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.