Okay, so I’m back after it. My teaching schedule is wrapping up for the Spring in a few weeks and I will have two solid months in which I am not writing study lessons. Which means one thing: If I am ever going to write another actual book IT IS NOW OR NEVER.
I’ve been working on two proposals on and off for the last year but family and church and a busy teaching schedule have come first. There’s just only so much a 40-year-old-Diet-Dr.-Pepper embalmed brain can take. Most people would actually sell a book and then tell you about it but because you girls have always been such a source of great wisdom to me and because I write these things in hope they will be relevant and needful and meaningful to you, I choose to work in the opposite way. In fact, I have no idea if any publisher will be in the least bit interested but again, that is not the reason I write. With that said, I am posting The Introduction to the most complete of the two proposals: Ransoming Leah: The Buy One Get One Sister. After some discussion, I will post Chapter One (which is all I have written currently) later in the week so I can feel this thing out through your conversation. By then I will hopefully have heard from a few publishing friends who are reading and I can have some idea whether to curl up in a fetal position or not.
I know I’ve not been a faithful blogger and perhaps it is unfair for me to pop in and ask for assistance, yet again. But, if I ask nicely will you let me know if this book and the topic of God-ascribed worth resonates with you at all? And if it’s close, but not quite there, PLEASE, share those thoughts with me. I don’t want my own experience to be a blinder to yours.
Enough blabbering. Here it is:
Ransoming Leah: The Buy One Get One Sister
As a woman in my early 20’s and not yet a Christian, I struggled greatly in determining what I wanted to be when I grew up. I took classes in computer programming, nursing, and cosmetology. Each program taught me some valuable things: 1) I am not a logical thinker, 2) I ashamedly lack the compassion to care for the ‘messier’ needs of others and, 3) I would sooner enter a cage with a hungry bobcat than with a woman whose hair I had wrecked.
There were many great teachers in all these pursuits but you may be surprised to find the most profound thought came from a locally renowned hairdresser who took me under her wing – that is until my esteem issues helped me realize I could never be her equal causing me to fly the coop. We were in her studio and she began to explain to me why she charged almost double for her work in relation to all the other shops in the area. I’m paraphrasing but in theory she said, “I can give the same haircut to someone and either charge $10 or $20. In the client’s mind, the $10 cut will always just be a common one they could get anywhere. But if they pay $20, they walk out feeling they have something really spectacular. The high price gives the style more worth.”
That was almost 20 years ago and the thought is still intriguing. A thing is worth what a person is willing to pay. Translate that into the real world with the housing market and you have the concept of appraisal. It doesn’t matter what a seller asks for his property, it’s only as valuable as the offers he receives. This can be depressing for a homeowner who is way more invested than what a post-economic meltdown economy can support. His own idea of value is shattered.
But let’s think about this concept in terms of the spiritual realm. Those who have placed their trust in Christ have been ransomed – redeemed at an exorbitant price. If Christian women truly attached value to our own lives based on the value Christ has ascribed to us (Isaiah 43), we would all be just like the women who walk out of my friend’s studio feeling like a million bucks. A woman confident in her worth operates on a different plane. She is humble and yet bold before God and doesn’t feel she has to perform to earn the love she already owns. She doesn’t find her significance in her job title. She doesn’t strive with other women in an attempt measure up. She doesn’t jump from relationship to relationship trying to find that man who will complete her. She doesn’t stumble over herself to befriend “important” people whose perceived value she can somehow borrow.
This description of the woman who “doesn’t” comes to you from a woman who did.
It wasn’t a particularly special day when the Lord decided it was time we move past my flawed thinking where worth was concerned. In fact, I think He was just sick to death of me and had determined we were going to move on whether it killed me or not. I had gone to my quiet place in our Community Park to pray and journal. For those of you who love the practice of chronicling your faith as I do, then you understand there are times when words will flow from your pen that you are certain you weren’t smart enough to come up with on your own.
In my loopy, trademark scribble, I was whining about how much I wanted to feel worthy of God’s love, to be good enough for Him to trust with great things, and to quit measuring myself by the accomplishments of other women, when these words appeared: “Lord, I just want to be your Rachel and not your Leah. I want to be the one you run to and not the one always begging for your attention. I want to be your desire, not your duty.
It was an epiphany.
This belief that my worth to God was sub-par in comparison with others who could not possibly be near as flaky as me was so deeply imbedded into my thought processes that I didn’t have the capacity to separate fact from fiction. I immediately flipped to the Old Testament and re-read the account of these two sisters and how they warred for the affection of their common husband. (Genesis 29-35) Dumfounded at the similarities, I carefully raised their character traits up as a lens through which I could evaluate the way I moved through life. Much like Leah’s realization of her husband’s disdain for her, this false idea that God was forced to love me in order to remain faithful to His part of a salvation contract had become my belief system. I was convinced He rolled his eyes when He saw me coming but yet – because He was an honorable husband – would make sure my basic needs were met while He poured His favor upon the ones who lit up His eyes through their exceptional ability to be enough. Faithful enough. Obedient enough. Gentle enough. Strong enough. Forgiving enough. Lovely enough. Patient enough. Kind enough. Rachel enough.
If this first realization was the left hook then the next was the knock out right. A woman who believes she is loved out of duty will love that way in return. Immediately my mind returned to my church and home and the attitude with which I served God and my family. How many ministry tasks had I taken on for no other reason than I wanted to prove my value in the Kingdom? Unsurprisingly, there aren’t enough casseroles donated to potlucks than can buy our way to God’s favor. At least my casseroles anyway. ( I never claimed to be a great cook.)
