One day several years ago, I was wasting too much time on Facebook and took one of those silly psychological profile tests called “Which Cartoon Character Are You?” Cartoon characters are evidently great stereotypes for the different kinds of temperaments and personalities. So, I took the test.
I wish I hadn’t.
Because guess which cartoon character I am? Not the lovable Mickey Mouse. Not the wisecracking Bugs Bunny. Not the vociferous rooster, Foghorn Leghorn. Not the smart and speedy Roadrunner who always outwits Wile E. Coyote.
No, my profile showed me to be Scrat, the ambitious but constantly frustrated acorn-obsessed saber-tooth squirrel from the Ice Age movies.
What does that say about me?
I think it says that my reach exceeds my grasp. That my best laid schemes often go awry. That while I love me and have a wonderful plan for my life, the truth is that my life doesn’t usually turn out the way I planned.
I suppose all of us feel like Scrat sometimes. We all desperately try to secure our acorns, only to find our ambitions frustrated by the unpredictable avalanches of life.
This is called not being God.
The problem is that I want to be God. I like control. I like security. I like having my acorn stored for the winter. And I get frustrated when I don’t feel like I’m in charge.
I used to feel more in control than I do now. That was in my 20s. Now I’m in my late 30s and have experienced enough disappointment and witnessed enough suffering to know that control is an illusion.
I have a theory, by the way, that the big difference between people in their 20s and people in their 30s is that when you’re in your 20s you think you’ve got life by the tail and when you’re in your 30s you start to realize that life is gonna kick you in the tail. As a friend of mine used to say, “Life is tough, and then . . . . you die.” That’s a pretty cynical view of the world. I guess it’s the flipside of the naïve optimism that a lot of us feel when we’re young.
I think Joseph, the son of Jacob in the book of Genesis, might have struggled with optimism that gave way to cynicism. Yes, I think he too must have felt a bit like Scrat. After all, he started out with such dreams of grandeur. Literally. But his brothers, rather than bowing down before him in honor, hated him. They didn’t throw him a party; they threw him in a pit. Then they sold him into slavery, and told his father that a beast had killed him, producing his bloodied coat of many colors to prove it.
Of course things started to look up for Joseph in Egypt. But then he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. Then Joseph accurately interpreted the dreams of the butler and baker. But rather than being released, he was forgotten for another two years.
Two whole years!
Clearly, Joseph was not in control.
But Joseph’s story in Genesis points us to something better than being in control. It points us to a God who is in control and who is with us smack dab in the middle of the mess. We see this four times in Genesis 39:1 where the Scripture says, “the LORD was with Joseph” (v. 2, 3, 21, 23). I’m sure Joseph didn’t feel like God was with him. But he was. Through the betrayal, the slavery, the false accusations, the disappointed hopes, the forgetfulness of others, and his own frustrated dreams, the Lord was with him.
There are a lot of things in life over which I don’t have control. I can’t control the slow demise of my mom’s mental and physical capacities because of Alzheimer’s. I can’t control the fact that one of my children has Type 1 diabetes. I can’t control the hearts and minds and wills of the people I try to shepherd and pastor, some of whom have made or will make really bad choices that hurt themselves and others. I can’t control who will win the elections or what will happen to my family or my country tomorrow.
And neither can you. You don’t have ultimate control over your health, your safety, or your family. You can’t choose to not get cancer or not struggle with infertility or not face unemployment. You aren’t in charge of your life.
Yes, we have responsibilities – to love, to serve, to work, to pray, to vote, to do our best to alleviate as much of the pain and suffering in this world as we can. But we don’t have control.
But we have something much, much better. We have a God who is not only in control (and he is – see the end of the Joseph story in Genesis 50:1, where Joseph reminds his brothers that what they had intended for evil, God had intended for good), but is also with us, working redemption right here in the middle of the messiness of our fallen world with all its frustration, disappointment, suffering, heartache and sadness.
This gives me rest. This calms my anxious heart into peaceful repose. This assures me that all is not random and that I am not alone. God reigns. And he is here, right now, tonight as I’m writing this with the particular burdens I now feel and that threaten to undo me.
Here’s a promise to cling to:
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you…he who formed you… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior….Fear not, for I am with you’” (Isaiah 43:1).
“I ...the Lord your God... am with you.”
That’s better than having my acorn stored for winter.
Brian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. Brian has been married to Holly since 1996 and they have four children. He is the author of christ formed in you: the power of the gospel for personal change (Shepherd Press, 2010). And licensed to kill: a field manual for mortifying sin (Cruciform Press, 2011).