A Surprising Camaraderie

2, 028.

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That's roughly the number of Sunday mornings I've experienced so far in my lifetime. Let's say I spent roughly 1.5 hours each of those mornings at church (although it was more than that when I was in churches that had adult Sunday school classes).

That means I've been exposed to church, JUST on Sunday mornings, roughly 3,042 hours so far. That's equal to 126.75 days. 18 weeks.

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We're not even considering all the years of Sunday night services, Wednesday night AWANA clubs, and hours spent in Bible studies. Oh, and let's not forget the 17 years of Christian education between elementary school, high school, and college.

It's fair to say I've had a tremendous amount of exposure to God's word and Biblical teaching. Much more than your average person, I'd guess. And though I'm no Bible scholar, FAR from it, actually, I would venture to say that my Bible trivia knowledge is probably above average in today's culture. I've heard the stories, I've studied and researched, I've thought about the many different people whose stories are recorded.

And yet somehow, it wasn't until recently that I realized there is a character I can identify with deeply, and have never stopped to consider it. And this person was God's catalyst to reach a woman sitting in church thousands of years later. Me-a woman who is so very familiar with and sadly often unexpecting of new things from God's Word. What a lesson He had in store for me to consider thru her example.

Isn't it amazing how Scripture is alive and active like that? It never grows stale thanks to the work of the Spirit of God. He guides and teaches us in that pointed way only He can do with a story we've heard hundreds of times before.

Hebrews 4:12New International Version (NIV)

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
I'll bet you can't guess who I'm referring to, not even if you, like me, have a lot of background with studying Scripture. Esther? Nope. Ruth? Wrong again. Sarah? No. 
The woman I've been pondering this week is someone who has, for the first time, amazed me by her deep understanding of her identity in God's eyes. She endured significant pain, loneliness, and rejection, and it was only when she turned to the Lord in praise that we hear no more of her futile efforts to be satisfied by the approval of others. 
This woman had a stunningly beautiful little sister. She had the responsibility of being the oldest daughter in a time when that carried big expectations. She carried the load of knowing she was not the most desired daughter in the family. Not only that, but she was actually forced to disguise herself so that a man would marry her by mistake instead of her cute little sister, the one he really wanted. 

Imagine the grief of knowing with full certainty that you were not the first choice of your husband. That he wouldn't have married you if he'd known what was happening. Imagine seeing his utter and obvious disappointment and despair when he learned that he had promised his life to you only by mistake. How does a marriage recover from such a tragic beginning full of deceit and disappointment? 

Have you guessed who we're talking about yet? Her name was Leah. Her story is found in Genesis and although tragic and heart wrenching, it is nonetheless beautiful in the way we see Leah's journey to true belonging. Only an infinitely Sovereign God could have known me, the girl from Alabama, thousands and thousands of years later, would need the encouragement of this other girl's example of faith. Maybe you could use it, too. 

Jacob quickly discovered he had been tricked into marrying Leah. But, what was done was final. So he just sighed and reluctantly accepted her. Whether he loved her or not, Jacob was willing to continue sleeping with her. Imagine having to give yourself to a man you so desperately wanted to love you, knowing he did not. I can just picture poor Leah brushing her hair, taking special care with her appearance, and putting on her very best smile in continual efforts to win his heart. But all he wanted her for was his own personal gratifications. 

Take a look at her story straight from God's hand. I love how He so clearly paints the picture for us so we feel Leah's desperation and anguish. We pick up when Leah gives birth to her first son.

"She named him Reuben,[b] for she said, “The Lord has noticed my misery, and now my husband will love me.”
33 She soon became pregnant again and gave birth to another son. She named him Simeon,[c] for she said, “The Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me another son.”
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34 Then she became pregnant a third time and gave birth to another son. He was named Levi,[d] for she said, “Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!”
(Here's where my heart was gripped. I read the following verse and practically fell out of my chair. Look at how Leah stopped striving for something she could never have and even if she did, would not give her the fulfillment she so earnestly wanted.)
35 Once again Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She named him Judah,[e] for she said, “Now I will praise the Lord!” And then she stopped having children.
Y'all, what a beautiful sentence!! I can almost see her holding her sweet baby, engulfed in love for him.
But this time, instead of watching anxiously for her husband to arrive in the doorway and bless her for giving him yet another son, she is still. Instead of presenting this baby boy with the earnest hope that her husband's eyes would be opened to what a wonderful wife he had been blessed with, how worthy of his love she really was, she instead PRAISED THE LORD. Nothing whatsoever is mentioned about Jacob. 

Leah had finally come to realize something. No matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried, no matter how sincerely she tried to honor and serve her husband, her efforts were futile because of his hardened heart towards her. We see in Scripture that Leah continued to live the life of the unwanted one. It was no secret that Jacob loved her baby sister more, even to the point that he put Leah and her children at risk by placing them in FRONT of Rachel and her children when they met his brother years later. Esau's intentions were unclear and if he was hostile, Jacob wanted him to get to Leah before his beloved Rachel. 

"Now I will praise the Lord," she said. 

Nothing changed in her world. Jacob never did learn to treasure her. As far as we know, she lived her entire life apart from the blessing of knowing her husband valued her. 

But something better happened to Leah. Something FAR more impactful. 

She finally realized that although her husband did not love her or want her, she was loved and pursued and considered a precious treasure by the One who would NEVER leave her. The One who had been loving her all along, wooing her wounded heart to Himself. The One who says, "Be still. Let me show you what fulfilling, never-failing, unconditional love really looks like." 

And Leah finally stopped striving. She leapt from the exhausting stage of trying to earn someone else's approval. And when she did, she landed in a sea of love greater than she'd ever known. It was a place where she was finally, finally able to give up the fight for her husband's heart and focus her longings on the only One who could ever truly satisfy her need for true belonging and love. 

How long I behaved just like Leah. Maybe not with children, because good grief, the Lord knows I couldn't handle four boys! 

My striving for a man's affection, for his true heart, was in lots of other forms. And lest you think "oh, poor Sharon," let me establish right now that I did not do it perfectly. I lost my temper and I said cruel things and I reacted badly at times. 

But I so desperately wanted that love and would find all sorts of ways to try and earn it. His heart was elsewhere and I couldn't earn it. 

Like Leah, I have had to learn where my only secure love will ever be found. It's such a difficult lesson, one that is never over til we see Him face to face and see that love in person in His eyes. Our hearts are too quick to be distracted and chase after other things. 

Oh, to be more like Leah. Perhaps you find yourself also striving for the approval and acceptance of others. Perhaps you, like me, are so weary and discouraged by the battle that you just can't seem to win. Perhaps you, like me, need to find yourself in Leah's story. 

There is One who holds His hand out to you, my sister, longing to hold you and comfort your heart. That's a relationship I can trust. So can you. Take the leap, my friend. 

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