My polite smile began to cramp my cheeks. “Pastor Jones wife always worked at our pig in a blanket fundraiser. Such a wonderful way with pastry,” the chairwomen of the women’s guild chirped while smiling sweetly. A circle of expectant church ladies stared at me, waiting for my presumed, “Oh, I’d love to help out,” answer. Their polite disappointment showed when I replied, “Well, let me check my schedule with Pastor Ken and get back with you.”
First of all, new to West Michigan, I couldn’t cipher why selling pigs wrapped up in blankets worked as a fundraiser. Secondly, “making dough” sounded suspiciously like it involved baking somehow. I hate baking. I do it “heartily unto the Lord,” for family and friends but that’s it. Additionally, our responsibilities with youth and education in the church left Ken and I scant free time. Burning it up away from him, with pie dough and pigs no less, sounded quite unappealing.
In every church and school where I’ve served, at some point I am subjected to a comparison between myself and my predecessor. Dialogues that begin with something like, “You know, our last pastor’s wife …….” or “Our old teacher always…..” make me feel squirmy. I know this is the prelude to me explaining or defending something I’m doing, or not doing, or not doing right.
I used to think all my predecessors possessed mythical levels of kindness, wisdom, energy, creativity and time management, based on what church members or students told me. Then I started meeting some of them. One teacher I replaced suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress load of the same class that left me frazzled each day. I felt compassion for her emotional wreckage but I also felt a burden lift when I realized she might not have been quite the superwoman my students described.
It’s painful to be the Leah in a situation. Even the description of her and her sister Rachel, in Genesis 29:17 makes me wince to read it. “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Leah never receives the best love of her husband, Jacob. A pawn in her father Laban’s schemes, she must suffer through the rejection of Jacob being aghast that she is under the wedding veil, instead of Rachel. Her new husband is so disappointed; he insists on marrying Rachel as soon as his wedding week with Leah is complete. That’s a truckload of rejection.
The rest of Jacob and Leah’s marriage is a sorry tale of Jacob consistently cherishing Rachel over her sister, even though Leah bears Jacob his firstborn son, plus five more and a daughter. When Jacob is fearful that his reunion with Esau will end in bloodshed, who does he put at the very back of his caravan, farthest from Esau’s private army? Not Leah, and his firstborn son, Reuben. No, Rachel and Joseph are placed at the rear of the caravan with Leah and her children ahead of them. The message is clear; if wives and children are to be murdered, then Leah and her children will die before Rachel and hers.
Do you ever get that Leah feeling, like you just come up short in someone’s estimation? Do the ghosts of the past haunt your environment? Take comfort in the knowledge that your predecessors probably felt the same way. You can also choose a different mindset that will help you to resist a spirit of offense or rejection when someone holds up your shortcomings to the gilded memory of someone else.
First, let’s consider Leah again. Jacob might not have been her hero but God championed her cause. “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.” (Genesis 29:31) Ultimately, the Lord gave Leah numerous children while Rachel only ever had two and died giving birth to the second one. Also note, that although Jacob treasured Rachel the most, God honored Leah’s family line far more by placing her son, Judah, in the genealogy of Jesus. To this day we know our Lord as the Lion of Judah.
There may be folks in your church, ministry, or workplace that never truly celebrate you and only ever tolerate you. Their loss. If you faithfully serve where God positions you, rest assured His heart is turned towards you. He will bless the work of your hands if you labor heartily for Him while dishing out grace to your detractors. Let Him deal with those who idolize your forerunners. Don’t’ allow your emotions to rise and fall with people’s thumbs up or thumbs down. Trust God to be your champion, your vindicator, the glory and lifter of your head and your greatest fan.