Would you agree, no one’s life is totally right? If your marriage is good, you struggle with health, or if you have been blessed with children, you hate your job. Maybe you are carried and loved by a village of family, friends and help, but every year February 14th is a cold reminder of the singleness you cannot seem to shake. There is any number of variations to this equation, and you can fill in the blanks for your own life. _____ is right, but _____ is wrong. You are living in both blessings and brokenness.
I’ll unpack some of my bag for you. My marriage is happy and my husband has a good job, but as we speak, my daughter is in the other room sneezing from the little (about 3/4 cup) “cheat” (food allergies) bowl of brown rice (we aren’t talking pizza and ice cream) she ate about an hour ago. In turn, the allergy may or may not trigger an asthma attack at about one o’clock this morning. The Leaky Gut Syndrome that is causing the food allergy may or may not result in a host of other autoimmune disorders later in life should we fail to remedy the condition soon enough (no pressure). For nine years I have been told that this can be cured, but healing has eluded us for exactly that long.
So you get it: lots of blessings, but brokenness too.
So what’s a girl to do? Let’s look at an Old Testament example of two girls.
Enter Rachel and Leah. They provide a tale of a man with two main chicks. You can read Genesis 29-30:1-24 to refresh your memory on their story, but I’m moving forward trusting you are familiar with it. Some of this is conjecture, but it is needful if we are going to really get a hold of what their lives were like. With a little common sense, I think we can speculate with some accuracy. Let’s dive into Leah’s life first.
Jacob did not love Leah and she knew it. It even says he hated (the word “unloved” in Gen. 29:31 literally means “hated”) her. And when you dislike someone, everything they do can bug you. Amen? Disdain actually breeds more disdain. If you have ever loathed someone, then you know that even the way they breathe can irritate you. The way they walk, the way they talk, the way they eat, and in Jacob’s case, maybe even the way she squinted and strained her eyes rubbed him wrong.
It says Leah had “delicate” eyes. This word can be translated two different ways. Either she had poor eyesight or “delicate” could mean her eyes had a special loveliness to them. If it meant her eyesight was abysmal, then this little detail gives us a glimpse into her posture and mannerisms. Perhaps she stumbled around unfamiliar rooms or constantly had to narrow her eyes while tromboneing (think of the back a forth motion it takes to play the trombone) objects in front of her face, searching for just the right distance to achieve focus. This would be annoying to watch if you found that person’s existence offensive already, no?
But if the word “delicate” meant that they were perfectly fine eyes, even noticeably nice, then consider this story to help understand her possible plight.
One day I was getting ready to hit the town with some girlfriends and I came out of the bathroom all done up and ready to go. As a precaution, I did a quick spin and asked Mat to give the outfit a once over. In my mind, I was asking him to make sure there weren’t wrinkles or strings anywhere, and that all the hairs on my head were in their proper domain. You know, a once over. He looked up, puckered his face, cocked his head and said, “I don’t get it.” Pause. Silence. “What do you mean you, (insert quotation fingers) “don’t get it”? With a “paint the fence” hand gesture he said, “I don’t really get the outfit.”
Bewildered, I left and met up to friends that immediately gushed, “Oh, I love your outfit. It’s so cute!” “Really? Cause Mat (insert quotation fingers again) “didn’t get it”. With some attitude they encouraged me, “Ya, he DOESN’T get it.” “Oh ya,” I reassured myself, “My outfit rocks. He DOESN’T get it.”
That was one outfit, but in Leah’s case, she was the outfit. Leah may have had perfectly fine eyes, maybe even particularly attractive eyes, but they were “pearls before swine”.
The Message Bible says it like this:
“Leah had nice eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful.”
She may not have been a showstopper like Rachel, but perhaps she had a less dynamic beauty with some redeeming physical features. Jacob just needed to “get it”.
To make things worse (I think) Leah had a night (their wedding night) with Jacob where he thought she was Rachel. Let’s let our minds wander for a moment. After seven years of working to marry Rachel, the night had finally come and Jacob’s excitement and built-up anticipation would have reached its crescendo. Likely, Leah heard tender words of affection and eager expressions of passion. For one night of her life, Leah tasted Jacob’s love: heard what it sounded like and felt the way it touched (even if it was hoax). Maybe she even let her heart sink into it and hoped that he would learn to love her the same way. But like taking candy from a baby, she would never have a night like that again. It just seems cruel.
And the next day, seeing the look on Jacob’s face would have been hard. Someone looking at you with disappointment and disgust never feels good, even if you know it’s coming. Maybe she pleaded her case. “I can make you happy too. I’m not Rachel but I’ll be an amazing wife. If you just go with it, I promise you won’t regret it. You’ll see!” Sigh. Poor Leah.
