The next few weeks we will be studying some families in the book of Genesis. Genesis 29 has a story that is a little unusual. It’s probably not a story that was read to you as a child. It starts off like any other story. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, falls in love with a young woman named Rachel. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. But from there it takes a Jerry Springer type twist. It’s not what you would expect to read about in the Bible. Here’s what happened.
"Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, ‘I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.’" [Genesis 29:16-18, NIV]
Jacob strikes this deal with Rachel’s father. Seven years of work and he will get her hand in marriage. The Bible also says there is an older sister named Leah. It’s very unusual in Scripture for there to be a physical description of a person. It’s very rare. Whenever it’s included, it’s always for a reason. In this story we read that Rachel is lovely in form and beautiful, but that Leah has ‘weak eyes’. To be fair to Leah, the word ‘weak’ is not translated that well for us here. It could just as easily be translated ‘delicate’. She has nice eyes. But, guys, let’s be honest. If you were set up on a blind date by a friend and you ask what she looks like and your friend says she has delicate eyes--yeah, it’s going to be a long night. Right? We read that Leah has delicate eyes. Rachel is lovely in form and beautiful. So Jacob wants to marry Rachel.
"So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.’" [Genesis 29:20-21, NIV}
Vers 20 is one of the most romantic verses in the Bible. Vs. 21 not as much. But, it’s 7 years. You can’t be too hard on the guy. It’s a long engagement. Then the story takes this soap-opera-like twist.
"So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?’" [Genesis 29:22-25, NIV]
Now aren’t we all thinking the same thing here? How did he not know? Right? C’mon. I think there’s a few factors that could have come into play. Maybe Laban got Jacob drunk and after enough drinks Leah with weak eyes looked a lot like Rachel who was lovely in form and beautiful. That could happen. Perhaps it was dark because there was no electricity back then and so maybe he just couldn’t see that well. I don’t really know how this could have happened, but somehow he thought he was marrying Rachel and he wakes up next to Leah.
Don’t you think there’s a lot of Jerry Springer shows that could be done from this one Bible story alone. You could do one called, “Surprise morning makovers.” How about, “Your sister’s hot but you’re not.” Or, probably the most descriptive show you could do is, “I married the wrong person.” And, I think, as crazy as this story is in Scripture, I think it happens a lot today. Maybe not literally, but this happens in a lot of marriages--where someone gets married and they wake up and it might not be the next morning, but they wake up and they don’t know who it is they’ve married. They think to themselves, “I thought I was getting this, and now I’ve got this.” It happens a lot. Fast forward 5,6,7, 10 years into the marriage and there’s a house payment and a couple of kids, and husband and wife feel like strangers. Think about Leah in this story. She would spend the next decade of her life trying to win the heart of Jacob, and she would never manage it. She would try to get his love, but she never felt loved. She never felt valued by her husband. I wonder if there are some people here who find themselves a lit bit disappointed and a little disillusioned in their role as marriage partner? It’s just not how you thought it would be.
A young woman sent this letter to her mother. “Dear Mom, I’m trying hard to understand what’s happened to my marriage. What I thought was a sure thing has fallen apart. I’m starting to wonder if this is the man I was meant to marry. Maybe I’ve missed God’s will. Being married isn’t all what I thought it would be. I know that a lot of people have problems, but I was sure things would be different for us. Before we got married, it seemed that we had so much in common. Now it doesn’t seem we agree on anything. I feel ripped off. He feels the same way. Last night he told me that he is the victim of a bait and switch scam. We’re both bitter and angry and frustrated. Do you think the person God wanted me to marry is still out there somewhere? I’m constantly comparing him to others. I don’t know. Maybe I should divorce and start searching again for my true soul mate. All I know is that I am deeply disappointed in my marriage. I don’t know what to do, but I can’t live like this.”
Maybe there’s someone here who could write a letter like that. Do you feel like what you have in your relationship is not what you signed up for? And, being a wife or husband or mom or father just hasn’t turned out as you imagined it to be. So there are many families who experience this disappointment. The overwhelming response of what you do about it is--nothing. Many couples just settle. They settle for this type of relationship. And yet, for most of us it is our deepest desire to have a wonderful marriage and family. According to a LA Times survey of 2000 of their readers who were asked, ‘What is your main goal in life?” By far the overwhelming answer was to be happily married. So what I want to do in the next few minutes is to mention some things that cause disillusionment, disappointment in marriage and family, and then what do we do about that.
