If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

God in the Shadows

This is probably my most favorite essay. It appears in my second book. I post it again to the blog and hope it is of value for you.


I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. – John 14:18, 27
           Live long enough and you'll discover life can pitch a mean curve ball. Just when you think you know what the next one will look like, it slices past the radar gun at 110, and all you end up doing is batting air. Or worse.
            Serious illness. Financial ruin. Divorce. Any number of pitches can break toward us and send us diving for safety. But of the hardest pitches life might fire at us, rejection has to be right up there with the worst.

            I understand rejection. I met it when my father left my mom for another woman. I was five at the time. He seldom bothered to visit my sister and me afterward. When I met briefly with him thirteen years later, I asked why he left his children.

            Today, after fifty years swinging the bat, I still remember his answer: "Because I wanted to."

            I'm sometimes surprised how good can come from that memory. My father's rejection helps me empathize with others who never knew love and acceptance from those closest to them.

            Like Leah.

            If you remember the story (Genesis 29-30), Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister's beauty. When Jacob visited the family, Rachel's beauty captured him. I suppose it's fair to say her beauty consumed him - so much so, he agreed to work her family's farm for seven years as payment to marry her. But on the eve of the seventh anniversary, Rachel's family pulled a classic bait and switch. When the new groom awakened the next morning, he found himself lying next to Leah. If Jacob still wanted Rachel, he'd have to work another seven years.

            He did, but it's not difficult to imagine how Leah felt – unloved, unattractive, unwanted, knowing her family had to trick Jacob into her marriage bed.

            Yet, the story grows more poignant. Scripture tells us: “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb . . . and (she) 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’" (Genesis 29:31-32, NASB).

            I can almost hear the wistful yearning in her voice, "Now my husband will love me."

            Leah was not the first woman to hope, "If I have his child, he will love me." But that's not the way love works. It didn't work for Leah. It didn't work for my mom. It won't work for anyone.

            Ever the optimist, though, Leah conceived again. And then again. "Now at last my husband will become attached to me," she said, "because I have borne him three sons."
            Yet even after six sons, it was Rachel who remained the light in Jacob's eyes. Leah hungered for her husband's embrace. She longed for his touch, a kind word and to know in the core of her being she was loved. Yet, Jacob was deaf to her heartache and blind to her sorrow.

            God, however, knew it all – and that is the wonderful message of this story.
            I've read this chapter in Genesis dozens of times, but this time my eyes froze at the list of Leah's sons, and then refocused on two.

            Levi and Judah.

            Not only was Leah unaware that God was with her in Rachel's shadow, but she didn't know eternity would measure life and death through her offspring – not Rachel's.

            Levi and Judah: ancestors of Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Ezra, Ezekiel, Zechariah. All of Israel's religious and political leaders would spring from her womb.

            Including Jesus the Messiah.
            The apostle Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, that through the encouragement of God's word we might have hope (Romans 15:4). And that's what Leah's story is all about – great, ineffable hope. It's about God in our shadows, about God who never rejects us and who can turn the rejection of others into something of eternal value for a world longing to be touched by God's love.

            "For I know the plans that I have for you," God tells us through Jeremiah - another of Leah's descendants, "plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, NASB).

Hope. St. Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, and that through the encouragement of God's word we can have hope (Romans 15:4). That's what Leah's story is all about – great, ineffable hope. It’s about God in our shadows, about God who loves us, and who knows our deepest hurts.

            And it’s the story of how God can turn the rejection of others into something of immeasurable value for those of us yearning to be touched by God's love.




Anonymous said...

Really needed to hear this right now. I just wish knowing the truth would translate into not feeling the pain of rejection, or perceived rejection. It helps to remember Jesus understands, because he suffered more rejection than I ever will. Yet he still chose love...I've got a long way to go.

Rich Maffeo said...

And consider too, Jesus continues to suffer rejection. Every day. Even by His children who choose, every day, to go their own way, to do what is right in their own eyes.

Jesus suffers rejection all the time. Yet He continues to hold out His hand in love and great patience toward you and me -- who in our own ways reject Him often.

Yes, Jesus understands our hurts and He hurts with us. How great is His wondrous love.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Leah was a woman of great courage who made the best of her situation, sad as it was. Although we may be hurting from rejection, the one consolation is that the One who really counts will never push us away as He has been pushed away. Makes me want to run and console Him immediately.

Rich Maffeo said...

Now THAT'S an intesting thought . . us consoling Him. But I think valid. Thanks, I might use that idea in the future.

Rich Maffeo said...

Now THAT'S an intesting thought . . us consoling Him. But I think valid. Thanks, I might use that idea in the future.

Michael Seagriff said...

Thank you Rich. As usual you offer a unique insight into an often ignored Biblical figure.

Your article and Leah's story is a powerful way to remind us that "nothing (apart from sin) happens in our life unless God wills it so".

Rich Maffeo said...

Thanks, Michael. As you know, it's nice to be able to say something that helps encourage others.

Joann / lioness said...

Wonderful post, Rich.
"Because I wanted to." That's usually how it is with sin. God has chosen to bring good out of evil. It is His way, as you show us with Leah's plight and the gift God makes to her in her sons and our salvation history.

Rich Maffeo said...

Thanks, Joann. I think her story is the reason this is my favorite essay of all I've ever written.

Colleen said...

Hope. Sometimes it is all we have.
Great article. Thank you!

Rich Maffeo said...

Colleen, thanks for commenting and your encouragement.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Rich! I've heard so much teaching about Rachel, but never much about Leah. This makes her jump out of the pages of Scripture and become real to me. --- Rosemary

Rich Maffeo said...

You're welcome, Rosemary. I am glad you got something worthwhile from the essay.