Where family was concerned, I was so ashamed to admit to myself how at times I made them fend for themselves instead of doing those little extra things that make life a little less complicated. For example, I threw (still often throw?) socks into a common basket for the kids to mate themselves instead of pairing them to save them the time and frustration. (Please tell me we aren’t the only family with a sock basket.) I listened to my husband run through his sermon on Sunday morning thinking of everything but what he was saying rather than encourage him on the one day a week he needed it most. I rushed through night-time prayers with my children so I could go to bed and get the rest I so obviously deserved instead of tucking them in and listening to those bits of precious conversation that often only come just before sleep. I was performing a job without the joy and I wasn’t the only one paying for it. Could it be my own sense of worthlessness – that God did not consider me special enough to throw in any extra effort – was resulting in my own husband, my own children, feeling like they weren’t worth very much to me?
The way in which I associated with others suffered as well. Before I was saved, I desperately sought alliances in the workplace that I thought may bring some advancement later. However, in a strange twist I can’t quite explain, post-salvation I found myself testing the waters of potential friendships/ministry relationships like a cowering puppy until I was assured I was wanted. If there was any hint of being patronized, of being patted on the head and then dismissed, I high-tailed it out of there. Who needs confirmation she is a person of no consequence? My rationale? If I didn’t get overly invested, if I didn’t care as much, it wouldn’t hurt as much. I didn’t love well because I wasn’t convinced I was well loved.
Philip Yancey stated these thoughts beautifully in the book, “Reaching for the Invisible God”.
“Suppose there were a person who always saw the possibilities in you, who always forgave you for what you are and who constantly, sympathetically challenged you to become what you should be. And suppose this person is not just anyone, but is a person to whom you and everyone else is ultimately responsible. Would not such a person enable you to discover the power of love, to realize the truth of the claim that only the loved can love? Would not such a person be loved in your love for yourself and for others? If so, then in devotion to that person you would love yourself and your neighbor as you love yourself. And that would be something truly awesome.” (Bibliography 1. P. 227-228 Yancy, Reaching for the Invisible God)
And of course there is the flip side of duty: desperation. Instead of loving because we have to, jealousy drives us to work like crazy to manipulate return affection. Like Leah and Rachel, needy women will stop at nothing to gain a sense of value. The unfortunate truth is that a needy woman is a greedy woman. It’s a rare person who can fulfill the desires of one whose first source of fulfillment isn’t God. My husband is an excellent mate, but as much as he loves me, he can’t fill me. That doesn’t mean I’ve not tried to suck the life out of him in hopes that he could. And then there are the teenage girls and grown single women out there who’ve been sold the lie that you are not complete without a man. No. Just no, sweet girls. This is much bigger business.
No More BOGO (Buy One, Get One)
Fundamentally, this desire to be desired and to measure up to the girl next to us is rooted in our sense of significance and worth (or lack of it). What are we worth, really? What value has been ascribed to us? God answered that question in a currency term that if we could ever fully wrap our minds around, would at least shift our perspective and at best forever cure this Leah mentality – the one that defines us as the Buy One, Get One Free sister. What is that term of worth? Ransom.
God knew a woman would understand love in terms of what it cost the one professing it and the lengths to which He would go to prove it. Secularly we call it obsession and it is the driving force behind The Twilight series. A woman swoons over the man who is so captivated by her very being that he would fight all the demons of hell – literally – for her. The redeemed version of this romance is embracing the healthy jealousy of God. He was willing to die for me, for you. The proof was in the great exchange of His Son for us. Life for life. I don’t presume to know the mind of God but somehow I imagine He knew the tender hearts of His Eves and that every one of us would at some point ask the question: “Am I enough? Was I worth it?” He answered it in Genesis through Revelation by employing this concept of ransom whereby He paid a scandalously high price to secure us as His own. But unlike Jacob, God was not surprised by his bride or offended by her weaknesses or sickened at the thought that he paid a fortune for the lesser sibling. And perhaps the thing I have the hardest time accepting is that the ransom wasn’t paid because He had any hopes we could ever repay. How many of us are caught up in the trap of earning affection we already have? If you want to set yourself up to feel like a disappointment, try to earn God’s loving-kindness. You will fail every time. Discouraging, isn’t it?
It doesn’t have to be. Now that we are beginning to name the thing that plagues so many of us – this idea we are somehow not as valuable as the one next to us, that every day is payback time, or that we just do not measure up and consequently jump headlong into an ocean of self-condemnation – we can determine how to move on from here. In the pages of this book we will explore the attitudes and actions of a Buy One Get One Sister, the scriptural remedies for the same, and arrive at perspective-shifting conclusions that will forever change the way you relate to God and the people He has placed in your midst.
Each chapter will focus on a particular portion of the Leah/Rachel drama in which we will discuss topics implicit to the text. Please take time for the suggested background reading in order to capture the full context. At the end of each chapter you will find “Time to Focus” questions that are perfect for a small group/bible study setting. Also provided is a “Perspective Shift” that will serve as a guide to changed thought processes based on what we’ve learned together.
And now a final disclaimer in order to satisfy my scholar husband who has a peeve for Old Testament spiritualization and without whose encouragement and wisdom I would not dare attempt to write:
The relationship between Leah, Rachel, and their husband, Jacob will serve as the text for this volume therefore I want to point out something I think is crucial to keep at the forefront of our minds as we study. Old Testament narrative is not meant to serve as a treatise on morality nor is the main purpose of the Leah/Rachel/Jacob narrative to demonstrate the evils and consequences of jealousy, polygamy, etc. The main purpose of these stories is to convey how the individual actions and decisions – be they good or bad – of God’s covenant people work to bring about the redemptive purpose of God. However, there are many implicit issues woven throughout this saga for which we will find and examine many principles throughout scripture. My prayer is that the strivings of these sisters will serve as an illustration to help you recognize your own wrestlings in the same way they caused me to see myself more clearly through their story.