One thing that often causes disappointment in our families is unrealistic expectations. I don’t know of any area of life where we are set up for greater expectations than marriage and family. Hollywood sets us up for this. Young girls love to watch princess movies where the prince comes in as the knight in shining armor. And at the end of the movie the prince and princess kiss and all the girls watching are just imagining what it’s going to be like one day. And they play house and pretend to be moms. There are these incredible expectations. One father was having lunch with his 7 year old daughter and she had just finished watching ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and she was talking to her Dad about the movie. And she finished up her synopsis by saying, “Yeah, Dad, they lived happily ever after except for a few fights and arguments now and then.” The father kind of laughed and said, “Well, honey, where’d you hear that?” And the little girl said, “Mom said that’s the way it really is.” And yet, a lot of us think we’re going to be the exception--that we’re not going to experience that disappointment--that everything will be happily ever after. The whole dating/engagement/wedding process sets you up for big-time disappointment. Because, when you’re dating you do things you would never do in real life. Right? I mean, when you’re dating someone, you’re opening doors, spending money you don’t have, putting on perfume. You’re shaving--your legs. You’re going all out to try and impress the person and so you’re setting up the expectations. When my wife and I were dating, we’d spend hours listening to romantic music on the stereo and snuggling on the couch. After we got married I’d snuggle on the couch listening to the stereo--while she fixed dinner. Things change. Reality sets in. Of course I’ve performed many wedding ceremonies over the years and I’m amazed at all the things that go into that 40 minute ceremony--huge time and expense. The bride will disappear for days before the wedding. I don’t know if anyone really knows what’s happening to her, but she’s getting manicures and pedicures--pretty much any kind of cure that’s available--she’s getting. The day finally comes and the church doors finally open up and everyone stands and looks down the aisle. And she walks down that aisle and everyone is standing and looking at her. And do you know what everyone’s thinking as they’re looking? They’re thinking, “She’s never going to look that good again in her life.” That’s it, except for the groom who is standing there thinking, “Oh yeah. Everyday this is the way it’s going to be.” So, we have these expectations and they go on their honeymoon where they dance into the night and walk along the beach and they sleep in late in the morning cuddled up together. But what happens? You fast forward a year in their relationship. She gets up in the morning and he’s sitting at the breakfast table with this stained v-neck t-shirt and he’s scratching his ever expanding belly. And he’s slurping his Frosted Flakes in the most annoying way possible and he looks up at her. And she has zit cream on her face and bleach on her upper lip and she’s wearing her great, great grandmother’s pajamas. And then they pick up an argument that they were having the night before about finances. And, welcome to the real world. We have expectations that get replaced by reality. One pastor who teaches on this passage in Genesis 29 about Jacob and Leah and Rachel says, “In the morning it’s always Leah.” You might marry Rachel, but it’s Leah in the morning. We have these expectations and so it’s almost inevitable to feel some disappointment and disillusionment.
Those who are single need a heads up on this. If you’re married and want a good laugh now and again, read the personal ads for people trying to get dates. But single people need to understand the translation of these ads so you can have more realistic expectations. I’ll start with the women and then go to the men. For women’s personal ads ‘Beautiful’ means pathological liar. ‘Open-minded’ means desparate. ‘Outgoing’ means she’s loud and embarrasing. ‘Contagious smile’ means she does a lot of drugs. ‘Romantic’ means she looks better by candlelight. For the man here’s the truth. ‘Athletic’ means he watches a lot of NASCAR. ‘Good-looking’ means arrogant. ‘Huggable’ means he’s overweight with lots and lots of body hair. ‘Wants a soul mate’ -- stalker. ‘Fun’ really means he’s annoying. And that’s sort of the truth about it. We try to sell the best version of ourselves and it’s no wonder we experience some disappointment.
Another reason for disappointment and disillusionment in marriage is unspoken roles. Whether you know it or not, your parents’ relationship created some sub-conscious expectations you have of your spouse and what they will do in the family. My father-in-law was a machinist, a welder, and a mechanic. At one time he had his own business as an auto mechanic, but he didn’t buy the parts for repairing the cars. He machined and welded new parts from raw materials. So when Thelma and I got married our car broke down on our honeymoon. I had no idea how to fix a car. I was a poor college student--a Bible college student at that. And I had to call another college friend to tow our car for about 50 miles on the interstate--with a rope. I paid another college student with money I couldn’t afford to repair the engine, but within 2 months the car wasn’t working again because of a different problem. There were a few wedding presents still at my in-law’s house that we hadn’t been able to fit into the car on our trip back to college; and my wife’s younger sister wanted to visit the college as a prospective student herself, so my father-in-law took time off work, drove his younger daughter and wedding presents 500 miles from their home to the college to work on our car in a tiny unheated garage in the coldest part of February. After that, I never asked my father-in-law to repair my car. I destroyed 3 cars in the next several years trying to fix them myself because we were too poor to afford to pay a real mechanic to do it. After all, Thelma’s dad could fix anything. Any self-respecting husband ought to at least try to learn how to. Isn’t that the expectation?
