Over the past few months, I’ve really been struggling with my relationship status. I’m single, I’ve been single for a long time, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. I look at my life. I’m twenty-seven, which is young in the grand scheme of things. It’s not my age that worries me. I’m Byzantine Catholic, which puts me in a small branch of the Church, and I’m active in a charismatic ecumenical covenant community. This is where I feel that my trouble lies. I exist in two worlds that don’t really mesh well. They can mesh well, but they tend not to. I don’t know any men (who aren’t my relatives) who bridge those worlds. I want to build my life in those two worlds. I want to marry in (if I ever marry) and raise my children (if I ever have any) in the Byzantine Catholic Church and in the community I mentioned above. That doesn’t seem like a likely possibility for me. And for better or worse, I’ve kind of given up hope of ever getting married.
As I read one of the first chapters of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, I was struck by the way the narrator of that particular chapter (Leah Price) described the Biblical character of Rachel. Leah talked about how Rachel “waited all those years” to marry Jacob. In the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, I’ve often thought about how difficult it had to be for Jacob to get the wrong wife and to have to work for fourteen years to marry Rachel. I’ve thought about how hard it would be to be Leah, the unwanted wife. But I’ve always kind of written Rachel off as a spoiled brat.
And now, I’m not so sure about that. I think that Rachel and I might have more in common than I might have previously noticed. The poor woman waited fourteen years to marry the love of her life. In a time when a woman’s worth was almost entirely based on her ability to marry and bear children, Rachel couldn’t get married because her father wouldn’t let her. There was a man standing right there, a good man, who wanted to marry her, and she couldn’t get married. Rachel waited for fourteen years.
That’s not an aspect of Rachel that I think we often consider. We see her as the more beloved wife, the mother of the beloved sons, Joseph and Benjamin. But we don’t tend to look at her as the woman who steadfastly waits through all of Laban’s machinations to marry Jacob. We only see the story through Jacob’s eyes, and we never really see how Leah or Rachel feels as their father (typical of that time in the world) uses them in pawns in his own games. It can’t have been easy. I’m sure that they complained every now and then. They must have wondered what their father was thinking. I’m sure that Rachel had moments when she thought that Jacob would give up on her and leave.
But Rachel waited fourteen years for Jacob. We remember her as a wife and a mother. We know that she was jealous of Leah when the older sister had children first. Dan and Naphtali are, in many ways, the children of her envy. Jeremiah describes her as the voice weeping without comfort over the innocent dead. (Jeremiah 31:15) But there had to be more to her. What kind of woman waits fourteen years to marry and then waits years unknown for the birth of children?
I have to think that Rachel was a patient woman. Perhaps longsuffering is a better word. She gave Dan and Naphtali names that reference the Lord as our judge and as our victory. When, as Genesis puts it, the Lord remembered Rachel and she bore Joseph, she said that God had taken away her reproach. (Genesis 30:23-24) To me, this speaks of a woman who is largely patient with life. She isn’t perfect, but she trusts the Lord. Yes, she tries to fix things on her own at times (stealing her father’s household gods, anyone?), but largely, she trusts the Lord. She believes that he has a plan and good will come to her. Life may not go exactly the way that she wants, but in the end, she has Joseph and Benjamin as well as Dan and Naphtali.
I’m sure that she never planned on waiting fourteen years to marry Jacob. I’m sure that the waiting was difficult for her. But she did it. She may never have understood why she went through these difficulties. She didn’t live to see her sons become men as she died giving birth to Benjamin. (Genesis 35:18) But she did play an important role in salvation history. Her sons were crucial, each in their own way, to the history of their family and of the nation that would come from their family.
So what lesson do I draw from all of this? Be patient, and trust in the Lord. We as humans can never see his full plan. We may not always understand what he is doing, but he will work all things to good for those who love him. We need to avoid trying to force things or holding onto the gods of this world. As God worked great things in and through Rachel’s life, he can do the same for us.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:38)