For one day of the year America seems to have figured out all of the confusing, challenging, and conflicting perceptions about the thing we call LOVE. This year, Americans will spend 18.2 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day, or $137.00 per person. The exchange of flowers, cards, candy, and other gifts will signal romance and affection between those who are, or say that are “in love.” Unfortunately, when this day is over, we will face a different reality. Approximately 50% of American marriages will ultimately end in divorce. Additionally, marriage as the tradition chosen by two people committed to love one another for a lifetime, is rapidly becoming passé. Less and less Americans are committed to the idea and reality of marriage and love partnership.
One of the issues of why love is such a dilemma for many of us may rest in our confusion, as to what “love” really means. Our English word, for example, provides a convoluted and blurred definition of this term. I can “love” ice cream and I can “love” my husband and children. In English, these two emotional expressions of affection pull on the very same word . This is not the case, at all, when we look at the older and richer biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. What is this thing called “love,” where these languages are concerned?
In the Greek
Eros – Sexual/Erotic passion and desire
Philia – Deep comradely and friendship
Ludus – Affection between children and young love (i.e., “puppy love”)
Pragma – Mature love between long-married couples
Philautia – Self Love
Agape – Radical selfless love of the highest kind – universal loving kindness for all humanity.
In the Hebrew
aheb – Magnetic attraction
hasad/chesed – loving kindness or faithful love
raham – womb-like love. The love which expresses God’s devotion to humanity.
yada- the act of copulation – to “know” in the sexual/biblical sense
ahava – Self sustaining love that gives and receives
raya – friend, companion, soul mate love
The bible is also helpful in offering concrete, realistic models for accessing the qualities required for the authentic and enduring expressions of love, and as important, demonstrating its polar opposites: lust, indifference, and rejection. If we, are as women, truly desire to acquire a healthy attitude and understanding of love, it is MOST IMPORTANT discern the distinctions!
Ruth 4: 11-17 (NRSV)
Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders said: “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah. So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him. Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. Then women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying: “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed, he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
Our first consideration is a marriage model that is upheld, in Scripture, as the prototype for successful marriage and love relationship – Ruth and Boaz. Consider the RUTH/BOAZ (below) against their love story/marriage and you will discover a relationship which is mutually satisfying and provides what the bible refers to as “evenly yoked.”
THE RUTH/BOAZ MODEL
SPIRITUAL – A man & woman who Love the Lord & enjoy a visible, committed relationship with God.
EMOTIONAL – A man & woman who are emotionally mature and healthy, and demonstrate the capacity to support each other’s emotional needs.
FINANCIAL – A man & woman who demonstrate financial responsibility and work towards financial goals with each other.
PHYSICAL – A man & woman with the physical capacity and desire for mutual sexual love for ONLY each other.
The term, “evenly yoked,” has its origin in the idea of two animals required to pull a heavy load together. The yoke should be evened and balanced (i.e., oxen to oxen); but will NOT work if the animals are not of the same kind. (Deuteronomy 22:10). The reference, “unevenly yoked,” is a metaphor for failed love/marriage relationships. A donkey and ox cannot “plow” successfully, as a team/partnership.
The Ruth/Boaz Model of marriage demonstrates the mutuality of partnership and the elements that are required for a healthy love relationships
Boaz is described as a godly man and kinsmen redeemer. The narrative refers to Ruth as the conduit of her child, Obed, who becomes the “restorer of life and nourisher” to Naomi. This story demonstrates (to those of us seeking or maintaining a loving partnership) that all four elements must be in place for a healthy and satisfying relationship. It is the “abundant life” which Jesus refers to in the Gospel accounts.
Conversely, the relationship/marriage between Leah and Jacob is a cautionary story of disappointment, frustration, and rejection. The bible provides an honest portrayal of a woman in love with a man, who tragically, does not return her love. Jacob loves Rachel, Leah’s younger sister and no amount of displayed affection from Leah will change the trajectory of Jacob’s love for Rachel only:
GENESIS 29: 31-35
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben for she said, “Because, the Lord has looked upon my affliction, surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated (unloved), he has given me a son also”; and she named him Simeon. 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. 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.
The story of Leah is tragic in its biblical presentation because we encounter a woman who loves a man, who has no desire to return her affections. The bible tells us that Jacob loved Rachel; but, never mentions how he feels about his first wife. Obviously, from the mouth of Leah, we discover her dilemma and her heartbreak: Leah loved Jacob; but, Jacob did not love her.
If we consider the Ruth/Boaz model against the Leah/Jacob relationship, we find a partnership which is lacking – the mutuality of affection, love, and support is missing between the two of them. Jacob was a good provider. He took care of his wives and children (Financial). Jacob and Leah, based upon the seven children they had together, were sexually compatible (Physical). The deficiency in their relationship was primarily emotional. While Jacob was a man who sought the Lord in most of his decisions (after he matured!), he could not or would not attach to Leah emotionally, and this was the cause of her disappointment, angst, and pain.
Through the naming of her children, we “feel” Jacob’s rejection of her, as each child becomes a personal announcement of her unhappiness with love. As Leah moves through the pain of being unloved by her mate, she also grows in accepting the fact that Jacob will not change for her. Leah must re-negotiate her relationship with Jacob; but more importantly, find the way to love herself. Her attitude gradually changes and she adjusts the focus of her energy from Jacob to God (“This time I will praise the Lord” – Judah; “God has endowed me with a good dowry” – Zebulun and finally, “Judgment” – Dinah).
Ultimately, Leah teaches us something about true love. We are responsible for our own emotional health and fulfillment in love. We cannot force anybody to love us or stay in love with us. Leah digs deep and discovers God and God’s love for her (agape) through her journey to self-worth. She ultimately shakes off Jacob’s rejection and moves toward a new path of self-discovery and self-love. Leah teaches us, as women, that loving ourselves is as important as the expression of love for others.
Questions for our discussion and consideration
When you read the entire story of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob, you find that Rachel is described as beautiful; yet Leah is described as “soft or weak eyed.” Considering that Rachel was not only beautiful; but, also received Jacob’s love and affection, where do you think Leah’s strength came from to finally detach from the expectation of Jacob loving her?
How can we access God’s love for us, as we struggle through disappointing and frustrating love relationships?
What would you tell your daughter(s) or other young women in your life, who may be struggling with the problems of love in their lives?
“Wherever people don’t welcome you or listen to you, leave and shake the dust from your feet as a warning to them.” (Jesus – Mark 6:11
“If I am not good to myself, how can I expect anyone else to be good to me?” (Maya Angelou)
“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” Tony Gaskins