Leah most likely had hopes and dreams of being happily married, just like every other woman of her day (and ours). All she wanted was for her husband, Jacob, to love her. But Jacob loved Leah’s sister, Rachel. And not only did Leah live with that hurt, but she was probably reminded daily of how she was second best to her beautiful younger sister.
Poor Leah! Her husband was tricked into marrying her in the first place, a ploy concocted by her father, who perhaps figured no man would choose his oldest daughter, Leah, on his own. So on Jacob and Rachel’s wedding night, Leah’s father made the girls switch places, and when Jacob awoke the next morning to find Leah in his bed, he was furious. I imagine it ripped a hole into Leah’s heart to hear her new husband complain that he’d gotten her instead, after giving her all to him the night before. Perhaps day after day she heard of all the reasons her husband would rather be with Rachel than with her. Leah probably carried some deep hurts in her heart, as I imagine any woman would who has to hear of her shortcomings and why her husband would prefer to be with someone else! But through all this, Leah didn’t give up. She was determined to do whatever it took to win her husband’s heart. And she believed that meant giving him a son.
We’re told in the Bible that God saw that Leah was unloved, so He allowed her to conceive a child (Genesis 29:31). When Leah bore her first son, she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” But Jacob’s love didn’t follow. So Leah had another son. And another. And after bearing that third son, she again hoped that would do the trick, saying, “Surely my husband will love me now.” But still, he didn’t.
After giving Jacob a fourth son, and seeing that her husband still favored Rachel, Leah simply said, “This time I will praise the LORD” (Genesis 29:35).
I love how Leah’s focus finally shifted. No longer did she seek after her husband’s love; instead, she looked to the Lord who loved her. (And, incidentally, it was that fourth son, named Judah, that God chose as the bloodline through whom His Son, Jesus, would eventually be born. Could it be that God’s reward followed when Leah finally gained her focus?)
A few years later, Leah bore two more sons and a daughter, and her last comment was not that her husband would love her, but that Jacob would “treat me with honor.” Maybe by then Leah knew that her husband’s love and devotion was simply out of reach. And perhaps she learned, after many attempts and no success, to quit striving after the heart of the one she would never win and to start living for the One who had always loved her.
We can safely assume that it was Leah’s desert experience of lovelessness from her husband that drove her to find an oasis of love from God and begin to look to Him as the heavenly Husband she could live for. Perhaps the love she found in God convinced her that He was real. I say that because later, when Jacob and his wives and all their children moved, it was Rachel—not Leah—who took along the family idols (Genesis 31:17-19,34). Perhaps Leah had experienced God in such a real and personal way that she didn’t seek her fulfillment anywhere else. And unlike Rachel, Leah became devoted to her God rather than the wooden objects her father had taught her to worship.
And because Leah’s son, Judah, was chosen to continue the bloodline from which Jesus came, we can assume the Almighty looked favorably on the one who loved her husband even though she received no love in return, the one who was a faithful wife in spite of how she was treated. Apparently God made up for what Leah lacked in her marriage by giving her eternal blessings instead.
Finding a New Focus
Now I realize that my reference to eternal blessings may not make you feel any better if you are struggling with feeling disconnected to your husband, or struggling with not having a husband at all. But let me encourage you with this: A marriage here on earth is temporary. It will last, at the most, until you or your spouse dies. But marriage with the Lord will last into eternity. And I’ve found that in my own experiences of being lonely in love (for the most part, married to a pastor who is an introvert and very busy in ministry), focusing on my heavenly Husband is one sure way to get my mind off of unmet expectations in my earthly marriage and to still live in joy as a woman much loved.
So what is all this talk about a marriage to the Lord?
Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to His chosen people, the nation of Israel, as His bride. In Isaiah 54:5 He tells Israel, “Your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is His name.” In the New Testament, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom and to His church (those who trust Him as Savior and Lord) as His bride. Jesus also talked of going away to prepare a home for us in heaven and then returning to get us, His bride, and take us back to live with Him (see John 14:2-3). God’s comparison of His love for us with a husband-wife relationship is too obvious to overlook in Scripture; He is definitely trying to make a point to us.
Putting Marriage in Its Proper Place
Could that point be that God wants us to see Him as our heavenly Husband and the One who holds our hope and future in His hands? I believe so. Of course, upon making a marriage vow to God and to our spouse, there’s no question that we should make our marriage relationship a priority over any other relationship here on earth (even that of our children) and do all that is humanly possible to make it work until death do us part. But if our perspective were realigned so that we, as women, considered ourselves married to God first, it would dramatically change how we view our earthly marriage or lack of one.
