All the Pain You Cannot See
So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah . . . Genesis 29:30
During my journey through outpatient and eventually inpatient addiction treatment, I met with multiple counselors who asked me repeatedly about Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs). Those counselors wanted to know if I’d suffered verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, household substance use or mental illness, or if my parents were divorced. I wondered why they kept asking about this. I’d experienced none of those things. Now, working in addiction medicine, I understand why. It’s clear that ACEs have a negative impact on long-term health, dramatically increasing the risk of substance use, mental illness, and chronic disease. It shouldn’t be surprising – terrible things in your past can precipitate terrible things in your future.
If I take the time to ask and listen, I see this daily. When I meet those who make terrible choices and perhaps are very unlikeable, if I want to find some compassion, all I must do is ask about their past. Invariably, they’ll tell me of sexual or physical abuse on a scale that I can’t imagine. I grew up in a stable, healthy, loving environment, so it’s difficult for me to conceive of parents who would profit from sexual exploitation of their own children. Those around us carry wounds that we can’t see or fathom. Everyone has their own story that we don’t know about. Everyone is broken in some way and sometimes, there’s a really good reason for that. Not all hurts are as dramatic as sexual abuse, but nonetheless, our past injuries play a dramatic role in making us who we are.
In today’s passage, we’re told of Leah – the ugly duckling. In the story, Jacob fell in love with Rachel who was beautiful, in contrast with her sister, Leah, who was painfully described as ugly. The girl’s father apparently couldn’t find anyone who’d have Leah, so he tricked Jacob into marrying her. Jacob then also married Rachel, whom he loved more than Leah. Leah wasn’t oblivious to all this. She knew she was ugly and hated. What had she done to deserve this? Nothing. It was just the life she was dealt.
Everyone has some hurt in their past. Everyone has a pain we can’t see. This isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, but if we’ll take the time to listen, we’ll begin to develop understanding instead of judgment. As Christians, we’re commanded by Christ to love our neighbors, but sometimes our neighbors just aren’t very loveable. If, however, we’ll invest some time and effort, we’ll often find that there’s a reason for that. When we listen, we begin to develop compassion instead of contempt. Everyone has their own story.