From Forgiveness by Matthew West
THE POWER TO WISH THEM WELL
I was given up for adoption when I was born. For the last eighteen years, I have searched for my birth parents. I had always wondered if I had my father’s eyes or maybe my mom’s hair. I wanted to find them. I wanted to know why they didn’t want me. I wanted them to tell me why they gave me away. Finally, after all those years of searching, I found my birth father. He agreed to see me, so we made arrangements to meet for the first time ever. I will never forget that day. I was so scared, but excited at the same time. I’d never had a chance to be his little girl. I hoped that maybe this could be the start of a relationship I had longed for my whole life. I looked my father in the eyes for the first time, and the first thing he said to me was “You were just a mistake.” I have carried those words with me ever since, and I’ve had the hardest time moving on from that hurtful moment. I don’t know if I can ever forgive him for giving me up—or for those hurtful words that broke my heart all over again. -Anonymous
Reading this story hurt my heart. I don’t even know this young woman, but I found myself feeling so angered by the thought that anyone would ever have to hear such damaging words. “You were just a mistake” was salt in the already deep wound of abandonment that she carried from knowing that her parents gave her up at birth. First “unwanted”; now a “mistake.” How can someone who’s been abandoned even begin the process of forgiveness when the hurt is so profound?
Perhaps we can learn a few lessons from the story of Joseph. Like Anonymous, Joseph was unwanted. His father, Jacob, loved Joseph. In fact, Scripture says, “Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age” (Genesis 37:3). Jacob gave Joseph, a beautiful robe, a coat of many colors. As one might imagine, Joseph’s brothers were not cool with this. Joseph may have been Jacob’s favorite son, but he quickly became his brothers’ least favorite sibling: “his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4). To make matters worse, Joseph had some dreams that led him to believe that someday he would rule over all the land, including his father and brothers. As one might imagine, this interpretation did not improve his standing with his brothers. So the brothers made a plot to kill Joseph, but then wound up going easy on him and instead decided to sell him off as a slave. That’s brotherly love for you.
The Bible says, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master” (Genesis 39:2). After several years, Joseph’s dreams became reality as he rose from the status of a slave to a position of great power. Pharoah made Joseph second-in-command, and all the people had to submit to him, including his brothers who were now in great need because of a famine in their land. The tables had indeed turned, and now Joseph found himself in a position to repay his brothers for the hurt and the separation they had caused.
If you read Joseph’s entire story, he was clearly conflicted about whether to forgive his brothers or get revenge. His choice to forgive did not come overnight. He labored over his decision between justice and mercy. Joseph “broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him” (Genesis 45:2). Even for this hero of the faith, forgiveness did not come easily— and it’s easy to understand why. His brothers had literally thrown him away. His own flesh and blood were the reason he spent all those years in slavery. But now, years later, Joseph had a different perspective on that series of events. He was seeing things from a much broader vantage point. He could see that God had orchestrated even their evil actions to lead him to this great position of power and eventually fulfill those prophecies revealed in dreams years before. God transformed his brothers’ curse into Joseph’s blessing. And this priceless perspective ultimately led Joseph to experience the freedom of forgiveness when he revealed his identity to his brothers: “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Genesis 45:4–5).
As Scripture says, “The Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2). And so once again Joseph succeeded. He succeeded where many of us have failed. Joseph took a leap toward forgiveness, a choice that enabled his relationship with his family to start over again. Joseph not only forgave his brothers for what they had done, but he didn’t even blame them—and told them not to be angry with themselves. Then Joseph promised to take care of his entire family so they would be protected from the famine. Lewis B. Smedes wrote, “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” Joseph had reached that point where he was willing not only to forgive his brothers, but also to look after their wellbeing. How was this transformation possible for Joseph? Because he understood that God’s plan was bigger than his brothers’. He told them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” ” (Genesis 50:20).
©2013 by Matthew West
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