An absolutely beautiful piece by George Halitzka
Once upon a time there were two kids who learned the hard way how much birds like breadcrumbs. While wandering in the forest, they almost got eaten by a candy-loving witch! But thankfully there was an oven handy, and before the witch could make Hanselburgers, Gretel toasted her golden-brown.
Then there was the princess who fled from her mirror-gazing stepmother — seems the old bat wanted Snowy-Girl’s heart on a plate. There were complications involving seven midget miners, and she almost got poisoned by a magic apple, but everything turned out OK thanks to True Love’s Kiss.
Once there was a person who answered to your name and looked strangely like you. You weren’t asking for much — just a nice Prince or Princess to marry, a small castle in the suburbs, and a steady source of gold coins. Unfortunately, you soon realized that True Love is an elusive commodity, and Happy Endings are hard to find.
Sometimes, life has a way of discouraging belief in fairy tales. Just ask Heather.1
Heather was an average girl in high school. Neither pretty nor ugly; popular nor outcast; genius nor moron; she coasted along in the middle of her class. English was her favorite subject and she despised Chemistry. She managed to kiss a couple boys and went to some school dances without falling hard for anybody.
Heather had ambitions of helping people towards a better life. So after graduation, she headed to Ohio State for her Social Work degree. Meanwhile, she started dating a Computer Science major named Harris. He was a little scared of the “C”-word, but with some prodding, Heather got him talking about marriage and kids by graduation. She was expecting a rock for Christmas.
Heather started pitching resumes for her first job … and that’s when life suddenly shifted into reverse.
Student loans and credit cards forced her to move back in with her folks. OK, so she wasn’t the first. After a couple months of driving three hours to see him, Harris told her he wasn’t ready to settle down and broke it off. The market for social workers with a mere bachelor’s degree was saturated. Heather finally got work as a substitute teacher, which made no use of her degree — and no dent in her debts.
So at age 26, Heather found herself dodging spitballs in a dead-end job with no dating prospects in sight, making minimum payments on three Visas with 20 percent interest, living in the same bedroom where she dreamed of changing the world 10 years ago, and wondering how all her wishes — wishes for good things, God-pleasing things — dried up so fast.
When the Grimm Brothers were writing happy endings, they obviously forgot about Heather. Maybe God did, too.
Let’s suppose God is telling a tale of grace in the world. By some estimates the Bible is more than 50 percent stories, so that sounds about right. Everything that’s ever going to happen is written in The Future History of the World on God’s shelf.
Now, imagine you get a volume in the story. (After all, Psalm 139 says God planned your life before you were a gleam in your Daddy’s eye.) Your life is a book, and it’s open on God’s desk right now.
Picture him chuckling over page 482 as he skims your next chapter. “Wait till he sees what I have in store for him!” God says, and wipes his eyes with laughter.
You can’t contain yourself any more. “So what’s it say?” you ask the Almighty. “Where am I headed, and how am I going to pay off my loans working at Best Buy? Didn’t you make me to do more than sell plasma TVs?”
But God just gives you an enigmatic smile and puts your volume back on his shelf.
How fair is that? You want to solve the hunger problem in Africa, pastor a mid-sized church, and be a stellar specimen of fatherhood — preferably all in the same day! But your current chapter’s going on forever and it’s a long way from a page-turner and you’d like to end it any time now with a cool cliffhanger. Maybe one that involves meeting a prince instead of frogs. You figure God may have a reason for not turning the page … it’s just that an explanation would be nice! Can’t God give you that much?
Well, he hasn’t left you up the creek without a kayak. If you check out the pattern found in every story, you might get some hints about why your page won’t turn. Try looking again at a fairy tale you’ve heard before; one about a guy named Joseph. It’s written in Genesis (and happens to be true).
This narrative has all the character development, plot twists, and happy endings anyone could ever want! It also might have a couple insights into your story. So let’s begin our tale of Joe the Dreamer:
Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Canaan, there lived a boy with a Technicolor® Dream Coat….
The Main Character
When Cinderella meets her Prince, she’s already perfect. Beautiful and kind. She hasn’t a fault in the world. In some versions of the story, she actually does her sisters’ hair for the Ball, then helps them pick out dresses while they treat her like dirt.
Cinderella’s obviously a great catch for the next prince who comes along — and she cooks and cleans, too! But how’d she get that way? Look at her strength of character; the servanthood and self-sacrifice!
(I think I’m gonna be ill.)
Unfortunately, you and I aren’t in danger of being Cinderella — we have that “sinful” thing down too well. Everybody knows the Good Guys win, and we ain’t them.
That’s where we come to Joseph. Remember, he was God’s gift to mankind; he was going to save thousands from starvation. The problem was that he knew it. Dahddy loved him best, and he had these crazy dreams that he proclaimed to the whole family.
