Falling in love is a wonderful thing.
But sooner or later all lovers have a wake-up call. We glance at our partner and wonder, "How in the world did I ever end up with you?"
In Genesis chapter 29, Jacob - one of the Bible's key figures - has a literal wake-up experience.
He has journeyed to the home of his uncle Laban, who is the father of two daughters. The older is Leah. The younger is Rachel. In Jacob's eyes, Leah is a plain Jane. But every time he gazes at Rachel, his heart beats faster.
Therefore he proposes a deal. He says to Laban, “I’ll work for you for seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” His affection is so intense that the passing of that time "seemed like only a few days to him.”
When the seven years have come and gone, Jacob approaches Laban and speaks the words that every father hopes to hear one day from his future son-in-law: “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.” Who could say no to such a tender request?
Ah, but Laban has a trick up his sleeve. As the wedding comes to an end and the honeymoon is about to begin, the wrong daughter is sneaked into the bridal tent.
Genesis 29:25 is a wonderfully simple verse: "When morning came, there was Leah!"
Laban, wanting very much to marry off his older daughter before the younger, has accomplished the ultimate father-of-the-bride sleight of hand. Jacob is understandably furious. But before the dust settles he is married to two women – to Rachel, the wife he actually wanted to marry, and to Leah, for whom he has no affection whatsoever.
Wake-up moments, of one kind or another, happen to every couple. I wanted Rachel, not Leah. Where did you come from?
The Broadway play In Defense of the Caveman suggests that such a moment might happen for a young wife when she is cleaning the toilet for the first time. Her new husband says, “Why are you doing that? Are we about to move?”
In his book Hustling God, Dr. Craig Barnes points out that to fall in love means receiving Rachel and Leah as a kind of package deal. We wake up and realize that we don’t have a fantasy partner after all.
We’re going to have to live with Leah, the person we never thought we were getting – and we may end up wasting years trying to mold Leah into someone a lot more like the Rachel we always dreamed of, instead of simply loving her for who she is.
Our culture resists this idea. The notion that we should try to make things work with someone who disappoints us feels like surrendering our right to happiness. We should go shopping for a better relationship. We should trade up for a superior “joy provider” – a new lover who won’t end up looking and acting so much like Leah.
Our great hope that we will do better next time. Next time we will wake up in the presence of Rachel.
But this is a formula for heartbreak.
The seeds of relational disappointment are often planted during courtship. Dating in America is generally based on a series of intentional delusions. First, I pretend to be somebody I am not. I sincerely hope that somebody else falls for me and believes that I am much more desirable than I really am. At the same time, I work hard not to fall for your attempts to fool me.
Eventually we decide to get married and enter life's most important relationship even while deluding each other. What I really hope is that you won’t be overly disappointed to discover than I am not Brad Pitt. Simultaneously I have made it my ambition to turn you into the person I've always dreamed that you should be – or at least hold you responsible for making good on what you pretended during courtship.
By this time, enough hurts and surprises have been stockpiled to turn this relationship into a battlefield. Is there any way to avoid a nuclear strike?
There is. But it will cost something. I will have to stop believing that my partner (if only he or she would just straighten up) would make a great Savior. Until we turn to God to meet our essential needs of security and significance, we will always be trying to turn our lovers into our Saviors.
Rattle off the titles to a few famous love songs. You Rescued Me. You Are My Everything. I Searched the Whole World Over, and Never Found a Love Like You.
This is the language of worship. God alone is worthy of such language. No lover or figure of fantasy could ever live up to such expectations.
I have to admit what I know is true: I can't save you and fill your life with joy. And you can't rescue me and enrich my life with meaning.
Only Jesus can do that.
If a couple is willing to bet their lives that He alone can provide the love they need, then they are finally freed up to care for each other.
And by God's grace, they can have the ultimate wake-up experience:
They can let each other off the hook.