandal with Potiphar’s wife. He rose again through his ability to interpret dreams and became Pharaoh’s right-hand man, in charge of Egypt’s economy and agriculture. He stored seven years of grain in anticipation of a seven-year famine that struck the region.

When the famine struck, his brothers came to beg from Pharaoh’s abundance. You can imagine how Joseph might have felt upon seeing them begging in front of him, poor, disheveled, hungry. It was the fulfillment of all his dreams. It was vengeance served cold. They didn’t even recognize him because he was all done up Egyptian-style, obviously the most powerful man around with the exception of Pharaoh himself.

At that moment, Joseph had a choice. He could lord his self-importance over his brothers, taunt and belittle them, and force them to bow down. He could reveal his identity to them with a sneer and the arrogance his position afforded. Or he could embrace his brothers, reveal his true identity, forgive them and offer them a chance to prosper and flourish together. Read Genesis 45 to find out what Joseph does.

My life has certain parallels to Joseph’s. I have, at times, been very arrogant and full of myself. I have had dreams of greatness in which I am the central and most important figure. And I have fallen. I have fallen from my presumed greatness as my weaknesses and vulnerabilities were exposed. At times I have rallied and pushed back, trying to reestablish my ego, my self-driven significance, only to find myself falling again.

I have lots of stories of falling, times when things did not work out the way I wanted or hoped or dreamed, times when my best plans (the ones in which I was in charge) met the cold, harsh wall of reality. What I have discovered over time (trust me, it took a long time to figure this out), is that falling can be a blessing. I’ve learned that when my ego is crushed, there is something more real than the self I like to project for others. That real self, hidden deep inside, is who God made me to be.

By the time the story is told in Genesis 45, Joseph has discovered this too. He steps off his throne, unmasks himself in front of his brothers, embraces them and weeps on their shoulders. He steps off the dais of his self-importance to reveal who he really is on the inside, a brother who never stopped loving his family. He steps into their suffering and embraces their pain, finding his true self in self-giving.

A simple thing every person can do to help the true self emerge is to act intentionally to care for another person with compassion. When I see the suffering of another person, I sometimes recoil. My instinct is to protect myself. I’ve found that by stepping into their suffering, listening to their story, and offering what support I can, my soul bursts open, my real, true self emerges. I learn to see both the other person and myself in the light of God’s love.

This week as you encounter various people, notice where people seem to be struggling or suffering, where pain and shame dwell. Take a risk. Step off the throne of your own self-importance and into their suffering. Step out of your fear and into their pain.  Listen. Love. Lend a helping hand. If you have an encounter that feels warm and beautiful and full of mercy and light, share it here, please. In doing so, you will be giving us all a glimpse of the kingdom of God breaking forth in our midst.

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