Joe finally crossed the line one day when he told his 11 brothers they would bow down to him. Dahddy told him to eat humble pie, but anyone who thought that was the end of it hadn’t met Joe’s ego.
A few weeks later, his brothers were hard at work in the fields while the Favorite lounged in his room, hoping for more power trips in his sleep. Dahddy sent Joe to check up on his brothers. Unfortunately, they saw him coming and realized revenge was at hand! They swiped his coat, sold him into slavery, and told everybody he’d become lion food.
Now remember, Joe is the hero! He’s going to save the known world with his leadership abilities. But unlike Cinderella, he’s not ready for prime time. Imagine what would happen if, instead of spending years in slavery and prison, he went straight to Pharaoh’s palace!
“Joseph, I hear you can interpret dreams,” says Pharaoh.
“That’s right, Your Majesty!” brags Joseph. “In fact, I had one about the moon and stars all bowing down to me — ”
“OK, but I was hoping you could interpret mine. See, it’s about some skinny wheat and fat cows — ”
“Hold it! Before I do anything, I want a hundred grand in small bills and a statue in my honor.”
“Uh, maybe later … hey, didn’t I hear you did this stuff in God’s power?”
“Never mind him … listen; is there someplace I can sign autographs when I’m done?”
Take a lesson from Joe: While you’re waiting for a happy ending, focus on what God wants to change in the life of the main character. (That would be you.) Maybe like Joe, you have some humble pie to choke down. Maybe you need to manage money better or mature in relationships. I have no idea — but odds are, your story involves some character development. Might as well get it out of the way now.
The Other Characters
Remember Puss, the cat with the boots? He sets out to acquire (by various devious means) a fortune and a hot princess for his master. Sure enough, Puss succeeds! But I wonder if he regrets his actions by the end. Sure, Puss gets his name is in the title — but the story’s about his owner striking it rich.
Our friend Joe had a misconception about his story, kind of like Puss. He thought life was his personal power trip. Instead, it had more to do with saving the known world from starvation. (And did I mention glorifying God?)
So watch what happens after Joe eats multiple helpings of Crow. He’s been in prison for years, but finally Pharaoh calls him into the throne room. And strangely, Joe doesn’t offer to sign autographs!
The Big Cheese says, “I hear you can interpret dreams.”
Joe says, “Well, I can’t do anything by myself — but dreams are one of God’s specialties.” (Watch Humble Joe give God all the credit, because even though he’s the main character in his corner of Holy Writ, it’s really about Someone else.)
Pharaoh explains his dream, and Joe warns him about the looming famine. Now, instead of requesting a royal pardon and a government job, Joe simply makes a suggestion:
“You should find a smart guy and put him in charge of storing food for the next seven years. That way, nobody’ll go hungry.” (Watch Humble Joe look out for the people around him, even if it doesn’t involve anybody bowing down to him.)
Pharaoh says, “What a great idea! You do it,” and he makes Joe Vice-Pharaoh.
So what’s the point? Once you’re second in command of a large middle eastern country, you need to look out for other people. No! You need to start thinking about the characters who populate your story now.
If you backtrack a few chapters to Genesis 39, you’ll find Joe was shaping up long before he hit the big time. He did so much to serve Potiphar that Potiphar put Joe — his slave — in charge of everything. Later, Joe didn’t crawl in bed with Potiphar’s seductive wife (even though she practically begged him to do it). After Potiphar’s wife had Joe thrown in jail for turning her down, he interpreted dreams from two prisoners, the Baker and Cupbearer … although they didn’t do a thing for him.2 What a guy!
For a while, Joe was living proof that no good deed goes unpunished. But he didn’t stop focusing on God and the people around him. Being the main character didn’t make the story all about him.
Think about Jack for a minute — you know, the guy with the overgrown beanstalk? He goes to sell a cow and comes home with magic beans. Mommy is so mad she throws them out the window. Then a beanstalk grows overnight, and here’s the most important part of the story:
Jack climbs it.
The key moment is not when he reclaims the Giant’s treasures (which once belonged to Jack’s father). Not even when he chops down the beanstalk. It’s the moment he starts climbing.
Why? Well, think about this — what if Jack had been a wuss and said, “A Giant? No thanks; I’ll just hide under my bed!”
Sometimes, the key to finding your happy ending, the plot God had written for you all along, is taking a chance. It’s called “faith.”
The enemy of God’s best isn’t always evil — sometimes it’s “good enough.” Does having a “backup plan” when you choose a college major sound familiar? How about dating “Mr. Right Now” instead of hanging on for Mr. Right? It’s good to know God might be — well, He probably is — almost certainly — calling you to do something. It’s another ballgame to do it, because that might involve taking a chance on the “F” word!
