Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I am Leah.

There is a story from the ancient scriptures that is oft told around Valentine’s Day.  One of determined and persistent love: the story of Jacob and his Rachel.  Theirs is the story of how he, after being overwhelmed by her beauty, worked for seven years simply to earn her hand; and then, having been duped into marrying her older sister, how he worked seven more.  And while this is terribly romantic, I am given pause at how often we neglect the other sister, the one Jacob first wed.  And when I open their story, I feel that I know this woman better than the two tenacious lovers – the undesired sister. 

I have heard so many teachers and pastors and lay ministry leaders claim that she was purposefully and actively complicit in her father’s treachery against Jacob.  But because the scriptures don’t say, I wonder.  Because, when researching of late a full theology of beauty, I find that even the scriptures say Leah was not beautiful; and certainly not in comparison to her sister, Rachel.  What stands behind this stark declaration is the fact that there is not a woman in all of creation who wouldn’t have felt the weight of this truth – every single day – as she grew, as she hoped for love, as she watched her younger sister capture the heart of this stranger with her beauty.  Leah knew; she lived in this truth: she was not beautiful.  She was not desired.  Not wanted.  Not good enough. 
Thus, I can be compelled to conclude that even if she were actively complicit in the plot to trick Jacob into marrying her, her spirit had been so wounded, so abused, so crippled by the knowledge that even her own father didn’t think she could be married off without deception, her part in this scheme would have come from a desolate place of wanting.  Wanting what is the crux of humanity – to be loved.

Yet another option remains: that she was not an active participant in this plot.  That she was forced, outside of her will, to enact this ruse on her sister’s fiancé.  It is a cultural possibility; though again, not explicit in scripture, so we cannot truly know.  And if it were the case, one must add to the desperate feelings of being so completely unwanted, the guilt of having to betray her beautiful younger sister and deprive Rachel of the love she had found.    
Either way, Leah was bound to this marriage of great compromise; for there were no mechanisms for a woman in this time to divorce herself of such abject un-love.  So that Leah remains the sister who was forever unwanted.  Even after the marriage consummated and the veil lifted, Jacob didn’t want her.  How that must have felt, after giving her body, herself, to this man – whatever her hopes or guilt or dreams – to be publically declared unwanted.  Branded as not good enough by her now-husband, her father, her sister, her people; to finally have the label of her lifelong pain spoken aloud.  Undesired.  Unwanted.  Unloved. 

And all because she wasn’t pretty enough.   
Leah tried those seven years that weren’t hers, to win Jacob’s heart.  But we know these few millennia later, what she didn’t: Jacob only had eyes for Rachel.  His Rachel – the woman who was beautiful, the one who was wanted. 

And yet, still Jacob lay with Leah.  She bore him children because the Lord saw that Leah was unloved.  Year after year, Leah made herself available to Jacob; hoping to win just a portion of his love.  Through sex, through bearing him sons, through being the best wife she could be [ok, that last one’s a hermeneutical leap].  But Jacob doggedly made it known that Rachel was the one whom his heart desired.  And implicit in his constant proclamation was the over-and-over annunciation that Leah was not.
Sadly, it was only after Leah gave up hoping that Jacob could love her, she found peace in her spirit.  After all the sons, all the striving, all the praying, all the never-ending rejection, she had her last son and finally said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”  And she stopped having children.[1]  What we don’t know is whether she was thereafter unable to have children, or if she stopped sleeping with Jacob.  Both are possible.  Perhaps Leah finally gave up; quit trying to win the love of a man, and instead became content with herself, her life, and her Lord.    

While Leah’s story isn’t a romantic one, I find myself drawn to it as I ponder beauty and love.  A combination with which so many are infatuated even to this day.  And I think of all the women hurting themselves in the pursuit of both.  Living lives out of the desperate loneliness of not good enough  and unloved.  Being driven to sacrifice the best parts of themselves on the altar of false hope and phantom promises. 

If only I were prettier/skinnier/smarter/younger. 

If only he loved me. 

And all the myriad of wishes that assault us, when we are empty of love. 

This year, on Valentine’s Day, I have decided to be mindful of Leah; to burn a candle for her, to buy her flowers, and offer her just a bit of my day.  I will do this for the wife who was unloved; and for all the Leahs since.  Women who have wanted so very desperately to be loved, of whom I could number my younger self.  Women who have sought this love in the arms of the wrong man; who have traded their bodies chasing after phantoms of love; women who have sacrificed their time and great portions of their lives on the altar of this false hope.  Women who have heard over and over and over again, that they are not enough. 

I will buy them – us – flowers because there is an unquenchable love that is as strong as death and as jealous as the grave.  We have only but to look to Christ, for He loves each one of us so much that he would sell off all of the universe just to ransom you.  And me.  Regardless of the nights spent in the arms of our Jacob, men who don’t want us.  Regardless of where these lonely paths have taken us.  Regardless of what we have traded for the hope of love.  Because that is a love more powerful and more beautiful than Jacob’s.  And through it, you and I, beloved, are made more lovely than Rachel; and more content than Leah.
The love of Jesus Christ – the only man who knows all that we’ve done while pursuing love, and cares only for our hearts.  The Son of God, who loves each one of us, be we Rachel or Leah, anyway.       

[1] Genesis 29:35

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