Living in a social media culture can be challenging. Post after post, we’re shown snapshots of people living their best lives. Vacation spots, bikini pics, graduation ceremonies, award celebrations. Not only do we feature our highlights, but we often filter them, causing them to look even better than they actually are.
I’m guilty of it, too. Well, definitely not the bikini pictures. But as a mom and author, I post the successes. You won’t see the messy house, pile of bills, and overwhelming fatigue. I don’t boast about one-star reviews, or feeling envious of others’ success, or the seasons of waiting.
But what if the lowlights are what grow our character most? What if our struggles and setbacks and the grind to overcome them are what God can use to not only help others but glorify Him? No one wants to go through hard times. But the reality is that life will have valleys as well as peaks, and something good can come from difficult times.
I think of Joseph – his story told in Genesis is one of the best known in the Bible, and some of his life’s events are also in the Torah and Qu’ran. Joseph was his father, Jacob’s, second to last child, and favorite. After Jacob gave Joseph a beautifully ornamented coat, his brothers became even more envious of him, and hated him. When Joseph told his brothers about his prophetic dreams, which depicted Joseph raised to a position higher than them, his brothers had had enough. They devised a plan to kill Joseph, but instead sold him into slavery to Ishmaelite traders. The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt then sold him to one of Pharaoh’s officials, who was captain of the palace guard.
Though Joseph’s time in Egypt is filled with faith, success, and triumph, he also experienced betrayal and dark days. After being falsely accused of rape, Joseph was thrown into prison. But even there, the Lord was with Joseph. Using the gift God gave him, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two other inmates. All he asked in return was that the men remember Joseph and ask Pharaoh to release him. One of the men is subsequently killed, and the other man who is released forgets Joseph.
Two years later, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams is remembered by the cup-bearer who had been in prison, and Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph says, “It is beyond my power to to do this. But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” (Genesis 41:16) After Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream, Joseph says that God is telling Pharaoh there will be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. He explains Pharoah should appoint an intelligent and wise man to take charge of the land of Egypt to ensure enough crops are collected during the seven good years, stored, then disbursed when the famine befalls the land. Pharaoh appoints Joseph to that position, and he becomes the second only to Pharaoh in rank.
Through using the ability God gave him, Joseph is instantaneously lifted from prison to the palace. He’s given a wife, who bears him two sons. Joseph names the first Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” And his second son he names Ephraim, saying, “God has made me fruitful in this land of grief.” He acknowledges the hardship that befell him, put praises God for helping him overcome it.
Just as predicted, there are seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine, which is felt throughout Egypt and the surrounding lands, as well. The famine also reached Canaan, and Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy grain. Though Joseph instantly recognizes his brothers, they don’t recognize him. Joseph puts his brothers through various tests, and when they prove they regret what they had done to Joseph and want to protect their younger brother and father from any further grief, Joseph reveals himself to them. He sends for his father, and Pharaoh allows Joseph to assign his family to the best land of Egypt to survive through the remaining years of famine. After their father’s death, the brothers fear Joseph will retaliate against them for the past. But Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)
I love this story because often the initial reaction to facing hardship is wavering faith. We wonder, why did God allow this? What have I done to deserve this? After my breakdown, I struggled to make sense of life. I felt like Joseph – betrayed, sold out, imprisoned. But, I remember coming across a quote that resonated with me.
There is no situation so chaotic that God from that situation cannot create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.” (Bishop Handley Carr Glyn Moule 1841-1920)
I had no idea how anything good could come from the mess my life had become, but I clung to the hope that my suffering would not be in vain. That belief helped me persevere and look for purpose when life felt bleak.
God did, in fact, use my suffering to deepen my faith and help me learn more about mental health issues. Having two books published with characters that are dealt complicated hands, and forced to navigate ups and down, is concrete proof that God used my worst days for something good. But not only that, but I have a testimony of God’s faithfulness that I hope can help others going through a trial.
Whether we’ve caused the mess or someone else has wronged us, no situation is too tough for God to rectify. He doesn’t forget or forsake us. He’s there with us every step of the way, no matter how dark the night or steep the climb.
Our insta-memories are fun and beautiful. We should celebrate and cherish the good times. But let’s not be afraid to show both sides of life. Whether we’re in imprisoned or elevated to power, something good can come out of our situation that can be used to help others.