By Denise Kohlmeyer
Pits happen. Every day. To everyone. Even to God’s cherished children. Our lives’ landscapes are pock-marked with pits, of varying shapes, sizes and depths. I know! I’m a survivor of multiple pits myself. Mine came in the form of emotional abuse from a drug-addicted sibling, from flunking out of college, from being down-sized from a job I loved, from suffering a miscarriage, from being disinherited by my own father, from marital and parenting struggles, and from experiencing bouts of crippling fear and anxiety.
Boy can I relate to the beloved Biblical character Joseph, who found himself in several pits, one literal and two figurative.
Literal pits and figurative pits (what Scripture calls trials and tribulations), interestingly share very similar characteristics. They are deep, dark, confining, lonely, down-right scary places. And when I’ve found myself in one, my thoughts can run just as deep and dark: I don’t see any way out of this! I feel trapped! No one knows what I’m going through! Does anyone care? And, yes, Does God even care? Yes, pits happen! And my all-too-human inclination is to get out of them. ASAP! In the past, I’ve tried to climb and claw my way out on my own, only to rain down dirt and debris upon myself, making the journey that much messier. But after studying Joseph’s life and his time in the pits, I’ve learned that I can — not only survive while in a pit — but actually thrive while I’m there. I’ve learned to remain in them without struggling (for the most part). But truly, it’s in these dark, rocky places that I’ve learned the greatest lessons, lessons about myself, lessons about God. And it’s in the pits where I’m held captive long enough to quiet my mind, my heart, my soul, so that I’m ready — willing — to draw closer to God, lean into Him, hear the gentle whisper of His voice. It’s in the pits where I can wholly commune and find fellowship with my Abba Daddy, without distraction.
Joseph’s times in the pits reveal eight biblical principles that I have found invaluable and which have helped me to thrive in my own pits without losing my mind, my spirit, or my way.
Principle #1: LOOK UP
Literal pits don’t have escape hatches, as Joseph found out. As he twisted and turned, he saw no way out. And when the darkness engulfed him, fear, anxiety, desperation, despair, even hopelessness likely set in. But instead of giving up, he looked up. Up through the one opening at the top. Up to where his help lay and his rescue would eventually come.
It’s the same with figurative pits. There are no escape hatches. No shortcuts either. We are held captive by our circumstances. But rather than becoming overwhelmed and giving up, we too must look up. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1, ESV). We look up to our loving Father who sits enthroned above. It is only from above that our help comes and our hope rests.
Principle #2: CRY OUT
There is no shame in crying out for help. But we don’t cry out to just anyone, as Joseph sadly learned. His piteous pleas fell on the deaf ears of his callous-hearted half-brothers as they sat eating their lunch (Genesis 42:21). Instead, we are to cry out to God alone, to the One who does hear our cries and will sustain us in our times of trouble, and deliver us from them.
And we’re not alone. There were many in Scripture who called upon God in their distress: Moses, Joshua, kings David and Asa, Hannah, Samuel, the Israelites, Peter. Even Jesus did, in Gethsemane, the night before His crucifixion, and again as He hung on the cross, wondering why His Father had forsaken Him in His greatest hour of need.
Yes, God hears! He invites us to pour out our problems, our sorrows and our needs to Him (see Jeremiah 33:3, Psalm 50:15, Psalm 34:17). His ears are always attentive to our cries.
Principle #3: WAIT
This is likely the hardest principle of all. At least for me. It’s hard to accept that God would hold me in a pit for a time. But He does. He has. And He did with Joseph. The troubled teen remained in the literal pit for an undisclosed amount of time. He served eleven years as a slave, two years as a prisoner. He went from pit to pit to pit, for thirteen consecutive years!
And here’s the good news: All the while that Joseph was in his pits, the Lord was with him (Genesis 39:2-3, 21, 23). God never once left the perpetual pit-dweller. As Joseph waited in his pits, God waited with him! And we have this blessed assurance too. “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’…So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear…'” (Hebrews 13:5b- 6). We can thrive in our pits knowing that we’re not alone, that in our waiting, He’s waiting with us too.