This was apparently the case with Geri. Geri was a strikingly beautiful woman who approached me one morning after a speaking event. I had just encouraged a large group of women to listen to the call that Jesus, their heavenly Husband, was making on their life—the call to come back to His heart and live a life of intimacy with Him.
As Geri approached me, I could see that she had tears in her eyes. “My husband left me three years ago,” she said. “Today would have been our twentieth wedding anniversary.”
I reached out to touch her hand as she continued: “I was praying last night that my husband would call me today. That’s all I wanted—just a call.” Geri stopped to regain her composure and then said: “I realize now that God answered my prayer. My husband was calling me today.” Her smile and the tears of joy in her eyes told me she now understood, for the first time in three painful years, who her real Husband was. She left with a new hope that morning…a hope founded in knowing that she was loved and cherished by the One who would never leave her.
Jesus told us that marriage on this earth is for a lifetime, not for eternity (Matthew 22:30). Upon the death of you or your spouse, it will end. (And unfortunately, in many cases, a marriage ends a lot earlier than that, through abandonment or divorce.) Your marriage to Christ, however, is eternal. In fact, your relationship with Him here on earth is similar to an engagement period, and the real marriage will take place in heaven. Jesus told us that when we meet Him in heaven, we will partake in the “marriage supper” (Revelation 19:9). Whose marriage? Our marriage with the Lord.
Picturing a Perfect Marriage
What will our marriage with the Lord be like? I believe God designed marriage between a man and woman here on earth to give us a glimpse of what a marriage with Christ can be like in heaven. Try to go with me here: A marriage with Christ will be a perfect union of unconditional love and trust, complete vulnerability, sensitivity, tenderness, security, provision, and fulfillment. It will also be completely free of any of the negatives that we may have experienced in our own earthly marriage or other people’s marriages. That’s because our marriage in heaven will be to the Perfect One, Jesus Christ, who knows only goodness, faithfulness, and love. In a marriage to Christ, you are treated as the most precious, beautiful, sought-after bride there ever was. Because in His eyes, you are.
Now, if you think of a husband in terms of a sexual relationship, you won’t have the right picture of marriage to God, for it won’t be a sexual relationship. Instead, think of God as a husband in terms of the biblical role and responsibilities a husband has. For instance, a husband is to provide, protect, comfort, encourage, befriend, and love…and God does all of that! And because He is perfect and without sin, He can do all of that a lot better than any human husband could!
When I speak of the Lord being our husband, I’m not suggesting we ignore or think less of our earthly husbands. And I am by no means suggesting we give up on them or get out of our marriages. On the contrary, I am suggesting that we take certain expectations off of our husbands and leave them with the Lord, as a way of showing our husbands how much we do love them.
And when we lessen the load of expectations on our husbands, it often frees up our husbands to love us in the best way they can…without unrealistic expectations being held over their heads.
My sister recently attended a marriage conference in which the couples were told by the speakers that there is only one person who can meet all of their emotional needs, and that was their spouse. Furthermore, the husbands were told that it was their duty to heal the hurts of their wife’s past and make her into the whole, confident, and fulfilled woman she was intended by God to be.
Wow! What a task. I imagine those men left that conference with a pretty heavy burden of responsibility on their shoulders—one that they probably will soon discover they cannot carry. I imagine, too, that those wives are in for some pretty stark disappointments as they realize the truth of Jeremiah 17:5-6, which tells us that when we depend on people—or our husbands—for our fulfillment, we will live like stony wastes in the wilderness. In other words, we’ll be like dried-out bushes or tumbleweeds that blow here and there to whoever will love us. The fact is—and both Scripture and experience make this clear—that no man or woman can completely fill another person’s emotional tank. That’s a God-sized task meant for…well, God!
Secret to Success
I have found in my own marriage that when my husband tries to meet my long list of emotional expectations, he gets frustrated with how far he falls short. But not as frustrated as me! And I’ve also found that when I take those expectations off of Hugh and leave them with the Lord where they belong, it frees up Hugh to love me in the way that he can, without guilt or feelings of “not measuring up” in my book. Furthermore, as I concentrate more fully on my marriage to God, and I pursue my husband less, it makes Hugh want to pursue me a little more. (I think that’s a guy-thing!) And it makes our marriage to each other less of a weighty obligation and more of a willful inspiration. As I fall more in love with Jesus, He gives me more of a love for my husband, as well…but a love free of demands and disappointments.
