Three Ways to Respond When Life Brings Us Pain

joseph egyptian pyramid

The other side of pain

How easy it is to read someone’s story from the other side and think it’s simple to see God’s hand at work.  But when we’re going through the hard times, we can’t see the other side. We only feel the pain.

We can choose how to respond to pain

Joseph (eleventh son of Jacob) responded to his life situations the way I’d like to respond. Notice I said how I’d like to respond, not how I have always responded. It’s a goal of mine, for sure.

We don’t know much about Joseph’s childhood. We do know that his mother died when he was young and that his older half-brothers didn’t like him very much. The reason for their animosity toward Joseph could be because he touted them with his dreams of superiority over them in future years. Maybe it was because he and his brother were sons of another mother. Perhaps, it was because he was, indeed, a favorite of his father.

If you’re not familiar with this story, you can read it here.

joseph slave

God had given Joseph a dream, but that dream seemed to die when his brothers, in a moment of anger, put him into a pit. When a band of foreign merchants “happened” to pass by on their way to Egypt, the brothers decided to sell him as a slave, rather than kill him.

from favorite son to unknown slave.

Joseph went from being the favored son to being an unknown slave. When things went wrong for Joseph, he did some things right. In Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the captain of the guard. He found favor in Potiphar’s eyes (because the Lord was with him) and was put in charge of everything in Potiphar’s house. Whenever Potiphar was gone from home, he trusted Joseph with everything.

joseph woman and man

Potiphar’s wife had a crush on Joseph. He was good looking, and she wanted him in her bed. Joseph refused. He had the opportunity to commit fornication, but he refused. The rejected wife of Potiphar sought revenge and she got it.

Joseph ended up in prison because he did the right thing.  Had he sinned and the relationship remained secret, he would have stayed in the same position as Potiphar’s steward.  (I happen to think that Potiphar did believe Joseph and knew his wife was lying; why else did he merely put Joseph in prison instead of killing him?)

If I had been Joseph, I would have been asking God: “Are You really going to finish the dream you gave me?!”

In prison, the warden placed Joseph in charge of all the inmates. Everything was left to Joseph’s care – because the Lord was with him.

After some time passed, Joseph had an opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharoah’s cup bearer and baker who had both been imprisoned.

He told the cupbearer, “When you see that my interpretation of your dream comes to pass, please remember me to Pharaoh, for I was unjustly charged.”

In Joseph’s heart, there was to be a flicker of the flame of hope. Maybe, just maybe, the interpretation of this dream was his ticket out of prison.

It wasn’t. After the cupbearer was restored to his position in Pharoah’s court, he forgot Joseph. Again, Joseph experienced the death of a dream.

 Joseph remained in prison even though he did the right thing.

He could have refused to interpret the dream for the cup bearer. He could have said, “Well, I could help you, but I won’t. Life hasn’t been fair to me and I’m not helping anybody else.”

Interpreting the dream didn’t change a thing about Joseph’s circumstances; not then, anyhow.

Joseph alone prisoner

From the pit to slavery to Potiphar’s house and then to prison, Joseph did some things right. He kept trusting God to work out the plan He had for him.

Joseph allowed the rejection of his brothers, the lies of Potiphar’s wife and the unfulfilled promise of the cupbearer to make him better instead of bitter. Share on X

Perhaps God chose to use those events to strip him of any pride or self-inflation he had. Maybe God was using those events to chip away the rough edges of his character because He had something big for Joseph to do. God didn’t need a man who was conceited and so full of himself that he would not listen to Him.

Finally, after two more years, the day came when Joseph was released. In less than 24 hours, he became the 2nd highest in command in Egypt. Just like that. Joseph was now thirty years of age. It had been thirteen long years since he was sold into slavery.

joseph man alone

The ultimate test for Joseph came more than seven years later when his brothers arrived in Egypt from their home in Canaan. They came to buy grain for their cattle and families due to the widespread famine. They had no idea that the government official they needed to negotiate with was their long-lost brother whom they sold into slavery.

Joseph finally had the opportunity to avenge himself of his brothers. He had every “right’ and every power to make them pay. They had it coming to them; they deserved it.

What makes Joseph stand out to me is that although he recognized that the things which happened to him were intended for evil (by his brothers and also by Satan), he also believed that God was in control. God would use all of these experiences for his ultimate good.

“You meant it for evil,” he said. “But God meant it for good.”

Even when Joseph didn’t know the outcome, he recognized that God could use his pain for good.

joseph camel

Even when Joseph had the opportunity to harbor a grudge and make others pay, he recognized that God could use this – if he cooperated – for good.

When we experience the death of a dream, a vision, or our hopes and plans, there are some things we must do if we want to come out of the experience victorious. Joseph gave us a wonderful example.

It’s easy to read this story and forget the emotional pain Joseph endured those twenty years. He was rejected by his family and sold as a slave. Joseph thought he would never see his father again. He didn’t have a home, and he didn’t belong.

When we are faced with rejection and denial, when we find ourselves as strangers, we can choose to respond in the natural way scripted by our human nature; or we can respond like Joseph did.

We can say, “God can use this for good.”

joseph embrace tree

There are three ways to respond when life gives us pain.

  1. Embrace your pain.  Recognize that it is a part of you. Don’t deny the pain or your anger. Ignoring or denying pain only causes us to bury it. Down underneath, it will simmer as a root of bitterness begins to grow. Thank God for the pain – not because it feels good, but because He will use this experience in our life to enhance His kingdom. Ask Him to use it. Allow Him to be God!
  2. Taste your pain. We taste the pain by leaning into it. When a woman is in labor, fighting the pain only delays the birth of her child. To lean forward, bear down and push, she is leaning into the pain. She tastes the salty sweat of her labor as she delivers the child of her travail. Lean into the pain if you want to experience deliverance. By leaning into the pain, we are acknowledging the unfairness, the injustice, the rending, and the travail that happens when we fight to sweat out the horror and remain sweet. Rather than claiming the pain as ours to hold and harbor, we need to push through it. When we refuse to taste the pain, we stuff it deep inside. Someday that pain will erupt and others will experience the taste of what we refused. If we are willing to taste the pain, we will come out on the other side a better person.
  3. Don’t waste the pain. It is our choice to allow the pain and turmoil of events and years to harden us or to make us better.  From our own pain, we can learn how not to treat others; how to respond when others are broken; how to acknowledge that God is God, even when life is unfair. When things don’t make sense and when “the wrong seems oft so strong”, God is still the ruler!

Be a Joseph when you experience pain

Joseph embraced his pain. Had he not, he would not have been able to respond to being a slave as he did.  He would have been lax instead of becoming the best slave he could become.

Joseph tasted his pain. He waited for years to be avenged of his situation. He endured thirteen years in Potiphar’s house as a slave and then as a prisoner. By leaning into his pain, he was willing to interpret the dream of his cell mates and remain trusted as the highest ranking prisoner.

Joseph didn’t waste his pain. He chose to allow the pain of betrayal and denial of his brothers, separation from his father, the lies of his master’s wife, and being forgotten in prison, to make him stronger spiritually.

So committed was he to “doing the right thing”, when the ultimate test of forgiving his brothers came, he was able to say to them, “Come near.  I am your brother. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Joseph recognized that even when life wasn’t fair, but God could use it for good. He chose to cooperate with God and His plan.

We need to do the same.

pinterest three ways to respond


This is a repost from eight years ago.

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