There are so many things in a family that all need to be taken care of and we have different ideas of who will be doing what--whether it’s making the bed or taking out the trash or handling the finances or taking care of the taxes or feeding the kids or putting the kids to bed or disciplining the kids. And we go into marriage with these ideas of who will do what and what the other person will do for us.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." [Philippians 2:3, NIV]
There isn’t any context where this is more difficult than putting this into practice in our own homes. Then there are unanticipated differences in a marriage that create disappointments. You may have heard it said that opposites attract but after marriage opposites attack. We tend to be drawn to people who are different than us. For instance, here in this audience how many couples are there where one of you is highly structured and organized and the other is unstructured and more spontaneous? How many have the experience where one of you is a night person and the other a morning person? God’s got a sense of humor. How about one of you being outgoing and more vocal while the other is more quiet and introverted? Raise your hand. I bet I know which one raised their hand. The other is saying, “Put your hand down. You’re embarrassing us.” It’s OK. They’re ok. But we have these differences. Here’s what happens in the marriage. The husband looks at the wife and sees the differences and basically says, “You’re different than I am. We need to fix you.” And she looks at him and says, “You’re different than I am. We need to fix you.” And, you can almost hear the guy in the corner say, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” There’s all these differences we have that we didn’t know about until after we’re married.
"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love." [Ephesians 4:2, New Living Translation]
Unexpected challenges also cause a lot of pain and disappointment in families. When a couple walks down the aisle, it’s almost impossible for them to have any idea of the challenges they’re going to face within the home they establish that day. They don’t know that a special needs child will be coming into their family. There may be financial pressure that they never imagined. Maybe it will be one miscarriage after another. Maybe it will be infertility challenges. Maybe it will be health issues. You just can’t know that. You commit your life to the other person, but you don’t know what kind of challenges you’re going to have to overcome together.
And then there is the area of an unforgiven past. The baggage from past mistakes is continually brought back into the relationship and so in many families there is guilt and bitterness, accusations and defensiveness from things that happened years ago.
"Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives." [Hebrews 12:15, The Living Bible]
This is what’s happened in a lot of homes. Bitterness and anger have taken roots within the family and it’s caused disappointment.
These are just some of the disappointments couples face. The question is, “What do you do about it?” Again, for most couples the overwhelming answer is nothing. There’s something within us that says marriage and love should come naturally. We understand that everything else in life that is worthwhile and valueable takes work and effort, but we think that romantic love--even parenting--that these things should just come naturally, instinctively. How do we address this? How do we have the homes and families that God so wants us to have and that we deeply desire? There are a lot of practical steps that I could mention right now that address these issues, and they are good and true and helpful. There are marriage and family books and seminars that address these issues. But I want to get at the root and speak to the cause of these things. Sometimes we focus on the symptoms and talk about practicing patience and communicating clearly and resolving conflict and meeting needs and all these important kinds of things. But they are often symptoms of a deeper cause. Sometimes we treat symptoms and skip the cause. It would be like having lung cancer and going to the doctor and the doctor looking at the symptoms and giving you some really strong cough medicine. You go home and take the cough medicine and half and hour later you’re feeling really good. What a brilliant doctor. And you keep taking the cough medicine while your body is slowly eaten away by cancer. There is a deeper issue.
I know that what I’m about to say, you expect me to say, because I’m a pastor. What you’re about to hear, you expect to hear because you’re in church, but you need to know this is true beyond all generations and all cultures. At the heart of most disillusionment and disappointment in our families is a spiritual issue.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." [Psalm 127:1, NIV]
There’s a lot of practical things you can do to address the symptoms, but unless God is the foundation of your home--unless He is the center of you relationship--unless He is building your family--all that work and all that effort will never give you what you could have in Jesus. You can tivo Dr. Phil and Oprah. You can learn practical stuff that will help, but without God, it will never be what it could have been. Can you be happy in marriage without God? Yeah, you can. Can you make it to your 50th anniversary without Jesus? Sure. The percentages are getting lower, but it’s possible. But it will never be what it is created to be unless the One who created it is at the center of it. At the heart of it all is this spiritual issue. In most of our families when we look at this pain and disappointment, we look at the other person and say, “He doesn’t provide for me the way I’m used to,” or “She doesn’t take care of herself the way she should.” “He doesn’t spend enough time at home.” “She isn’t consistent with the kids.” “He doesn’t take the initiative with discipline.” “He isn’t as romantic as he once was.” “She doesn’t show any interest in me physically,” and we have our list. If they would just fix this about themselves, then things would really come together in our family. And if you’re having some challenges at home right now, and I would ask you what’s the problem, chances are you would say, “If only he would do this or she would do that...” It’s seems to be all about what someone else needs to do.
