Text: Genesis 29:1-35, Genesis 30:1-43
I sincerely hope that by the time you’re reading this, we’ve all recovered from the awkwardness of the 2015 Miss Universe pageant. It’s going to take me a long time, you guys.
As if the annually televised Parade Of All The Things I’ll Never Be isn’t devastating enough, it was even more painful this year. For those of you who avoided the spectacle, I’ll recap:
The winner is announced and her evening gown glistens with each step as she makes her way toward the crown. She cups her hands in a gasp-turned-princess wave as the tiara is placed on her head. This is her moment! Her country’s flag is raised high, waving proudly, as I pick up the remote to change the channel. But just when her pride has risen as high as my jealousy, something shifts and the emcee returns to the stage.
“Folks,” he says. (You know something is wrong when someone starts a sentence with the word folks.) “I have to apologize.” He then admits to confusing the awards of the first place winner and her first runner-up. The wrongly-crowned beauty queen must now give up her crown and sash, watching as her country’s flag drops. The former runner-up then takes her first step as Miss Universe, her gown sparkling in the light. One hand waves rapidly while the other touches the tiara that now sits atop her head, and our eyes move frantically back and forth between the woman who was chosen and the one who was not.
Rachel and Leah both knew what it was like to be labeled the runner-up. They were familiar with the cycle of feeling wanted, unwanted, and eventually forgotten.
Rachel was wanted by Jacob, but his union with her “ordinary-eyed” sister Leah made her feel confused and unwanted. Once Jacob worked seven more years for her hand in marriage, Rachel was unable to bear children the way Leah could, leaving her feeling forgotten.
Leah was unwanted by any potential husbands, so her father tricked Jacob into marrying her. She was wanted for the child-bearing abilities her sister lacked, but when she had to share a husband who didn’t love her, she was eventually forgotten.
Whether lamenting from lack or watching someone else be crowned with abundance, it’s easy for me to slip into the same cycle of questioning my worth.
Like us, these sisters were living in the inexplicable tension of blessing and suffering. In seasons of feeling wanted, I wonder if they waited for the other shoe to drop, for their circumstances to swing back into forgotten territory. In times of being passed by, I imagine they questioned whether relief would ever come, watching blessing overflow everywhere except their own cup.
Leah tried to create her own relief through her children:
She named her first son Reuben—meaning “I’m seen”—but remained invisible.
She named her second son Simeon—meaning “I’m heard”—but appeared silent.
She named her third son Levi—meaning “I’m attached”—but stayed isolated.
Through her sister’s eyes and the world’s standards, Leah was wanted. But by her husband’s affection, she was forgotten.
This story makes me squirm for many reasons, but mainly because it is mine. It’s ours.
It’s the empty seat at my family dinner table, and the newborn down the street.
It’s the lost job in your friend circle, and the wedding photos on social media.
It’s our not-knowing-what-to-say silence and our oblivious too-close-to-home remarks.
It is the very real tension of blessing and suffering. It is our chance to enter into the mess of humanity and receive the hope of the Gospel.
This story doesn’t inspire us to be like Rachel or Leah, or even give us a piece of advice during our wanting and waiting. Instead, it pulls us into a mess, similar to the ones in our heads and on our hearts, and shows us the only true resolve is Christ.
God loves the unloved by giving her a forever bridegroom (Isaiah 54:5).
He crowns us with the title of Beloved (Romans 9:25).
Leah’s story wasn’t neatly wrapped with pithy takeaways and easy solutions, but the name of her fourth son, Judah, tells us everything we need to know. It means “This time, I will praise the Lord.”
May we, the beloved of the Lord, do the same. Amen.