When I was an unmarried college student, I got a job working at a retail store in the local mall.
People that I knew would frequently come through, but I was surprised one day to see a good looking young man approach me. I recognized him as the brother of a boy I had known in my middle school days.
He smiled at me and struck up a conversation. As he continued talking to me for more than a few minutes, I found his attention flattering but began to wonder why he was lingering around me for so long. Right around the time that I began to assume that he was being flirtatious with me, these words came out of his mouth: “So, tell me about her. Does she have a boyfriend?”
I immediately paused in my shirt folding and looked to see where he was gesturing. My gaze fell on the beautiful young high school student that had just joined our staff. She had long, straight brown hair and a bubbly smile.
I felt a jolt of unpleasantness course through my veins. Though I had no interest in this young man and did not desire to “hook up” with him, I was flattered by the idea that he might be talking to me because he thought I was interesting or attractive. However, his comment underlined the real reason he was acting so friendly in my presence.
The idea made me freeze a little because I had observed flocks of guys around this particular girl on a regular basis, and it was hard not to be feel terribly plain and unnoticed working beside her.
“She has a boyfriend,” I said very evenly as I finished the last of the shirts in my pile.
His face fell and within seconds he mumbled his goodbyes and quickly exited the store. I stood there feeling slightly used and annoyed. Could he not just chat with me a few moments because I grew up near his family, and I had gone to school with his brother? Why was his only intent to use me to get to this other girl?
Although this irritated feeling in this particular incident was one I was able to shrug off within a matter of moments, I suppose that the reason the irritation was there to begin with was because of something deep within me that this situation touched on. A fear that perhaps I didn’t have what other girls had to offer.
A longing to be noticed and admired — even by somebody’s brother whom I wasn’t even interested in.
Leah from the Bible: A Woman Insecure and Unwanted
When I was a young girl, I was familiar with the story of Leah and Rachel, and here was my honest thought concerning God’s placement of it in the Bible: it reinforced my belief that it was important to be more like Rachel than Leah. Males loved Rachels.
I had a few Rachels in my immediate realm who proved this point. They were pretty, popular, sought after. Enough said.
But I never considered that the story in the Bible wasn’t to make insecure girls feel even more insecure. God’s intention in placing it there was most likely to show overlooked-feeling girls such as myself how to find confidence and belonging.
Let’s look at Leah’s story in Genesis 29. Leah was given to Jacob when Jacob didn’t even want her. Rather than the sister he thought he was getting on his wedding night, he got Leah. And when he discovered that his trickster father-in-law had made the switch, he was angry and demanded that he have Rachel. And there was nothing Leah could do to change the situation she found herself in.
She didn’t have a choice when her father, Laban, chose her to dupe Jacob, and she couldn’t get out of a marriage she was bound by covenant into, even though it meant sharing her husband with a sister that was the favored one, the one that Jacob loved.
So, as blogger and Proverbs 31 contributor Lynn Cowell points out in a blog post, Leah did what any desperate woman would do, and she attempted to offer Jacob something that would make him love her. In her society, because a woman’s fertility was valued, she bore him sons. And with each son she birthed, the Bible says that Leah believed that the child would help Jacob feel attached to her. Three times, she did this!
It’s easy to look at poor Leah here and claim that we would never repeatedly engage in the same cycle of approval-seeking (when it clearly isn’t working), but that is exactly some of us have done a thousand times.
We continue to call the man who won’t commit to a serious relationship and make excuses when he never calls us. We continue to kill ourselves out-performing everyone at our job to prove to a hard-to-please male boss that we are a good employee. We think of ways we can dress better, do our hair differently, lose a few pounds to keep the affections of a husband who is distant and unaffectionate. And though our efforts don’t work, we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that if we just do [fill in the blank], we will finally win him.
Leah fell into this trap again and again. You can almost imagine her as she presented her newest newborn to her husband with eager expectation, but he did not waver in his love for Rachel. In fact, the irony is that Rachel was barren for many years when they were first married, but Jacob showed devotion and favoritism towards her even when she had difficulty conceiving.
Have you ever been there?
But as Cowell observes, there is a turning point in the story where Leah had a heart-change. She stopped looking to her husband, and she started looking to God for her love and fulfillment. In verse 35, after the birth of her fourth son, Leah said: “This time I will praise the Lord.” And then Leah stopped bearing children for a time.
Aren’t you just cheering for Leah here? She adjusted her focus to the One who created her.
However, her change of heart may have only been temporary. She began child-bearing again — it doesn’t expressly say that did this to try once again to gain her husband’s attention, but more out of competition with her sister.
Regardless of whether Leah changed her approval-seeking ways with her husband permanently or not, her heart-change (even if only temporary) did not change her circumstances. The Scriptures give no indication that her husband began to love her. In fact, it indicates that she remained unloved. When Jacob was afraid to meet his brother, Esau, later in the story, he sent Leah out in front. Rachel was safely positioned back with him.
But Leah’s best moment was when she found strength in a God who loved her and had a purpose for her when the world was unfair to her. It turns out that Leah was in the lineage of Jesus Christ! And, though the biblical account doesn’t tell us what happened between Jacob and Leah later in life, I’d like to think that perhaps Jacob grew to respect and perhaps even love this wife he initially didn’t want.
What we do know is that Leah outlived Rachel and was buried next to him (an honor not even Rachel had).
If You Feel Unwanted
I know if you are reading this and find yourself feeling left out and unloved like Leah, you might be wondering: Does this mean my circumstances will never change? I can’t answer that. I do know that God wants us to find meaningful connections in our relationships, and I believe that He can restore any relationship.
However, I also know that sometimes God doesn’t change our circumstances the way we want. Instead, He may change us.
The encouragement is that if we find ourselves in a challenging work situation or relationship, we can know that God has a purpose for us, and though we may not be able to change the people in our situation, we can change our own perspective and find contentment and belonging despite how people may view us.
For some of us, God may make it obvious that we do need to move on from the situation we’re in. But for others of us, God may have us stick out a stressful work environment, tough family situation we want to run from, or marriage that isn’t ideal.
The Real Lesson of the Story: You Can Be Loved For Being You
So the real lesson the story isn’t that I should try to be a Rachel if I’m not. The story reminds me not to find my sole value in the desires of a person because I may be sorely disappointed. God gave us male-female relationships for our enjoyment and fulfillment, yes, but if the male is our source, the one we look to for our sense of worth, we will find ourselves on shaky ground. We may find ourselves in an unhealthy cycle of striving, like Leah, to get him to notice us or try to make him love us.
God is the only One who can love you completely in the way that you need to be loved. And He finds delight in you, just the way you are! A better way to live is to be secure in who God made you to be. When we rest in the truth that God loves us, we find the strength and grace to navigate the relationships in our life in a healthy manner — whether the people in our closest realm see the value God sees in us — or not.
Carol’s note: Please understand that my intent in writing this article is not to encourage you to stay in an abusive situation. Please seek out the help of a Christian counselor or pastor if you are being physically or emotionally abused.