30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi. 35 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.—Genesis 29:30-35 | NRSV
Notwithstanding the fact that my congregation pays me to preach, teach and pastor, they would probably pay me not to sing. Some of them playfully, and others seriously, insist that I should exercise my gifts in other non-musical areas. I, of course, ignore them. I continue to sing as I loudly, soulfully and long as I please. I don’t sing as well as any of my three brothers, Jason and Jonathan, who are Stellar Award winners, and James, Jr., who has a nice “preacher’s voice.” For that matter, I also don’t sing as well as my niece, Jade, nephew, JR, nor my cousin, Kizzie, who is sitting on her singing gifts for now. Still, I love singing and I love music.
Music has always been a part of my life. Over the years, I have acquired an appreciation for a wide range of music, which includes secular and sacred music. For me, some forms of music — anthems, spirituals, classical and jazz — were acquired tastes. However, Soul, R&B, Neo-Soul and Contemporary Gospel were genres for which I had a natural affinity. Of the latter styles of music, I was always a big fan of R&B and of a number of artists, some of whom were solo artists. Of the solo artists, one of my favorite male vocalists was Teddy Pendergrass (TP). TP, who was formerly with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, cranked out a string of hits (Close The Door, Love TKO, and Turn Off The Lights) which were the soundtracks to many of my slow dances as a teen in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Of the many hits TP created, the one I most enjoyed was “When Somebody Loves You Back.” Through this song, TP declared with great gusto, based seemingly on extensive personal experience:
It’s so good, good lovin’ somebody… When that somebody loves you back.
It’s so good needin’ somebody… when that somebody needs you back.
It’s great when somebody loves you back. I know that from personal experience. However, I also know how painful and awful it can be when the someone you love does not love you back — or, does not love you to the degree or in same vein as you love them. I’ve been on both sides of that ordeal, and I suspect so have you. When you love someone who does not love you back, it can be devastating and damaging to your self-concept and self-worth. Truthfully, it bites the big one!
There are thousands of songs, poems and movies which describe the fact and impact of unreturned love. However, I have yet to hear a poem or a song, read a book or see a movie which talks about how you can handle heart-break.
I have discovered that the Bible can teach us how to handle the fact of loving someone who does not love you back. One case in point is Genesis 29:30-35. These few verses document a both heart-breaking, yet instructive story about a triangulated relationship between one man, Jacob, and two sisters, Rachel and Leah. Unwisely, yet unknowingly, Jacob marries two sisters, who the text compares to each other and probably, as a consequence, are in competition with each other. The man who is to blame for this unenviable and virtually untenable threesome, is Laban, the father of the two women and, most likely, the one who probably instigated the rivalry between the sisters since they were children. Through Laban’s deception and with her complicity, Leah is married off to Jacob, even though he is in love with Rachel.
What a mess! Laban, Jacob, and Leah — to a lesser degree —have made a mess and mockery of family. Who marries off two daughters to the same man? Who gets so drunk that he doesn’t check to see whether or not the woman with whom he is sharing his first intimate moment is not the woman for whom he has labored and has loved? What’s more, what kind of woman is so desperate for the affection, esteem and attention of a man that she is willing to pretend to be someone that she’s not?
Lest you think I’m judging Leah, I’m not. Leah expresses the longing of every human heart: to be valued, embraced and understood. Who among us does not want to be loved? This craving is particularly deep and intense for those who are either very loving, who are love-starved or both. I have done my fair share of pretending to be someone I was not in my teens and early 20’s, until I got more comfortable in my own skin and decided to be myself, letting the proverbial chips fall wherever they may.
God, through Leah, teaches us some invaluable lessons about how to handle heart-break. First, don’t try to be someone you are not to get someone to love you. Besides, pretending to be someone else is not only dishonest, but it’s also unsustainable and exhausting. Second, don’t try to win the heart of someone by trying to bribe them with gifts. They may gladly receive what you offer, yet still not love you the way the you want — if at all. Third, don’t try to trick a person into staying with and loving you by having children with you. The one you love may welcome the children and still resent and/or reject you. Fourth, don’t forget to appreciate the One who has always shown you unconditional love, even when you are caught up on your feelings of woundedness and worthlessness .