Here’s the most important question for you. Are you growing in a personal relationship with Jesus? You see, if you show me a husband and a wife who are both growing in their relationship with Jesus, then I’ll show you a marriage you really want. There are several reasons for this. When you are growing in your relationship with Jesus, you will naturally start to bear the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Can you see why it is that in a marriage where a husband and wife are both experiencing and expressing this kind of spirit in their lives that things would be different? Sometimes we go home and we say we’re going to be more patient. “I’m not going to yell at the kids and I’m not going to talk that way to my spouse.” And we try really hard and we do good for a day or two and then it fades out. Why? Because patience is not your fruit. It’s the fruit of God’s Spirit. When you walk with Jesus this is the kind of fruit that grows from within you. This makes all the difference. Instead of being critical and constantly complaining, when you walk with Jesus you begin expressing the fruit of joy. Instead of coming home feeling overwhelmed and stressed out and anxious, you begin experiencing the fruit of peace. Instead of becoming angry and losing your temper, you start bearing the fruit of patience and self-control. As you walk with Jesus and this fruit grows in your life, the entire home starts to change. You can’t do it on your own. This only comes from walking with God.
The other thing that happens as you walk in a personal relationship with Jesus, is that you start to look to God to do the things for you that you have been expecting your spouse to do for you. This is what happens in a lot of marriages and families. A husband will look at the wife or the wife will look at the husband or kids and will say unconsciously in their hearts, “I want you to do for me what only the God of the universe can do for me. I want you to meet the needs that I have that only He can meet.” That’s a lot of pressure. You can see why there’s so much disappointment in families. When God is not at the center of our life here’s what we do. By defaut we look at the person we’re closest to and subconsciously say, “I want you to be God to me. I want you to satisfy me and complete me and fulfill me in a way that only God can.” It doesn’t work. You can see why so many problems come. One marriage counselor has said the main threat to marriages is not adultery, but idolatry--putting a spouse on the throne in our life that is intended only for God to occupy.
"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." [Philippians 4:19, NIV]
God is the one who meets our needs. I want to go back to Genesis 29 and see how this idea is expressed in Leah’s experience. Leah has experienced massive disappointment as as woman. She isn’t nearly as attractive as her younger sister. Her dad is so desperate to get her married that he tricks a man into marrying her. Her father doesn’t want her. Her husband doesn’t want her, and so here is what she does. Leah makes it her life goal to win the heart of her husband through being a mother. She puts her hope in marriage and family and looks to her husband to try to make her complete, and she tries to win his heart through having children.
"Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.’ She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ So he was named Levi." [Genesis 29:32-34, NIV]
In the Hebrew language Reuben sounds like the word for misery. Simeon means ‘hear’ as in ‘one who hears.’ Levi sounds like the word for ‘attached.’ Do you see what Leah was doing? Every time a child was born she said, “Maybe now I won’t be disappointed. Maybe now I’ll have the marriage I’ve always wanted to have.” But here’s the thing. It never happens for her. Each time she’s disappointed, she’s disillusioned, she’s frustrated.
"She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah." [Genesis 29:35, NIV]
She finally stops looking to her husband and to her children to do for her the things that only God can do. She stops trying to find fulfillment and completion in her family, because she knows that all that is ultimately bring disappointment, and she starts to look to God to do those things. And when she does--when she turns over the expectations she had as wife and mother to God--God creates something greater than her dreams for her children and family. It’s her son Judah who is remembered and revered as the ancestor of God’s own Son, Jesus.
"Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers," [Matthew 1:2, NIV]
It was Leah’s fourth son, not her first son that God used to bring His Son into the world. God’s plan came through the son who was born after Leah looked to God instead of to her husband and to her children to give her fulfillment and completion. And so here we all are gathered together in worship of the One who is called the Lion of Judah--Jesus, God’s own Son.