OK, so what has Steve Martin got in common with Joseph in Genesis 43:24-32?
Answer: The Lonely Guy.
Take a look at Joseph’s lifestyle. He was an important man with a great job, surrounded by servants and officials ready to do his bidding; but he was a Hebrew living amongst Egyptians. Every day since his first arrival in the country those many years ago, he must have dined alone, as it was ‘detestable’ for Egyptians to eat with Hebrews (v32). For all his wealth and power, he was socially ostracised. That was enforced solitude. It can’t have been pleasant.
When his brothers arrived on the scene, Joseph must have been longing to hug and hold them, to dine alongside them, enjoy true fellowship in their company – the sort of social experience he had been missing. But that could not happen yet. He had to bide his time. Instead, when the emotion of the moment got too much, he removed himself to a private room where he could control his silent tears; and when it came to dining, he still remained alone. That was elective solitude. It required great self-control, but was necessary to his plan.
How did Joseph cope with all that lonesomeness, for all those years, and then especially when his own brothers were so near? My guess is that it was through essential solitude. Spending time on his own in the presence of God, his only solace and soul mate.
Loneliness is a horrible thing. People can be lonely in a crowd, in a relationship, in a family…or simply when they rarely get to see another human being. This is enforced solitude. When it’s not your choice.
There are times when you may choose solitude, either for some particular reason or when in the midst of a busy life, you just simply need to get away from human company and find yourself, or like Joseph to shed a private tear.
But we all need essential solitude. Time that’s just God and me. You don’t even have to be away from other humans, although that might be helpful. God is with us; God is everywhere. Proverbs 18:10 tells us, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Any place, any time, you can run into the strong tower that is the presence of God. This is a world-exclusion zone. That’s where strength comes from. That’s how I think Joseph managed it. That’s how to cope with the pressures of life. Whether you have too many people making too many demands, or whether you long for real relationships with real people; the problems don’t go away, but we do get strength in the presence of God to live another day, and to live it well.
Oh and just one more thought. Is there someone whose enforced loneliness you could make a little easier today?