Onto Rachel. If it wasn’t love at first sight, Jacob was smitten within a month (Gen. 29:14-18); these two connected quick. He offered to work 7 years to marry her, and during those seven years, it would be fair to theorize that these two love birds flirted, exchanged glances and fell asleep at night dreaming of the day they would finally sleep together in the same bed as husband and wife.
So when did Laben tell Rachel the plan? Was it the night of the wedding? Was Rachel already dressed in her wedding gown? She had undoubtedly counted down to this day, like any bride does, only to find out it wouldn’t be happening. And not only would it not be happening, but it would happening without her; Leah was taking her place. Can you imagine the tears you would cry and how long the night would drag on as you laid in bed knowing your sister was in his tent, experiencing your wedding night? It would be near impossible not to let your imagination go wild. At this point, Rachel doesn’t even know what Jacob will do when he finds out the truth. Would he have to work seven more years to marry Rachel again, and if so, would he be willing to? Would he give up?
We know Jacob did work seven more years for her, but if that was a rough start for the three of them, then it only got worse from there.
“When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.”(Gen. 29:31)
God saw Leah’s sadness and decided to give her children as a blessing. Leah was convinced each son would endear Jacob to her. If he couldn’t see her physical beauty, surely he would appreciate her other benefits. If she couldn’t beat Rachel physically, then she would do it functionally. Finally, an arena she could compete in, and win! Take a look at some of the names and meanings she gave to her sons.
Reuben – The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
Levi – “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
Leah clearly did not understand that God gave her sons because her husband did not love her, not so that her husband would. She was given a blessing to enjoy but it was never to improve the other area of her life. She was to savor it for its own merits because at no time was it going to give her the one thing she couldn’t have. Leah had blessings and brokenness. It would up to her to appreciate the life she was in, not in the one she hoped for, or strived to achieve.
Rachel, having the devotion of her husband, obsessed over the one thing she didn’t have – sons. She envied Leah to the point of despair and rage, thus invoking Jacob’s (Genesis 30:1). Rachel too lived with blessings and brokenness, but spent years fighting against the reality of her situation instead of relishing in the benefits she did have.
Eventually, God did “open” Rachel’s womb and gave her a son, but not surprisingly, her discontentment took center-stage once again, and it wasn’t enough. She named him Joseph and said, “The Lord shall add to me another son.” Isn’t that just the way. She had her Joseph cradled in her arms, but her mind was on what she didn’t have: a second son. Once again, Rachel is preoccupied with the brokenness instead of the blessing.
Her mothering days were short lived since she died giving birth to her next son roughly 7 years later (the date of her death is disputed) and I can’t help but notice the irony in the fact that her answered prayer ended up killing her. She enjoyed Ben-Oni (Benjamin) only long enough to name him and die(Gen. 35:16-19).
Leah too would find life didn’t get much better after having her 8 sons (6 biologically and 2 surrogately). The love of Jacob’s life was Rachel and throughout the little we know of their time on earth, he had no qualms about making his favoritism painfully obvious (Gen. 33:1-3). And even after Rachel died, the preferential treatment just continued onto her sons (remember Joseph and the coat of many colors). When Jacob was on his own death bed decades after Rachel’s passing, he spoke about the sadness of Rachel’s death(Gen. 48:5-7 NIV) and adopted Joseph’s son’s as his own as a symbol of the son’s Rachel would have had, had she not died. Bottom line, whether Rachel was present or gone, Leah didn’t stand a chance. She would always live in her sister’s shadow, overlooked and unrecognized.
As an interesting side note, Jacob was buried by Leah and not Rachel. Where and with whom you were buried was a big deal (Gen. 47:29-30, Gen. 48:7, Gen. 49:29-31, Gen. 50:25) back then. So Leah finally did get to be the honored wife and have her man alone, but only in death. In some strange way, they both got what they wanted, but didn’t get to enjoy it. Neither girl got to have it all right or all wrong, they just had what they had.
Considering how little they enjoyed the good things they did have, I wonder if their wildest dreams had come true, would it really have made much of a difference anyway. Leah was happy to get a son, but immediately thought of the benefits it might bring with Jacob and Rachel got a son, but immediately thought of the next one.
There are parts of our lives that are not right and may never be and there may be nothing we can do about it. Will you live your life is despair or joy? The choice has to be made outside of circumstances. These girls missed out on their sisterhood (they were contentious (Gen. 30:15)) and the good things they did have because all they could see was what they did not have. You have God’s goodness toward you right now in different ways, and in different expressions, so we need to live with gratitude in today’s status. No matter what box you check, however many children you have, or whether you have clean bill of health, God has blessed you. If you live any number of years, you know life will always have the parts that flow easily and others that struggle, so we need to practice gratitude right now, in our imperfect worlds. Not when it is better, but exactly how it is. For the rest of our lives, we have to ask, “What will I dwell on? Will the blessings take over my thoughts and character or will the brokenness?” The choice is ours.