In many of our favorite scenes in blockbuster films and scripts in books, we cheer for the underdog. Wherever we encounter someone who is downtrodden or suffering abandonment, we find ourselves shouting from the sidelines of our seats and sofas, hoping for the win. The Bible outlines the blueprint for the narrative of champions. We rise and fall with each plot twist and page turn. We encounter them in the countless stories that convey hope and inspire resilience in the human spirit.
Few, however, stir a sense of justice like Joseph who was thrown into a pit to die and later sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph possessed an excellent spirit, but in his early years eagerly shared dreams that incited envy in his brothers. The trouble he endured plummeted him into a pit, and later, into an Egyptian prison. In this time he developed a skill of listening and leadership.
It wasn’t that the ability to dream or interpret left him, but he spent more time engaging those who needed his gift than spouting off what God had revealed when he was still a teen. Eventually, the gift he had been refining in secret was required for public deliverance in a way that saved his and other families on the earth during a severe famine.
In the way of heroes, we also ponder David, the shepherd boy king, who remained in the field tending and defending sheep, worshiping God in the wild when his flock was attacked by predators. Like Joseph, David was intentionally rejected from amongst his brothers. He was overlooked and dismissed when the prophet Samuel inquired for all of Jesse’s sons to be present to anoint Israel’s next ruler.
David wasn’t perfect, but through his pain, he continued to worship God and pursue Him wildly, even at the expense of further rejection or scorn. Before David fulfilled his call, God Himself testified on David, through all of his triumphs and trials, worship and woes, naming him a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).v
These men followed, trusting the Almighty, though they lived multiple chapters in a story they didn’t imagine. Their faith persuaded them of God’s character, confident in the Lord’s faithfulness to fulfill what He had spoken where they were left without the support of family.
In the midst of abandonment, both developed the heart of one who followed God. At a time when either young man would have been celebrated or welcomed, their families dismissed their value. While they demonstrated resilience during intense emotional pain, we can empathize with parts of their stories.
We endure challenges within our own families of origin, having been devalued, excluded, or objectified. We can relate to the Bible’s accounts that describe rough places and resilience formed in one’s youth. As we notice the ways that God moved in and through them, we can embrace that the Father has planned a better ending for us as well.
Wrestling with rejection and abandonment.
Family narratives, fraught with pain and rejection might not be everyone’s testimony. For those who can identify with it, it can seem hard to believe and embrace that God would choose to use someone who has experienced what we have. He did in the pages of our Bibles, and He still does today.
The pain of our family fractures can serve us in ways that we never imagined. We don’t always see this as we endure the trauma that has separated and isolated us from siblings or the neglect and abandonment of our parents. These can be somewhat more isolating.
We expect our siblings to embrace us as our first friends, peers and playmates, household heroes, and sometimes models and mentors. They occupy a different role than our parents, but we still look to them for social engagement and connection.
When the gap widens between expectation and experience, we may internalize some of that loss. The wounds of rejection and abandonment deepen when we are left without the emotional support and sometimes the physical needs that are part of what every human needs to thrive.
Although being injured by parents is a common theme when considering the roots of a painful past, we don’t often explore the role that sibling relationships play in abandonment and rejection. It is often the unspoken narrative we omit when piecing together parts of our personal story.
Being left alone and without support, however, creates space for us to acknowledge God’s goodness and embrace His nearness (Psalm 34:18). He has promised to never leave, nor abandon, though we may have faced that with our relatives (Matthew 28:20). While we cannot control or undo what happened in our formative years, we can trust the Lord to navigate our path toward people that will be like family and help us fulfill purpose.
The Lord orders our steps into relationships where we can experience the kind of joy that eclipses the jagged edges of pain from the home in which we grew up. Joseph conveyed that to his brothers, later underscoring that they may have intended evil, but God repurposed his path from the pit, Potiphar’s house, prison, and now, the palace was all the Lord’s doing.
Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” – Genesis 41:51-52, NIV
We can benefit from similar revelation, asserting that God redeems all things: the good, the bad, and the in-between to work together for our good and His ultimate purpose (Romans 8:28). Joseph, David, and even Jesus testify that we can have a hard story, but it can still yield the glory of God in our lives.
We don’t have to live as if our past origins will dictate the ending. God planned an expected end, so we have something special to anticipate with Him (Jeremiah 29:11). Yet, it isn’t just in the conclusion, it is in and through the process as we grow in grace and deepen our faith. We develop our relationship with the Father and encounter what we didn’t in our households.
We don’t read at any point that there was deep reconciliation with all of the brothers in Joseph’s story or David’s family line. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, but we can receive solace, wisdom, and hope concerning how the Holy Spirit desires to move in our own stories. We need to release our history and our rights to hold resentment, to the eternal God whose plan is greater than what we see, hear, feel, or perceive.
In many ways, Joseph did the same, forgiving his brothers, but didn’t hold any expectation for their relationship to morph into something more than it had been. Similarly, we can extend to our relatives the freedom needed to transform but have healthy boundaries to keep our expectations in proper perspective.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20, NIV
We surrender the people and the circumstances to the Lord allowing Him to be God. This will produce the results that only our Father can, always exceeding what we imagined (Ephesians 3:20). We cannot force a change, but we can take responsibility for our role in our shared history.
Our family members will have to answer to Him as we do, too. God’s mercy covers and empowers all of us to experience Him as we forgive and release one another to the Righteous Judge who sees, knows, and still works His perfect plan.
Next steps for overcoming abandonment issues.
While you cannot reclaim childhood and adolescence, you can remedy the past’s pain through present choices. Receive God’s care and concern. The Lord will strengthen you with a fresh perspective and release you from the chains of abandonment, rejection, and unforgiveness.
Whether you choose to love family up close or from a distance isn’t something you have to decide today. Instead, prioritize healing as you work through family matters with the counselor that you select and schedule with through this site.
“Siblings”, Courtesy of Limor Zellermayer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Kids Fighting”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Kylo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hug”, Courtesy of Ave Calvar, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License