Joseph’s life was riddled with trials and bumps in the road that he never saw coming. As soon as he rose to the top, he seemed to get slammed back down to the bottom. When Joseph was seventeen, he was sold, by his brothers, into slavery in Egypt. What probably made this a particularly bitter experience is that Joseph had seen a vision showing that he was chosen of God to be a ruler over his brothers. Being sold into Egypt as a slave must have seemed like a DIRECT contradiction to a promised blessing from the Lord. It seemed the Lord had promised one thing and allowed quite the opposite to happen. That must have been, to say the least, a very confusing time. As Joseph trudged along to Egypt, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking, “Yes! Becoming a slave is the next logical step to becoming a noble ruler!” But there is no record of any bitterness or complaint from Joseph. I am astounded that Joseph’s attitude seemed to be, “Well, I’m a slave now. I can’t change that, but I can be the best slave there ever was!” He put his whole heart and soul into his work and before long, his master, Potiphar, “saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 29:3). Potiphar appointed him overseer over his house.
All was well until Potiphar’s wife desired Joseph. Joseph chose to be chaste. He did the right thing and ended up being thrown into prison. And prisoner is a step down from slave! Whenever I think my life is unfair, I think of Joseph and suddenly, my life doesn’t seem so bad =) He could have a few good talks with those of us who think life isn’t fair =)
As if being a slave (or a prisoner!) weren’t hard enough, I think maybe the hardest thing about it was the fact that he hadn’t done anything to deserve it. The scriptures teach that if we keep the commandments, God will bless us. While that is always true, the blessings may not always be immediate or obvious. Being righteous does NOT guarantee that we will not have trials. But we do have this promise:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).
There may be no better example of the truth of this scripture than Joseph’s life!
Please remember this one thing. If our lives…are centered upon Jesus Christ…nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and His teachings, no other success can be permanently right (Howard W. Hunter, “Following the Mater: Teachings of Howard W. Hunter,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, pg. 21)
There is a purpose to every trial we are called to endure. Though we may not know the reason, no trial is a waste.
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God…and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. (Orson F. Whitney as quoted by Pres. Kimball in Faith Precedes the Miracle, pg. 98)
Thrown into prison, Joseph could have become very resentful, but again, there is no record of complaint and once again, his attitude seems to be, “Well, I’m a prisoner. I can’t change that, but I can be the best prisoner there ever was!” It would have been so easy for him to have turned his back on God. It would have been so easy for him to have felt betrayed by God. It would have been so easy to sit in a corner and rot with bitterness. It says a lot about Joseph’s character and work ethic that “the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper” (Genesis 39:23).
Joseph interpreted the baker’s and the butler’s dreams while he was in prison, but it was two years before Pharaoh had a dream that he was called to come and interpret. Joseph was 30 years old when he was appointed second in command of all of Egypt. Finally, after 13 years in Egypt, his life started making sense! That’s a long time to be patient and wait for the Lord’s promises to be fulfilled! To his credit, he had kept himself so pure and so close to the Lord that when the time came to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he was worthy to do it and he was so in tune with the Lord that he not only gave Pharaoh the interpretation, but was also able to devise a plan to save all of Egypt! Pharaoh recognized this immediately and asked, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” (Genesis 41:38). It was obvious that Joseph was a spiritual giant.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from Joseph is how to react when life doesn’t make sense. When I feel like I’m doing everything I should – keeping the commandments to the best of my ability – and yet feel like my life is falling apart, do I shake my fist at the heavens or trust that the Lord is in control and can see the whole picture while I often just see a tiny piece of it? Joseph’s trust in the Lord was unwavering. He had truly learned that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end! He wasn’t obsessed with how unfair his life was and how things weren’t working out. He made the most out of every situation he was thrown into!
We know that Joseph’s life turned out great. We know that he ends up being second in command in Egypt. We know that he ended up saving his family from starving to death. But he didn’t know that’s how it would turn out! THE reason his life was so hard is that he didn’t know what was going to happen. He didn’t know how long he would be a slave or how long he would be in prison. He just knew that he wasn’t going to turn his back on God. All he knew was that if he did his best, God would help him get through anything he was called to pass through.
