18Then Judah stepped up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’21Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, so that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ 24When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. 25And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. 29If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’ 30Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ 33Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”
You’ve gotta hand it to Judah, speaking to Joseph the way that he did took some chutzpah. He acknowledges that this man is practically Pharaoh in terms of his power and his ability to affect whether or not Judah and his brother lived or died. He knew that his words might be falling on deaf ears or worse, that his words might provoke this powerful Egyptian to even greater wrath. Still Judah, stands up and presents his case despite his trembling hands and knocking knees. Judah could not bear the thought of seeing his father’s face absent his brother’s company. He knew that Jacob would die of grief and he couldn’t bear that burden. So he spoke plainly of what he wanted and what he needed to happen, knowing that this could go badly in a hurry. This was an act of courage.
Speaking our daily needs and our daily truths may not seem the act of bravery that we see in Judah, and yet how often are we terrified to speak aloud the things we need from life, less known the things we want.
Today, my therapist and I spoke of a continuing narrative that has haunted me since I was a child: my needs are a burden to others. I can make due on my own. If I speak my needs, I will be seen as needy. It’s better to go along with what others want and not rock the boat.
These are pretty standard middle child narratives. They’re also pretty standard abuse narratives. The best way to keep from being noticed is to not have needs. Like so much of my make-up, this is survival thinking that has outlived its usefulness.
It may not always feel like a matter of life and death, but it is important for us to speak what we need, because it communicates to others, and most importantly to ourselves, that our needs are valid. We may speak our needs with trembling voices, but it needs to be done. And like Judah, we can’t control how people will respond to hearing our needs, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they need to be heard. I confess my timidity throughout my life in articulating my needs, especially to those who love me and care about my well being. I pray for the courage to be honest with myself and others about my places of deprivation.