Principle #4: YIELD
There is purpose in our pits. God knows the Big Picture of what He’s trying to accomplish in His Kingdom, using our lives to fulfill those plans. And if holding us in a pit achieves His purposes, then we must yield to what He’s doing, as hard as that may be.
Looking at Joseph’s life, we can see what God was trying to accomplish: preparation. God had a plan in place to save the Israelites from extinction; but the man He wanted to use to bring that plan to fruition wasn’t quite ready. God needed to prepare Joseph intellectually, emotionally, administratively, spiritually. And that preparation took the form of several pits.
While we don’t have the complete picture of our lives yet, we can be certain that our pits have a godly purpose too: transformation, spiritual maturity, preparation, greater dependence upon God, stronger faith, closer conformity to Jesus Christ. And it’s all good!
We would be wise, then, to yield, to give way, surrender, relinquish — and do so graciously, voluntarily, cooperatively. God wants to use us, longs to use us. But it may take a pit or two.
Principle #5: SERVE
Joseph didn’t grovel in his pits, nor did he throw any pit-y parties (pun intended ). He served diligently, faithfully. In fact, he was so trustworthy that the Lord caused him to be successful/prosperous. And it didn’t go unnoticed. In each pit, Joseph was promoted: from lowly slave to overseer (Genesis 39:6), from lowly prisoner to under-warden (Genesis 39:22).
A pit is the perfect time to serve (if we’re able, that is). Serving forces us to take our eyes off of our own troubles and focus instead on the needs of others. So serve, however that may look: praying for others, writing encouraging notes/emails, making a meal for a sick friend, driving an elderly neighbor to an appointment, volunteering at the food pantry, rocking babies in the nursery.
And the blessings, while they may not include promotions, are innumerable and invaluable.
Principle #6: PRAY
Pit prayers are the best. They tend to be the most genuine, heart-felt prayers because they come from a place of vulnerability, born out of a deep need and longing for help. But what do we pray for?
Healing of our wounded hearts and spirits, especially if our pits are because of the sinful actions of others like Joseph’s brothers’ betrayal.
But it often takes time, time and God, for we can only be healed spiritually and emotionally by His stripes (Isaiah 53:5b). I know this to be true because it took prayer, time and the work of the Lord to heal the deep-seated wounds left by the erratic behavior of my strung-out sibling. But I am healed! And I can talk about those years now without any pain whatsoever.
Secondly, we pray for those who’ve hurt us: our enemies. To show us how, we look to Jesus, who prayed for the very ones who strung Him up on a cross to die. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
And we pray for the reconciliation and restoration of fractured relationships like Joseph with his brothers. Like me with my sibling. Within the past year, this sibling has surrendered their life to the Lord. They are indeed a new creature in Christ, and our relationship has been wonderfully restored.
And it’s all because of prayer!
Principle #7: CONFESS
Honestly, some of my pits have been of my own making, because of my own sinful choices: flunking out of college because I partied too much, harsh words that wounded others, running ahead of God’s plan only to be disciplined. And the only way out of these particular pits is to confess the sin that put us there.
To confess means to consent fully, agree out and out with God that we have missed the mark of His holy standards. Confession is the only way to be rescued from these self-inflicted pits. And with confession comes the rescue, through God”s unfailing forgiveness. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Principle #8: FORGIVE & BLESS
“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph asked when his brothers threw themselves down before him, pleading for forgiveness (Genesis 50:18). That verse always cut me to the quick whenever I feel like withholding forgiveness out of my pain. But I must forgive, like Joseph. And like Jesus, who forgave His betrayers (Luke 23:34).
I am not in the place of God either. I chose to forgive my sibling. It wasn’t easy, but God gave me the strength and courage to do so. After all, I’ve been forgiven much. Who I am, indeed, to withhold that which I have so freely received!
And then, as if forgiveness wasn’t enough, Joseph did something extraordinary. He went the extra mile. “I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:21). He blessed his brothers by offering them a home, thus saving all seventy really, the entire nation of Israel from certain death.
Genuine forgiveness demonstrates itself with acts of kindness towards those who offend us.
Just look at the genuine forgiveness and kindness God has demonstrated towards us, His offenders. “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).