No, no, no. This could not be happening.
"Please," I begged. I was surrounded by a crowd of girls, pushing me toward the front. "Please don't!" But it was too late. We had stopped at the top of a cement staircase, above a gathering of boys waiting for the dodge ball court.
"Hey Mark," the girls called to the boy down below, "do you think Emily is PRETTY?"
He looked up, like a deer in the headlights. "Uh, I don't . . . " he said. "But I'm sure someone would."
You've got to hand it to him, it was, at least, accurate. At the time I even thought it was gallant. It didn't hurt me, though I'm not going to say it wasn't embarrassing. Come on, it was junior high! Junior high is entirely made of embarrassment . . . and math tests.
But growing up, I became steadily more convinced of what that boy had said. That I was always going to be the girl that someone else would love. Some OTHER person . . . somewhere. Wouldn't they? Wouldn't he? And I was embarrassed about it. When people would ask me about my relationship status I would respond like someone had written UNWANTED across my forehead.
I wasn't just defensive, I was too-eager, like a little girl on a playground bench who sits up every time a boy walks by. With my actions I kept asking that same old junior-high question: "Don't you think I'm pretty? Don't you think I'm worthy?" And all this meant was, "Don't you want to love me?" There was some part of me that knew, fundamentally, that I was worthy of love, and I didn't understand what I'd done to be disqualified. Unwanted may not have been written across my forehead but it was written across my heart.
The book of Genesis tells a story about two sisters, Rachel and Leah. In the story, there's a man completely in-love with the younger sister, Rachel. But their conniving father thinks he can get a two-for-one deal and pulls a wedding day switch that ends with both sisters married to the same guy. Talk about a messy love-triangle. I mean, who are we supposed to root for here? Rachel, the Chosen One, the sought-after one, the one Jacob worked for seven years to win? Or Leah -- the one he was duped into taking. Poor, unloved Leah! The OTHER wife. The one shoved, unwillingly, to the front of the crowd. The one pushed into the picture where she wasn't wanted.
In one of the most heartbreaking verses of Genesis, the author writes that "the Lord saw that Leah was unloved" (29:31). That's what heartbreak is, when someone who is supposed to love you, doesn't.
But God SAW Leah. God sees the unloved. And "he enabled her to have children." I don't think this is just God blessing Leah, I think this is his way of loving her himself. Her husband couldn't give her children, but God gives her what only He can.
Don't misunderstand me, Leah should have been loved by her husband. That was right. She deserved that love. But in this life, we don't always get the love we deserve. I think all of us, every one, are at times unloved by someone who is supposed to love us. Whether that be a parent, a spouse, a child, or a friend.
But we are always loved, undeservedly, by God.
Leah believed she was unwanted, The One Who Wasn't Chosen. But Leah WAS the one that God had chosen because she became the many-times-great-grandmother of His own Son. She didn't see how He loved her. She thought she was loving unrequitedly when, in fact, she was the one who was loved, unrequited.
My story was similar. The wallflower bloomed. I grew up and I did turn out to be kinda, sorta . . . pretty. But I didn't thank God for it, all I thought was, "NOW someone will love me!" When He gave me gifts and talents, I said, "Ah, now FINALLY they'll notice me!" And when He loved me Himself, I didn't see.
A long time after I was pushed to the front of that crowd of girls, I fell in love with a boy. But he didn't, he wouldn't -- for whatever reason -- he just could not love me. And it took me four long years to see it, to realize that was all on him, and there was nothing I could do to change it.
But you know what that did to my heart? It made it so hard . . . brittle, hollow, numb. I couldn't feel or believe in any kind of love, certainly not God's. It made me believe that unrequited love wasn't love at all. That it was shameful, shameless boy-chasing. And a very dear friend said to me, "If that's what you think about unrequited love, what do you think about God?"
"For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . "
The ultimate unrequited lover hung on a cross in the presence of those who did not, would not, could not love Him back.
Leah named her first four sons, "Now my husband will love me," "The Lord heard I was unloved," "This time my husband will feel affection for me," and "Now I will praise the Lord."
The last of those was Judah, the line of the kings, the lineage of our own king, Jesus. God has always been telling the same story, and it's a love story. Will it be a story of love unreturned? Will that be your story like it was mine, but isn't any longer?
Paul says that we are God's ambassadors, appealing on His behalf to those He loves. So, I appeal to you, whether you are married or not, whether you are surrounded in love or just another girl in the crowd, whether you are that over-eager little girl on the bench or the woman who let "unwanted" be written across her heart. In that place, in the place no one else sees you, God sees you, and He loves you.
Don't let that love be unrequited.