Summary: Joseph was lonely because he was alienated from his family, felt no one cared and that there was no hope. He conquered his lonliness by maintaining his integrity, becoming involved in meaningful work and forgiving those who had wronged him.
In September, 1985, a celebration was held at a New Orleans municipal swimming pool. The occasion was the celebration of the first summer in memory when no one had drowned at any New Orleans city pool. In honor of this somewhat historic event, two hundred people gathered at one of New Orleans’ largest pools, including one hundred certified lifeguards. The festivities lasted for several hours, but as the party was breaking up, and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, who was thirty-one-years of age, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by friends, and people trained as lifeguards, who had come to commemorate a safe and successful season, but lost his life with no one noticing.
When I read that story I wondered how many people are drowning in loneliness and despair right around us, while no one notices. Even as they struggle for the air of human kindness and companionship their voices go unheard. So many times we gather in the church and fail to notice that someone right beside us is going under in a sea of loneliness and fear. After all, Christians are not supposed to feel lonely or afraid. There is an unspoken belief that if you are really a Christian you don’t have problems like that. We come here and sing, “Rescue the Perishing,” and fail to notice that there are people perishing right in the pew. In this culture, which idealizes independence and individuality, we have paid the price with a loss of friendships and community. We may pride ourselves in being self-sufficient, but the result is that we no longer belong to anyone.
We are looking at the life of Joseph this morning, and there is no better person to study in order to understand the problem of loneliness and how to overcome it. The first lesson we learn from the life of Joseph is that he experienced loneliness because: He was alienated from his family. I don’t know of any pain more pronounced than the pain of being alienated from your family. I talk to people all the time who have broken relationships, not only in their extended family, but in their immediate family as well. There were reasons for Joseph’s alienation from his brothers, and at one point he was even somewhat alienated from his parents. As a youth he was spoiled and self-centered. He was brash and cocky. He tattled on his brothers when they did something wrong. He had dreams about being greater than his brothers and told them all about the dreams. He even had dreams of his father and mother bowing down to him, and that did not go over well. God was giving Joseph a peek into the future with these dreams, but at the time he interpreted them in the most egotistical way. Adding to his problems with his brothers was the obvious favoritism his parents had toward him. They dressed him in a special way and gave him special favors. So when his brothers saw an opportunity to be rid of him they took advantage of it. They planned to kill him and say it was an accident, but when they thought better of it they changed their minds and sold him as a slave. They hated him so much they wanted nothing to do with him, and at that point the alienation looked permanent. There are a lot of people like Joseph who are alienated from members of their family. They know the pain of broken relationships. Some of it may even be their own doing, but they don’t know what to do about it.
But the second lesson we learn from the life of Joseph is that he experienced loneliness because: He felt that no one cared. As Joseph went off with the slave traders it was the worst moment of his life to that point. He knew his brothers hated him and that he barely escaped with his life. He was put in chains and bound to the other slaves as they marched through the desert all the way to Egypt, a thirty day journey. He had been a simple shepherd and was about to enter the most advanced civilization of that day. But these Egyptians worshiped frogs and cows — nothing like the one true God his father worshiped. He would never see his mother again. She would die in childbirth while he was in Egypt as a slave. He did not even know that he had a new brother. Now, imagine what it must have been like for Joseph. One day he was the cherished pet of his mother and father. He was given everything he wanted. He was close to his parents and greatly loved by them. He lived among a great extended family. But the next day he was being hauled off in irons as a nobody. He was treated with cruelty, and was barely given enough to eat. He spent every day in hardship. He was taken to a strange land with unusual customs and a language he could not understand. No one cared what happened to him. He was treated like a piece of property, and if he didn’t do something right he was beaten unmercifully.