(What was your dirty mind thinking? I mean “Faith”!)
Picture Joe hanging out in the dungeon, sleeping with rats and dining on — uh, maybe rats. Suddenly, word comes down from the palace — Joe has an audience with the Bossman! Pharaoh says “Help me out with this dream, willya?”
“Finally!” Joe says. “My time has come! But what if….” And that’s when he starts worrying.
Joe knows Pharaoh is not a nice guy. (The Baker from chapter 40 lost his head!) He probably hasn’t interpreted a dream in two years. What if he can’t figure out what this one means? What if he’s wrong? “Who am I to interpret anything for the most powerful man in the world?” he thinks. “And I had this delusion that God might speak through me … ARGH!”
It’s not in the Bible, but I’m guessing that’s how Joe felt. (Wouldn’t you?) So maybe this is what ran through his head next: “Waitasec … what about God’s track record?”
His Great-Granddaddy Abraham had a baby when he was long past his prime, because God promised to make him a great nation. Grandpa Isaac got a wonderful wife named Rebekah through the power of God. Dahddy Jacob liked to tell that story about seeing an angelic ladder to heaven.
In Joe’s own life, God (1) kept him from being killed by his brothers all those years ago, (2) made him the head honcho in Potiphar’s house, and (3) put him in charge of the other prisoners in jail, too! Who knew? Maybe God was gonna come through again!
So as he stands in the presence of Pharaoh, Joe grits his teeth, swallows the lump clogging his entire throat, and says, “Your Majesty, God will interpret your dream.”
Next time it’s put up or shut up time in your life, remember God’s track record. What’s He done in history? What’s He done in your history? If you have faith like Joseph, if you risk that much for God, you might — I don’t know — move mountains or something!
(Wait … isn’t that in the Bible?)
The Happy Ending
So here’s the bottom line: If you develop your character, minister to the people around you, and develop your story by taking faith-risks, you’re guaranteed a happy ending! Right?
Uhhh … maybe.
God promises that He rewards those who earnestly seek him; you can take it to the bank. But His rewards don’t always look like quite what we had in mind.
My friend Dan’s mom developed cancer two years ago. Shortly before her diagnosis, God had been seriously deepening her relationship with him! She was leading a group in her church, studying the Bible more, experiencing God in fresh ways. It seemed like God was getting ready to move in her life!
Then she died a few months later. What happened?
Well, until the day she passed away, Dan’s Mom told everyone God was getting ready to move in her life. But it was going to hurt … because He was moving her Home.
If you wonder why God hasn’t turned your page, I’m not suggesting you’re about to die. But I do suggest you read the story of Joseph. See what it can teach you about preparing for your plot to continue; for the next chapter you’re longing for! God revels in answering the prayers of dust mites like you and me. Often, your happy ending is around the corner — you just need to prepare for it first.
But you need to be ready for His will to look different from your dreams. There might be less romance or more pain; you may never find your dream job or dream girl. You might get married and be all ready for kids to arrive — only to find out you can never be a Mommy.
“That’s not fair!” you say. “Joe got to be second in command of Egypt and rescued thousands from starvation. He married and made babies; lived long and prospered!” True enough — and maybe you’ll be so blessed, too!
But in Genesis 50, remember that something horrible still happened to Joe. He died.
That’s the problem with happy endings: We forget about the sudden stop at the end. It never figures into fairy tales.
I’m not sure Joe was thinking about his disappointments when he walked into God’s presence, though. I’m not sure you will be, either. When you finally stroll into the Lord’s study to see Him finishing your manuscript, I think a big smile’s going to break across his face. He’ll be so glad to see you, maybe He’ll show you the last words He’s written.
For the first time, God’s plan for your life will be clearly revealed. You’ll walk over to your book with bated breath, gaze in wonder at the golden letters that spell out your name on the cover. Then perhaps you’ll open to the last page, knowing that a very special ending is waiting. This is what you’ll read:
“And he (or she) lived happily ever after.”
Amazingly, God will have meant those words with all His heart as He wrote them. And strangely enough … I think you will, too.
* * *
“Heather” is based on the experiences of a couple of friends. (Details have been changed to protect the guilty.)
“Ah, but wait!” say the Bible scholars among us. “The Cupbearer was the one who brought Joseph before Pharaoh to interpret his dream. So he did assist Joe, in a major way!” True enough — but it took him two stinkin’ years from the time Joe interpreted his dream! Joe had no guarantee the Cupbearer would ever lift a finger for him. As for the Baker … he was next seen on Pharaoh’s gallows, where couldn’t do anybody a favor. See Genesis 40.