“When Earthquakes Happen”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
July 6, 2014
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
When earthquakes happen, there’s almost nothing you can do to prepare. They hit instantaneously and literally rip open the ground beneath you. Anything you think is stable and secure will be rocked, broken down, or even destroyed. Sometimes I wonder if people aren’t walking earthquakes.
Leah’s life was by no means perfect. After all she was the seemingly unwanted oldest daughter, but what she knew about her life was intact. She knew that she was Laban’s daughter, she would have to be married before Rachel, and her identity was locked in place. That is, until he came along. The story goes that after Jacob arrived at Harran, he found himself at a stone covered well. There he met Rachel and as a young man full of self-pride, took it upon himself to remove the well’s stone and proclaim his love to her. Oddly enough, both of these actions disassembled the society’s infrastructure. The large stone referred to in verse three, symbolized the people’s peace treaty to provide the necessary water for everyone. This was crafted to ensure civil disputes would not arise. As an outsider, Jacob had no inclination and did not hesitate to shake things up to fit his purpose. This he did in attempt to “sweep in and save the day” for Rachel and her flock. After professing his family pedigree and kissing Rachel, he then radically turned the house of Laban upside down. By choosing Rachel, he shook the culture’s proper marriage order. Jacob was a walking earthquake.
Earthquakes usually leave behind slight breaks in the earth’s foundation and these cause aftershocks. They are smaller and most times don’t hit the original epicenter. This was to be the same with Leah. While scriptural speaking, it appears that Leah had nothing to do with the old switch-a-rue, her life was the one that was to be drastically battered by aftershocks. Jacob fell in love with Rachel and made love to Leah. Jacob worked seven blissful years for Rachel and was forced to work fourteen long years because of Leah. Rachel was loved, Leah was barely tolerated. Leah bore son after son, Jacob remained indifferent.
Barbara Brown Taylor introduced to me the concept that your teachers can range from professors to janitors to even those who seem to deliberately try to break you. Each educate you on how to cling to the vibrating refuges within you. Looking to Leah, we can see a woman whose world was falling apart. Transitioning from daughter to wife, from sister to rival, and from understanding to crying, exposes the confusion and chaos in her soul. If Leah told me this story over a cup of coffee, I would probably offer her something a bit stronger.
Yet if we look at these experiences as our teachers, we may begin to see something changing in Leah. As the dust settles from another quake or lesson, Leah seems to be relaxing into the crevices of her education. Rebuffed by her husband, she seeks companionship in the LORD. It is interesting to note that her first three children are named after the friction in her marriage. One Midrash testifies that while the names reflect Leah’s agony, they also serve as a reminder of God’s answer to her prayers: Reuben-because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; Simeon-because the LORD has heard that I am hated; Levi- now my husband will be attached to me. Then something seems to shift in Leah’s perspective. At the birth of her fourth child, Leah declares, “’This time I will praise the LORD.’ Therefore she called his name Judah.” It appears at this point, Leah is beginning to choose where she will find her fulfillment. Her sister looks as if she hates her, her husband is never satisfied, yet her God has been looking, listening, and loving her all this time. I wonder why sometimes it takes ground ripping events for us to yearn for God?
I must confess that first reading this passage I was overwhelmed by personal horror. In-between the text, I saw Jacob screeching from anger and blurting out, “I DIDN’T WANT YOU, I WANT HER!”
Phase one of the quakes.
Those words have the power to completely undo someone. I know, because I’ve heard them. Relationships have the ability to sink into your life and completely take over. Decisions that used to affect one now have to be reconsidered to fit two. Carving space for that person comes with the reality that you both have to learn to lean into each other and ride every tremor that sweeps through you. But what do you do when, like Jacob, the other refuses to adapt or simply gives up?
Three years ago, I had to answer those questions. It is a typical high school sweetheart story. We met, we dated, plans for college and marriage were enacted, and everything seemed to be in order. Then on the way to a camp, it was over. In thirty seconds, my understanding of the immediate and long term future was gone. Stories of his feelings for her reached me a month later and unlike Leah, I had no words for anyone, let alone God.
Sorrow and unworthiness quickly shatter your perspective and leave you as broken as a pile of rocks. We never hear how Leah came into contact with the LORD, but it seems safe to say that she knew enough of God to turn towards his love. I can only imagine the prayers she wept. Some angry, some soul wrenching, some merely trembling sobs—those I understand best. The most powerful prayer we can offer is the unguarded emotion that tumbles out of us and into God’s hands. I believe there we can find a form of the tender comfort we yearn for.
Verse seventeen tells us, “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” However, the word to describe Leah’s eyes has been debated by scholars and interpreters. It can mean “weak” like my version uses, but it can also mean: “tender,” “sensitive,” or “quiet.” A good translation should always be contextual. So after learning more about Leah, I find that the words “tender” and “sensitive” fit her character the most. They represent a depth and strength in her that explains how she was able to not only survive, but overcome her earthquake. Leah’s shattered world revealed her quiet strength.
I wonder how often we define sensitivity as weakness? The soft, open eyes of a person who has seen so much they can no longer hide the signs of a broken heart. Are they the weak one? They who live to tell tale, how can we deny their inner power? Our culture is driven by this twisted proposal that we have to push down our soul rocking emotions. As Christians, I sense this common thread woven in all of us. If a sister or brother is hurting we offer grace, love, and mercy; but compassionate healing seems to be denied to ourselves. Why is that? Are we too stubborn to admit our shortcomings, our needs, our realities? Or, is vulnerability just too human? Human: as in not perfect.
Defensively, I get it. We guard to protect us from even more pain and betrayal. The words, “Not you,” can become so engrained in our thinking and living that we decided to pretend our surroundings are stable, our teachers didn’t’ just assign the hardest test imaginable, and that everything is quite fine, thank you.
Yet our worlds do not get to stay “quite fine.” That boy from Prague was my first earthquake and best teacher. Thanks to him, my world was both shattered and remolded. I had to learn I had a quiet strength within me; a strength I have come to believe we all eventually have to tap into.
Leah teaches us this. She is our mother of prayer. She opens the door for us to be completely bare and not afraid of startling God with our reactions. She shows us the freedom that slowly encroaches into our misery. She demonstrates the power of quiet strength.
Like Leah, we will have level Jacob earthquakes. When the roaring split of our foundation hits, we may not know what to do. When a troubling new teacher begins their lesson, we may be angry and disgruntled with their treatment of us. So what do we do? We can wrestle, we can talk through the night, we can pray for someone to hold us, we can yell, we can cry, or we can do all of the above. We can also, like Leah, lean into love. As terrifying as it is to trust that word, I wonder if the grand buildings we construct to hide the fear actually weaken us. I wonder what would happen if we leveled the foundation and instead crafted a base on our inner, quiet strength.
When earthquakes happen there is almost nothing we can do to prepare. They hit instantaneously and literally rip open the ground beneath us. Anything we think is stable and secure will be rocked, broken down, or even destroyed. Yet at the epicenter, there is a Foundation who refuses to be moved, ignored, and holds us steady. It may take us forty months or forty years to see through the rubble, but our Teacher is patient. She is there along and she is looking, listening, and loving. Amen.