I remember taking my son to the doctor to get his first set of vaccinations. The nurse had me hold his head in my hands as she did the first shot. My poor, unsuspecting, baby wailed at the shock of the pain! He looked up at me with eyes that pleaded, “Please, mom, help me! Someone is hurting me! Please save me!” My heart broke as I looked into those tear-filled eyes and realized that the only thing I could do was hold him. How I wish I could have explained that these shots were necessary – that they would save him from contracting terrible diseases that would have caused much more pain than these shots – but I knew that there was no way he would understand my explanations. I knew it was for his best interest. It was to prepare (and protect) him for the future. If he could only know what I did. If he could only see what I could. How could I explain that I wasn’t doing it to hurt him? I was doing it to help him.
So often we want an explanation from God. We want to know WHY we have to endure certain things. We want to know why we are having marriage problems, financial problems, parenting problems, employment problems, health issues, etc. That has caused me to ponder: why does God often withhold explanations?
Then my epiphany: If God did explain why we have to go through a certain trial, it would not be a trial! If God had told Joseph (when he was sold into slavery) not to worry because he would end up being second in command in Egypt and saving his family from starving, would his life have been difficult? No (or not nearly as much), because it would have made sense. Joseph’s trials were hard because they didn’t make sense. He was doing everything God asked him to and he kept getting negative consequences for it (or so it seemed). He could have said, “Lord, you told me to be chaste and I was and then I was thrown into prison! That’s not fair!” But Joseph didn’t complain.
God could have explained, “Joseph, my son, you need to be in prison so you can interpret the butler’s dream so he can introduce you to Pharaoh and so you can save Egypt and your family from starvation.” But Joseph would never have increased in faith if the Lord had done that. Explanations remove the need for faith. The real test is whether or not we will be consistent in keeping the commandments even when things don’t make sense. True faith means not giving up no matter what happens. The only thing that is important to keep is our faith. We are not in control of anything else. We can’t control many of the things that happen to us in this life, but we can control the strength, vibrancy, and efficacy of our faith. We are in control of our character and who we choose to become. We must learn to trust the Lord even when He hasn’t revealed all the answers.
My life is but a weaving,
Between my God and me.
I do not see the colors,
He worketh patiently.
Oft times he weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride,
Forget he sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why
That the dark threads are as needful
In the skillful weaver’s hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned
“See the end from the beginning”
by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
My young friends, today I say to you that if you trust the Lord and obey Him, His hand shall be over you, He will help you achieve the great potential He sees in you, and He will help you to see the end from the beginning.
Allow me to share with you an experience from my own boyhood. When I was 11 years old, my family had to leave East Germany and begin a new life in West Germany overnight. Until my father could get back into his original profession as a government employee, my parents operated a small laundry business in our little town. I became the laundry delivery boy. To be able to do that effectively, I needed a bicycle to pull the heavy laundry cart. I had always dreamed of owning a nice, sleek, shiny, sporty red bicycle. But there had never been enough money to fulfill this dream. What I got instead was a heavy, ugly, black, sturdy workhorse of a bicycle. I delivered laundry on that bike before and after school for quite a few years. Most of the time, I was not overly excited about the bike, the cart, or my job. Sometimes the cart seemed so heavy and the work so tiring that I thought my lungs would burst, and I often had to stop to catch my breath. Nevertheless, I did my part because I knew we desperately needed the income as a family, and it was my way to contribute.
If I had only known back then what I learned many years later—if I had only been able to see the end from the beginning—I would have had a better appreciation of these experiences, and it would have made my job so much easier.
Many years later, when I was about to be drafted into the military, I decided to volunteer instead and join the Air Force to become a pilot. I loved flying and thought being a pilot would be my thing.
To be accepted for the program I had to pass a number of tests, including a strict physical exam. The doctors were slightly concerned by the results and did some additional medical tests. Then they announced, “You have scars on your lung which are an indication of a lung disease in your early teenage years, but obviously you are fine now.” The doctors wondered what kind of treatment I had gone through to heal the disease. Until the day of that examination I had never known that I had any kind of lung disease. Then it became clear to me that my regular exercise in fresh air as a laundry boy had been a key factor in my healing from this illness. Without the extra effort of pedaling that heavy bicycle day in and day out, pulling the laundry cart up and down the streets of our town, I might never have become a jet fighter pilot and later a 747 airline captain.
We don’t always know the details of our future. We do not know what lies ahead. We live in a time of uncertainty. We are surrounded by challenges on all sides. Occasionally discouragement may sneak into our day; frustration may invite itself into our thinking; doubt might enter about the value of our work. In these dark moments Satan whispers in our ears that we will never be able to succeed, that the price isn’t worth the effort, and that our small part will never make a difference. He, the father of all lies, will try to prevent us from seeing the end from the beginning (“See the End From the Beginning,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference April 2006).