Focusing on Your First Love
My friend, where are you concentrating your energy when it comes to your love life? Is Jesus your first love? He’s going to be your Husband into eternity. Don’t you want to spend life here on earth in a wonderful engagement to Him so that when you get to heaven you two can pick up where you left off?
I remember the four months I was engaged to Hugh. We had a long-distance dating relationship, so the few times we saw each other really meant a lot to us. We dreamed of the moment we would say, “I do” to each other and never again have to be away from each other, not even for a day! (We actually made that promise to each other as so many love-birds do!) I remember feeling, between visits, that I would just die if I couldn’t be with Hugh soon. I longed for the day I would be his wife and we would no longer have to be separated by physical distance.
Obviously, we weren’t able to keep that promise of never being separated again. My travels as a speaker and my husband’s position in ministry have many times not afforded us the opportunity—or luxury—of taking our business trips together. And in fact, as I write this, he is in Papua New Guinea, on a two-week stay in the jungle, away from any telephones, modems, or postal services to “keep in touch.” Keeping a vow of never being separated physically wasn’t realistic because of our ministry obligations, yet our love for each other still makes separation difficult.
Do you and I feel a similar longing when it comes to our heavenly Husband? Do you and I long for the day we will be joined to our Lover and Lord forever? We should have that kind of longing in our hearts. And when we make our relationship with Christ a priority and make Him our focal point in all things, we will know true fulfillment—even in the alone times.
Let me share with you three practical things that we can do—every day—in our relationship with the Lord so that our marriage to Him fills the void a man cannot fill.
1. Communicate with God about everything. Relationships are built and maintained upon communication. And a lot of times that starts with talking about the little things and building up to a more vulnerable and soul-exposing communication. Tell God about the little things in your day, every day. Unlike some husbands, He will be glad to hear every little detail. (God never tells us, “Get to the point, please!”) As you go to God first with everything on your heart and mind, you may find you have less to complain or talk about with your husband, which may make you a little more attractive to him and more of a mystery to him, as well. (And don’t most men love a good mystery?)
I find that when I talk to God more, and to Hugh less, it causes Hugh to be more interested in my life and more interested in wanting to talk with me. It is a breath of fresh air in my marriage for my husband to be the one to say, “Let’s spend some time together so we can catch up on life.” And if you’re not married, telling God about your day is one way of letting Him fill that need for “someone to talk to” and “someone to listen.”
2. Commit yourself to trusting in God alone. Trust is another key element in a good relationship. And God wants you to trust Him as the One who will provide for you, protect you, and advise you in various matters, just as you would look to a husband to do the same. Look to God’s Word for direction in that big decision you need to make. Wait upon Him for guidance in those smaller decisions, too. Trust God’s promises, in His Word, to provide for you financially and otherwise when things get tight. Unlike an earthly husband, God has unlimited assets. (Psalm 50:10 tells us He owns the cattle on a thousand hills!) He has all the resources you will ever need when you get into a bind.
God is also all-knowing, so nothing takes Him by surprise. Furthermore, He isn’t capable of making a mistake, so He’ll never drop the ball. Plus, He’s got perfect timing, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything. Doesn’t that already relieve a little bit of the relational pressure that might exist in your marriage? Instead of depending on your husband for everything, start putting things in God’s hands. And if you’re not married, doesn’t that make you feel a little more secure already, knowing you’re not alone—that you have Someone who can pick up the loose ends in your life and help you out?
3. Consider your life with God a partnership. If you’re married, chances are you share just about everything from money to living quarters to possessions. The same works with being “married” to God, only it’s more like everything belongs to Him, but He gives you access. Share with Him your time, your plans, your finances, your love, your thoughts, your concerns, your devotion, and your loyalty, and you will never have to worry that anything you give Him will be misused, abused, misplaced, or taken for granted.
Excerpted from When Women Walk Alone by Cindi McMenamin (Harvest House, 2008).
Cindi McMenamin, an award-winning writer and national speaker, is the author of Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs. She is also a contributing author to several devotional books and Christian magazines. She is a director of women's ministries at a church in southern California, and has been actively involved in ministering to women for nearly 20 years.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MatthiasLindner