Joseph was in a foxhole of his own making. His father Jacob was passing on the family history of bad choices, of playing favorites, and of the twelve brothers, he was the favorite. It didn’t help that he had three step moms who had all competed for their husband’s affections, and that competition had been passed on to the sons. If you read the whole story of Jacob and his children, even the boys’ names were reflective of the squabbles and fights between the women. Sterility was a real issue of faith for Jacob’s wives, like Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca. Having a baby was a sign of God’s favor so the children were named things like “surely my husband will love me now”, or “God comforts me because I am hated” or “I have wrestled with my sister and have won”. Can you imagine growing up in such a family? Talk about ugly dynamics!
So, Joseph, which by the way means either “God has taken away my shame” or “May God give me another son” has grown up in a family of competitiveness and anger. It must have been ugly and embarrassing . His mother died giving birth to his full brother, so he had no mother to take care of him. And Jacob, not remembering, or maybe not thinking of the damage done by his father and mother’s playing favorites with him and Esau, plays favorites again.
How many times do we fall into the unhealthy patterns of our families, saying things that we swore we would never say, hearing ourselves talking like the people who parented us. Children copy what they see their parents doing. We know that people who grew up in addicted or violent homes or who are bounced through the foster care system have a much higher chance of being addicted or in jail because of the childhood trauma of a toxic family experience.
Dr. Gabor Mate, when he gave his talk at the Nancy Applebee theatre last fall, talked about being born during the Second World War to a Jewish mother. Even though neither of them ended up in a concentration camp, the trauma of having a mother living in a constant state of fear caused Mate to live with a high degree of anxiety that led to some strongly addictive behaviours that while they didn’t revolve around drugs, affected his professionalism and his finances. Childhood stress like Joseph and his brothers experienced led them into angry confrontations.
Joseph was a bragger and a tattle tale. He paraded around in his long robe and would tell them of his dreams of glory when the older ones would no longer have the power to bully him. The brothers had no ‘shalom’ for him and so decided that murder was a perfect solution to the arrogant brat. That’s chilling to say the least. They sold him off to become a slave in Egypt. I wonder what he was thinking when he realized that his spying and tattling had made them that hostile to him. There’s no record of him being repentant or afraid or ashamed or anything. But he is in a foxhole and there is no one who will help rescue him from going into slavery in a foreign land.
Peter, in his way, is also in a foxhole. The sea of Galilee is not terribly wide, but it is chaotic. Storms come up without warning, and back then there was no such thing as a swimming lesson at the pool in the summer. Drowning for all the disciples is a real possibility.
I remember someone in the Maritimes telling me that some sailors deliberately decided not to learn to swim so that if they did get caught in a storm, they would drown more quickly and peacefully. Fishing was a dreadful job, and water was the most chaotic and dangerous place to be. This story points to Jesus as the one who can still the chaos and make it possible to get through the most difficult things. But when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to drown.
I meet a lot of people who are in foxholes. Some of those foxholes are of their own making, some are full of the family toxic stories and experiences that they had witnessed as children. What is interesting are the folks who are climbing out of the foxholes. I am starting to see patterns that suggest the ones who will make it out, and the ones who will stay stuck or get even deeper into their foxholes.
The number one factor is humbleness. Peter doesn’t say, “If you can walk on water, I can too just watch me”. There’s also a level of trust, “If you tell me to walk to you, I will do what you tell me.” And when he keeps his eyes on Jesus, he can make it. He needs to remember to trust and watch Jesus. When tragedy strikes, how many of us think we will go it alone, tough it out, pull ourselves out by our own bootstraps? But again and again, we find that its when we reach out for help, asking Jesus to be present in the midst of our foxholes, that we find new hope, new beginnings and a more godly, more shalom-filled way of life that fills, sustains and supports us on this journey we call life.