It’s a pretty bad feeling to suddenly realize you have forgotten something. To realize that you forgot you had a meeting. To wake up and know you forgot you had a test to study for. To get somewhere and reach into your pocket and find out you forgot your wallet. To go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night knowing you forgot someone’s birthday. It’s a bad feeling.
But it’s not nearly as bad as being the thing that is forgotten. We can drift in and out of periods of sadness; we can walk through seasons of anger; we can experience the pain of regret; but there is something unique about feeling forgotten. See, as bad as those other emotions and experiences might be, you can still feel validated as a person inside of them. But to feel forgotten? That’s a bit different because when you feel forgotten, your self worth is called into question. To be forgotten means, at least in the mind of the one forgotten, that you are not worth remembering. It’s worse in some ways than feeling sad; it’s as if you don’t exist. Because you don’t really matter.
And so we turn in the Bible to someone who didn’t just feel forgotten; he was forgotten.
A person can get emotional whiplash from reading the life of Joseph. It’s a series of ups and downs and ups and downs, a constant bungee cord of highs and lows. He was the favored son of his father, and based on a dream he had, was destined for a life of power and prestige. But his brothers became jealous of him – so jealous that they sold him into slavery and faked his death. Joseph was taken as a slave to Egypt, sold into the household of Potiphar. But because God was with him, Joseph was soon elevated to a position of importance in that house, only to then be falsely accused of sexual misconduct and thrown into prison.
Yet again, God showed that He was Joseph’s advocate, for in prison he was once again elevated to a position of authority in the jail. While in prison, he encountered two officers of Pharaoh – his cupbearer and his baker, each of whom had a dream. God enabled Joseph to interpret the dreams, and at least for the cupbearer, the dream was good news:
“In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position. You will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand the way you used to when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison” (Gen. 40:13-14).
The request was simple: “Remember me.” Joseph did not want to be forgotten. And yet that’s exactly what happened. The events unfolded just as Joseph said they would, but perhaps overcome with joy and relief at his reinstatement, the cupbearer did not do what Joseph asked:
“Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Gen. 40:23).
I wonder what that must have felt like. Perhaps you don’t have to wonder, because you know what it means to have those three words ringing around in your mind: He forgot me.
Maybe you know what it feels like to work and work in your career never to be recognized. Or you know what it feels like to sacrifice daily on behalf of your children only to be met with ever increasing demands and ever decreasing gratitude. Or you know what it feels like to love someone only to see them moving on in life and leave you behind. You know what it feels like to be overlooked. Stepped over. Moved past.
You feel forgotten by all the cupbearers in your life that should not be forgetting you. But they do. So where is the good news for us in this? Where is the hope if today, right now, you have the sense of feeling forgotten?
The good news is that even though the cupbearer might forget, God never does. He’s very good at remembering His children:
The Lord is a refuge for the persecuted,
a refuge in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you
because you have not abandoned
those who seek you, Lord.
Sing to the Lord, who dwells in Zion;
proclaim his deeds among the nations.
For the one who seeks an accounting
for bloodshed remembers them;
he does not forget the cry of the oppressed (Ps. 9:9-12).
As for Joseph, he had to wait in prison for a while longer. Two years longer in fact. So it might be for us. It might be that the person who has forgotten us never really remembers. But God does.
When the cupbearers forget, God remembers.