What Joseph teaches me about Thanksgiving

prayer.jpgGenesis 41 records the story of how how Joseph responded when he was presented to Pharaoh. Even though Joseph was sold out by his brothers and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, even though he spent years in slavery and prison, even though he had good reason to think that God had abandoned him, Joseph wastes no breath in self pity or bitterness.

In Genesis 37 we read that Joseph was 17 when he had his first dream. We are not told how much time goes by before he was sold into slavery, but it seems to be a fairly short time. In Genesis 41, we read that Joseph was 30 when he stood before Pharaoh. From this we can conclude that Joseph spent at least 10 years in slavery and prison. Ten years is a long time to suffer for no good reason.

Joseph emerges from prison confident in his God and in position to be God’s man in that situation. I wonder how Joseph could have endured the hardship of slavery and prison with such a good attitude.

As a slave, he was given responsibility for Potiphar’s household. As a prisoner, Joseph was given responsibility for the the other prisoners. Responsibility is not given to people who have a negative outlook on life. Responsibility is not given to people who are bitter and revengeful. Responsibility is given to those whose attitude is such that it lifts up the attitudes of the people around them.

Joseph was the kind that lifted up those around him. This is evidence that something was going on in Joseph’s thinking that allowed him to avoid self-pity and bitterness.

While the text does not specifically say so, I think that the answer has something to do with gratitude. It is hard to be thankful and whiny at the same time. It is hard to display gratitude and bitterness at the same time. Gratitude displaces bitterness and whining.

At the end of Genesis, following the death of Israel, Joseph sums up his experience at the hand of his brothers by saying, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20) I get the sense that this is not something that Joseph learned in the palace. This is a lesson that Joseph had to have learned in the prison in order to maintain such a positive outlook on life.

The knowledge that God was in control and that God meant it for good could be the only explanation as to why Joseph was not bitter when he became elevated. While in prison, he did not have a full understanding of what God was doing, but he must have had some sense of God’s presence and love.

My take-away is that while I have nothing in my life which compares to the hardship that Joseph endured, the petty trials that I endure often reveal me as a little bit whiny and prone to frustration and bitterness.

Since today is the day of Thanksgiving, what better time is there to start practicing thankfulness? I have much for which I should be thankful. If Joseph could go through his trials without bitterness or complaint, surely my petty issues are not insurmountable. I choose to be thankful.