We are accustomed to bible heroes being people of sterling faithfulness and character. Then there is Jacob. You remember Jacob. He is the guy who made a great pot of chili to swindle his older brother Esau out of his birthright. He is the one who tricked his blind father by impersonating Esau and stole the family blessing. He’s the one that hears God at Bethel make a covenant with him, to always be with him. Jacob’s response is conditional; telling God that “if” God does these things, he would worship him. In today’s reading, Jacob the trickster finally gets his comeuppance; he is tricked by a master manipulator, his Uncle Laban.
That makes for an entertaining story. Yet, it is also a tragic story that reminds us of the heartbreaking status of women thousands of years ago. Women were property without voice or agency and served as living tokens in the schemes of men; Laban uses his daughters to get 14 years of servitude from Jacob. It is the time when men could have multiple wives.
This is a scripture about high expectations. Jacob expected, after seven long years of servitude to Laban, to marry Rachel, the love of his life. Leah, Rachel’s oldest sister, the one who was supposed to be married first, expected to gain the unconditional love of Jacob with the cover of veils, alcohol, and darkness. Meanwhile, in another tent in the family compound, what were Rachel’s expectations as she spent that dark night in teeth-gnashing anguish and heartache? It was a night of deceit and blind assumption.
In the dim light of the dawn, the dagger of disappointment cuts deep into their souls. In Jacob’s face, Leah sees that although she was the first to be married, she is not first in Jacob’s heart. Jacob, the trickster, is the victim of a grand deception and Rachel is not his wife. Rachel’s anguish is amplified by the bind of protocol and propriety. Jacob is not her husband.
But have we not had our own share of grand expectations forged in the fires of denial and pride? Who has not looked through the eyes of love while dating, and believed if you could just be married to that one who is the apple of your eye, you would live in wedded bliss forever? Or if I could just get that perfect next job, get that fantastic promotion, or get into that favorite school, I would be set. If I join the right church, I can be content spiritually. Everything will work out, life will be excellent after that.
In the harsh dawn of disappointment, Leah, Rachel, and Jacob, feel what we have come to know all too often: bitter disappointment and the pain of unrealized expectations. Throughout life, we experience hurt and anguish when life doesn’t go as expected. Marriage is not always a rose garden. Our relationships with family members can be a roller coaster of miscommunication and competing, sometimes conflicting, expectations. Once the novelty wears off, the dream job or the dream house comes with another set of problems and challenges. We experience disappointment with our church, with ourselves and the things we do or fail to do.
We have experienced a different level of disappointment and frustration in 2020. We thought things would be closer to normal by now; that COVID would be conquered. We are disappointed by our civic leadership for not doing what we think they should do. We are disappointed by our fellow citizens for either their perceived callous disregard for health and safety, or on the other side, their denial of the importance of the economy. We are disappointed that we cannot do the things we want now. Disappointment looms with questions about resuming school, in-person worship, and what the economy is going to do. We do not move through life from peak to peak without experiencing the valleys in between.
Disappointment leaves us sad and angry. It robs us of trust in those that we love. It drains our confidence in ourselves. Disappointment blinds us to the fullness of life and robs us of the life abundant that Christ died and rose to give us. As a result of disappointment, sometimes we withdraw or run away in anger or frustration. Jacob could have done that. Sometimes we stay in place and cut ourselves off from those who disappoint us. Rachel and Leah could have given each other the silent treatment–making it awkward for everyone around them.
Perhaps this scripture offers us a word about what to do when things don’t happen the way we like, when our expectations aren’t met, when disappointment is the theme for the day or the season of life. In that dawn of disappointment long ago, a word comes from the most unlikeliest of sources: Uncle Laban. It is a word that is meant to serve his own selfish purpose, but it is a word that in our times of disappointment we need to hear:
“Wait” “ Wait a week, Jacob, you will get Rachel too.”
The word that we need to hear in our disappointment is Wait. Stick around. Have patience. Sit tight. Maybe it is not Rachel we will get, but something else.
In other words, don’t let your disappointment with its waves of anger and sadness, drive you to cut and run or stay and sulk. In his moment of disappointment, Jacob had to wait and trust God and be faithful to where God led him across the desert 500 miles to see Rachel at the well watering the flock in the first place. Depend on the fact that God knows what God is doing…be faithful to where the Lord has led you. Be true to what you have been called to, to the vows you took, even though you can go back later and say I did not know all the details or the bottom line at the time.
In our deepest disappointment, be assured that the place you find yourself could be exactly where God has been leading you all along. Trust that the God of the Universe is working to bring about glorious and blessed things that are not yet revealed to you or anyone else. Disappointment is not the last word.
As it turns out, Jacob had 12 sons who would be the fathers of the tribes of Israel and Judah; Rachel gave birth to only two of those sons. Imagine the loss of our faith legacy if Jacob had stormed away from Leah. Sometimes in the dawn of disappointment, we realize the place of our true contentment and fulfillment comes as a result of working things through in the place where we are. That means not giving up when we are disappointed or when things do not go as expected.
With the experience of life we learn that disappointment, as well the notions of what is ideal and perfect for us, usually exist only in the six inches between our ears. As long as human beings are involved, there is no perfect church, or job, marriage, or country. Our disappointment reveals this more often that we like to admit. Disappointment is an invitation to wait, trust, and persevere in the name of God; it is a holy summons to move and to act with Godly direction rather than with our own unrealistic notions of what is ideal. In God’s time, the blessing will unfold and be revealed more fully; the next step forward will become apparent. It may not be what you expect. No doubt, we will again know the dawn of disappointment. Disappointment is an invitation to trust God and to move forward past our imperfect expectations.
It is a rough spot on our journey. It is not our final destination.
May God bless you in the dawn of your disappointment that you may move closer to God’s redeeming love in Christ Jesus.