In this last day of February, I want to address one reality many couples live in today – love that has gone out in their marriage. When marital relationships are not being nurtured well, what may have started out as being so much in love may turn into falling out of love over the long haul for many. A couple could get into a rut of routines and responsibilities, and begin to live parallel lives with busyness, work, and other things getting in the way. Some may just be holding on to a loveless marriage for the sake of the children. There is hope to rekindle the love as we have witnessed in our work among couples, but there are those where one party simply does not want to exert effort to work on the marriage and just maintain the status quo.
For those in this kind of situation, we may learn a thing or two from the life of Leah who got caught into a marriage without love, and how she lived and even thrived in that situation.
In Genesis 29-30, we meet Leah and her sister Rachel who became rival wives of Jacob in a polygamous relationship prevalent in their time. Jacob fell so in love with the younger and beautiful Rachel, worked for her father for 7 years to have her in marriage. However, he was tricked by his father-in-law who gave Leah instead during the wedding night. Jacob worked for another 7 years (total of 14 years) for Rachel whom Jacob loved greatly that seven years of service was just like a few days to him. Leah, described as having “weak eyes,” was neither loved nor sought after. Considering that Jacob was tricked into marrying her, this is understandable.
However, Leah having found herself in the situation, desired to be loved as a wife, which she hoped to happen over time. God instead blessed Leah with children, and her responses will give us a glimpse of how she felt and grew in spite of this loveless marriage.
When Leah focused on her loveless status, she felt miserable and filled with longing for her husband’s love. When she had Reuben (meaning “behold a son”), she took it as God noticing her misery and thought that her son would be her ticket for Jacob to love her. Next she had Simeon (meaning “heard”), she still felt she was not loved and God heard her by giving her another son. When she had Levi (meaning “joined”), she was still hoping that Jacob will get attached to her for giving him 3 sons. So for the first several years in this marriage, she felt miserable and was filled with longing to be loved as a wife should be.
When she focused on what God had given her, she began to appreciate her blessings and felt happy. When Leah had her fourth son, Judah (meaning “praise”), she had a turning point that changed her outlook and feelings as well, even if her circumstances did not change. She decided “this time I will praise the Lord.” She may have realized that her longing to be loved by Jacob may never be fulfilled, so she had better focus her energy towards those God has blessed her with – her children. By the time she had her fifth son, Issachar (meaning ‘wage”, “reward”), she felt God has presented her with a precious gift. She may not be loved for who she was, but she will at least be honored for her accomplishment of having many sons, a sign of blessing for women in their culture. By the time she had Dinah (meaning “judged”, “vindicated”), Leah may already have felt her cup finally full with what God had given.
In many family relationships, things could get very difficult, especially when one of the spouses does not want to work and improve their relationship.
One could either become bitter, build resentment, escape, or thrive and grow, even when there are unfulfilled areas. I know some friends who chose to remain and exercised “long-suffering” love, until they got rewarded with breakthroughs in their spouses. I know several who chose to leave, especially when physical battery, drug abuse or alcoholism are involved for the sake of their safety and protection. Each case is unique and needs to be approached with much prayer, wisdom, and seeking God’s direction. In Leah’s case where the culture allowed their set-up and Jacob did not drive her away, Leah stayed on and hoped for change. But when change was not forthcoming, she chose to look at her blessings instead of what she lacked. We learn that feelings follow where one focuses on. She chose to focus on the blessings.
The most important step toward joy in a loveless marriage is to change our focus from what we do not
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