What Leah and Rachel taught me

The book club group has been reading “Becoming Women of the Word” by Sarah Christmyer. It is a wonderful book full of insights into the lives and stories of Biblical Women from Eve, mother of the living all the way to Judith. All of these women lived in a time we can only imagine, long before the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. They have much to teach us through their lives and what little we can find of their words. They were all women of courage.

Because we are all women, like those we are reading about, we share physical needs and desires. Whether we are able to have children or not, we are naturally, by design “mothers”. Our motherhood is in our DNA, our gift from our Creator. We share a need to be loved and to love; we are “hard wired” for compassion and kindness to others. Physically we are not as strong as men, for women’s bodies do not develop the muscle mass that men’s bodies do. But women’s lives call on us to be strong emotionally, sometimes in ways that men simply cannot be strong.

Over the centuries our cultures have developed such that men are the head of the family. In reading and studying the Bible, it is obvious that God designed it that way. But the heart of the family is the mother, the woman, for only she has the emotional capacity to be that center of the home.

Because Leah and Rachel were sisters, I felt a real connection with them. I, too, had sisters, though they are all passed from this life. In the relationship and struggles which Leah and Rachel had, I recognized struggles of my own with my sisters. And through thinking about Leah and Rachel’s relationship, I began to see parts of myself that were unflattering, things that I had done, ways that I had related to my sisters that were hurtful to them and eventually to me.

My sisters and I shared a common parentage. We shared a common history and many of the same experiences. Each of us had physical and intellectual abilities that were different, but our emotional needs were the same – we needed to be loved and valued by those we loved.

The four of us

In reflecting on my relationship with my sisters, I have recognized that we share more than what is apparent. Though we have a similar appearance in our physical characteristics, we each had physical limitations which were different from one another. Two of us were afflicted with diabetes. All of us struggled with our weight. We were all intelligent, though in different ways. We all had desires for our life and attempted to use our physical and intellectual gifts in ways that were pleasing to us. Not all of us were successful in the eyes of the world or even perhaps in our own lives. We all needed to be loved, and though we all were loved by our parents,  we all experienced that love differently. To some of us that love and respect of our parents was adequate. To others of us, there was never enough love.

As we have seen with Leah and Rachel’s story, my sisters and I eventually came to some sort of peace within ourselves and with each other, sometimes not until we were close to death. We found and made the best we could with the lives we were given. We loved and were loved, but not to the degree we had hoped. Two of us had children – one apiece. My sister Jean “mothered” the patients she served in her many years as a nurse. My youngest sister Jill “mothered” many who came into contact with her, including me in those last years of her difficult and painful life.

I have many regrets about the ways I treated two of my sisters – Jean and Jill.  I responded to some events in their lives in ways that was unloving and unkind. There were times that I could have treated the two of them with more respect and understanding, but I did not. I chose to think of myself and my needs and not theirs. I recognize that the fault was not just mine, for the attitudes and behavior of others changes and affects our own attitude and behavior toward them. That is the “curse” of being alive, of relating to others, of learning about life and love. We seem unable to be free to just love the other for who and what they are.

I wonder about Leah and Rachel. From their stories we can see that life changed them as they struggled with their relationship to their common husband and to each other. Leah seemed to have found what her heart needed. Though Leah wanted the love of her husband, she found comfort in her children and in the role which was given to her. Rachel, who had the love of her husband, eventually had two children by him, but still grasped for what was not hers. In the end Rachel seemed unfulfilled by her life.

Lines that were especially meaningful to me — “the woman who learned to stop expecting a man to fulfill her and who instead turned her eyes to her heavenly Father was specially blessed (that was Leah)” and “God uses us as we are – struggles, insecurities, and all”.

I wonder as my life continues – how is God using me? With all my mistakes and missteps, with all the hurt that I have passed on to others, what good will come of my life? Will I look back over the years as my last days come and feel fulfilled, or will I, like Rachel, wish that there had been more?

“It makes me wonder, when I struggle with my own empty heart, if I say yes and receive him, might the Lord do something extraordinary with me?” – the very last line in Leah and Rachel’s story. So I wait to see if the Lord will do something extraordinary with me.