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Courageously Soft

“Joseph suffers with dry eyes, but he remembers with tears.” By Charaia Rush

What’s fascinating about the story of Joseph is the author doesn’t mention Joseph weeping until after his life begins to look better. The text doesn’t say he weeps when his brothers’ envy pushes them to throw their own blood into a pit (though he does display emotion). He doesn’t cry when he is sold into slavery and given to Potiphar. He doesn’t cry when, after being freed, he is falsely accused and thrown back into prison. He doesn’t cry when he is forgotten by Pharaoh’s cupbearer. Through the anger, the uncertainty and the betrayal, we do not bear witness to Joseph being moved to tears. The author is very intentional when speaking of the times Joseph weeps. Joseph suffers with dry eyes, but he remembers with tears.

The first time we see Joseph cry is in Genesis 42. By this time Joseph has endured a life of slavery under Potiphar after being sold by his own flesh and blood and has spent years in prison despite his innocence. After interpreting several dreams and proving his character to Pharaoh, Joseph is promoted and becomes one of his officials. During this time, a famine depletes his homeland, and his brothers come to Egypt to get food for their family. They do not recognize Joseph, but he recognizes them. They have come to Egypt desperate for a rescue. There, in front of Joseph, they confess that their struggle is because of what they have done in the past, unaware of who they are speaking to.

They say to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us” (Genesis 42:21, NIV). 

How audacious. For Joseph, the actions of his brothers had catapulted him into a life of profound anguish and suffering. And here they are, discussing their regret over what was done, not because they are convicted of the evil of their actions but because they fear they are experiencing some kind of karma. 

Even though all these events set the stage for God’s redemption further in the story, in that moment it doesn’t matter that Joseph finally has the upper hand. It doesn’t matter that his experiences have been redeemed in his favor. Or that he is no longer a slave and is in a position of power. None of that keeps the tears at bay—because memories have a way of breaking our hearts a second time. Joseph “turned away from them and began to weep” (Genesis 42:24, NIV).

Many times, our memories of pain can harden us in the same way the original wounds can. But from what we read about Joseph and all he goes through, it’s safe to conclude that his heart remains soft toward the Lord. It is soft enough to find a way to serve others with his gift while he is bound and in prison—and has every reason to withhold his help out of bitterness. It is soft enough to flee from temptation when he is seduced and to forfeit the chance to tell his side of the story (Genesis 39:12-18).

We present Joseph as the hero of the story because he trusts God and forgives his brothers. But the story of Joseph illustrates the power of our divine hero entering both our trauma and the stories we tell ourselves.

I see Joseph in those of you who may struggle with the belief that your trauma has robbed you of the ability to stay soft. Joseph has done the work of trusting God in the pit and in prison. But as he sits in a position of power, despite the proof that God came to his rescue and restored his life, there is still a wound.

You may have come out of the valley unscathed by the temptation to let disappointment, cynicism and fear packaged as self-righteousness harden your heart. But there is still the aftermath, the wound, the memories and the story. Sometimes we desperately want God to make us soft by making the pain from what happened to us disappear. But some things stick to us, even when circumstances are better. 

God can make us tender through the tears we shed when the residue of the things we survived shows up even in better times.

If you are like me, you want the miracle of becoming soft to be instantaneous. But life ebbs and flows in such a way that there will always be this rhythm of being hardened and returning to tenderness. In Genesis 42, for all he has endured, Joseph seemingly comes out on top with his heart intact, and yet he weeps in a way that reveals corners of his heart that still need softening. For Joseph, as for all of us, becoming soft is a process God is continually working within us. There are times when we are softened not by confessing our sins but by letting God touch what we painfully remember. And memory is such a curious thing. We tend to recall what we want to forget and forget what we wish we could remember. But I’ve cried enough tears to fill a pool—enough to know tears make us tender. God does not make us tender by rushing us to a place of resolution where we are okay with what happened to us. Rather, our tears can lead us to a healed and restored heart by way of lamenting. 

Lament and grief are sisters. When we grieve, we are swept up by the tide of loss, overcome by the force of losing someone or something. Lamenting empowers us to recall God’s faithfulness as we reckon with a life riddled with loss. There is a softening when we grieve the love we never received, the words we never heard and the safety we weren’t afforded. The tears make us tender because they validate our pain and everything we’ve been through, and it is in this painful remembrance that God meets us to tell us we are seen and loved through it all.

Joseph carried years and moments of pain, and the Scripture never makes mention of tears. Not until he comes face-to-face with his brothers. Not until the grief that was living in his bones begins to sing. And so Joseph weeps. Joseph grieves. He grieves how his brothers love Benjamin in a way they never loved him (Genesis 44:18-45:2). 

The most heartbreaking scene is when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, proclaiming, “It’s me! The one you hurt, the one you discarded! It’s me, your brother whom you treated as anything but.” Genesis 45:2 says that when Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers, he sobs so loudly that the Egyptian attendants he told to leave the room could hear him. I can relate to that ache. 

When we are offered the blessing of mourning, we are wise to receive it, as Joseph does. We can let our tears become our lament of all the wrongs we have endured, even and especially if we’ve downplayed them in the past or worked hard to put them behind us. Joseph weeps a total of seven times. Some tears he sheds for his own pain, some for his loss and some for others. Joseph’s sensitivity is anything but a curse. In fact, it’s a blessing. The tears he sheds lead him to the tender moment we see in Genesis 50. 

To come face-to-face with the stories we tell ourselves is not easy. And yet it’s in grieving what was and what never could be that we shed the tears that shed the armor off our hearts. I remember where I was when I screamed to the heavens with receipts that the story I had been telling myself was in fact true: “Girls like me don’t get good things, God!” I’d been wounded toward the lie that God could not touch the jagged edges that were left in the dark. 

This is an excerpt from the book “Courageously Soft” by Charaia Rush, originally published April 2024. Used by permission from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

For Further Study


  • Courageously Soft: Daring to Keep a Tender Heart in a Tough World by Charaia Rush 


  • @charaiarush on Instagram for biblical encouragement and conversations around trauma, the fight to remain soft, and more. 

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