“So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ . . . And he kissed his brothers and wept upon them, and after that his brothers talked with him.” Genesis 45:4, 15
One of the greatest blessings of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday (and Christmas to follow) is the gathering of family. Ironically, one of the greatest hazards of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday (and Christmas to follow) is the gathering of family. That’s right. As a pastor, I annually spoke with couples who had great fears about all the family members gathering under the same roof. The problems can range from the relatively benign (Uncle Jake leaving his spit cup by the couch and wearing camouflage to the dinner table) to the more serious (events that occasion police intervention).
Family gatherings can be comforting, comical, and even combustible. As odd as it may sound, families can interfere with genuine thanksgiving. In fact, more than merely being uncomfortable or inconvenient bad memories and soured relationships can be a source of tremendous pain.
The scripture for this week’s GraceWaves comes from one of the most moving scenes in all of scripture. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. He had endured a terrifying ordeal but had ascended to the right hand of Pharaoh. All the while his brothers thought him gone forever and probably dead. During a famine in Canaan, they journeyed to Egypt for grain and probably were baffled by having to meet with such a high official. After concealing his identity, Joseph revealed himself in a scene of tender forgiveness and reconciliation. The brothers that were the source of his wounds became the source of his healing.
We can learn many lessons about family pain and healing from Joseph’s story that might help you have a better Thanksgiving.
First, much of the pain in your life will come from the people closest to you. Family and friends are on your inner circle, and you have to be close in order to reach out and strike someone else. You can forget about a rude stranger, but you will bear the scars of a harsh family relationship for a lifetime. Your heart will ache when you recall a friend that is no longer a friend. Close relationships offer great blessings, but also the potential for great pain.
Second, your healing often comes through relationships. I walk very carefully through this minefield and ask you to pay close attention. Some people have suffered tremendous damage at the hands of a parent or sibling, and as much as we might want it to be so, you cannot always repair a relationship, and sometimes you do not need to try. However, often God will work on your heart and the heart of the estranged family member, and provide an opportunity for reconciliation. God did that for Joseph and his brothers, and Joseph likely would never have been whole without the story in Genesis 45. The same relationship that caused the damage is often the same relationship that provides the restoration. Your healing may come through the person that hurt you.
Third, because of the potential for reconciliation, cultivate a forgiving spirit. Joseph probably was not always open to this possibility, but God worked with him. Whether or not you ever get a chance for reconciliation, you still do not want to carry with you a burden of bitter disappointment and anger. Forgive, pray a blessing, and move forward, always open to the opportunity God may provide. As Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).
Honestly, sitting down at the table next week is probably not the most opportune time to resurrect painful memories and try to settle old scores. You can, however, be genuinely thankful to God who mysteriously weaves His will into the fabric of a willing life. And you can always show kindness and grace. Those twin virtues are never inappropriate.
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 15, 2010