Have you all read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (the author of The Secret Garden)? I had seen the Shirley Temple movie when I was very little, so I vaguely remembered the story (although now, having read the book and a summary of the movie plot, I see they differed in fairly significant ways).
Regardless, I just read the novel this week, and I’m obsessed. Of course, it’s about a little girl, Sara Crewe, but even so, I was struck by her kindness and goodness, even in the face of incredible trials, when most any other person would have grown completely bitter – and no one would have blamed them.
The story is a Cinderella one, but little Sara shares more than just a plot line with my most favorite of all literary characters (btw, I liked the Cinderella movie. I like the cartoon better, of course, but I was pleased with how they handled this new live version). Like Sara, Cinderella seemed to have every right to curse her stepmother and stepsisters, to run away, or at least to put a diuretic in their food. But, she remained true to her character and her convictions of humility, kindness, and the Golden Rule.
Even Elle Woods, one of my favorite movie characters (Legally Blonde, of course), exhibited this trait. Despite how unkind everyone was to her when she began Harvard, she did not grow bitter, but remained kind and true to herself, eventually even becoming best friends with her worst enemy.
As I was thinking about the little princess Sara this weekend, realizing that all of my favorite characters share such a common theme, I was struck by something more profound than just that they were all “nice”. Yes, they were – admirably so. But, even more noteworthy, they remained faithful under pressure. When there was every reason for them to abandon their beliefs, lash out, retaliate, or just give up altogether, they persevered, believing that circumstances did not warrant a change in behavior or character.
I knew there must be a biblical example of this, so I started thinking, and sure enough, there is: Leah. Like Hagar, Leah is one woman I had mostly glossed over when I was younger. She’s certainly not the star of the show (you can read more about her in Genesis 29, especially, but continuing throughout the rest of the book), and as a kid, I always liked the pretty characters – her sister Rachel was like the princess of Genesis.
But, really, if we define a princess more by the character traits of the women described above, Leah is certainly one. When the story begins, you can hear her pain. She was given away by her dad to Jacob, a man who did not love her (and didn’t even know she was her until AFTER he’d slept with her…I still am not quite sure how that happened), immediately rejected, and then relegated to sharing her husband with the woman he really loved – her sister. I mean, it is pretty messed up.
Yet, Leah didn’t rebel or become bitter. Yes, she was sad – she refers to her situation as her affliction. Yet, her faith in God remained strong. I read a sermon once that really changed the way I saw Leah. You can read the whole thing here if you want, but take a look at Leah’s son’s names. In each case, she reflected on God’s role in her life: how he saw her and heard her. Although she’s still trying to earn Jacob’s love by her third son, she has not given up or despaired, and she keeps trusting the Lord, naming her 4th son Judah, saying, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”
Through everything, Leah remained faithful. Culturally, perhaps her options were limited. But, behavior wise, she could have chosen any number of outlets for her pain; instead, she chose to place her belief in the Lord, and remain true to her convictions, no matter the circumstances.
Of course, if this is where Leah’s story ended, it would a nice lesson, but still kinda depressing. But, as with any good princess story, there is a happy ending. God saw Leah’s faithfulness. He had given her many sons, yes, but that 4th son – Judah, the one where she praised the Lord – is the one from whose line Jesus would come. The Savior of the world came as a result of faithfulness, even when life was more than unfair. Not only that, but Leah did earn Jacob’s love. This is maybe my favorite part, because it shows how God loves to redeem things in our lives. When Jacob died many years later, having outlived both of his wives, his last request was to be buried with Leah. Not beautiful Rachel, but faithful Leah. Yes, he had loved Rachel instantly. But through her character, Leah had earned his love, and when he died, he wanted to be next to her.
It’s a beautiful story. Pain comes to all of us in different ways, and it is seldom fair. Yet, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) ultimately give us the victory. Of course, we aren’t promised a fairy tale happy ending for every situation. But we are promised that we will be rewarded in Heaven for our perseverance here on earth (1 Cor. 9:24-25). One of my favorite verses is Galatians 6:9, and I’ll close with that, as I find it particularly relevant today:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.