While You Were Sleeping (1995) is a charming chick-flick in which Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a toll booth clerk on the Chicago elevated railway. Because she has no family, she usually works the holiday shifts. She is a plain girl (makeup artists tried to make Bullock look plain, but only succeeded in making her look shabby).
Lucy thinks she is in love with a handsome commuter, Peter (played by Peter Gallagher), who takes the train almost daily. However, he doesn’t notice her at all. When he is thrown onto the train tracks, she rescues him just before a train comes into the station. Frantically, she goes to the hospital where Peter is in a coma.
A well-intentioned nurse mistakes Lucy for his fiancéé and introduces her to his family that way. Lucy starts to tell them the truth, but doesn’t when told that his grandmother (Glynis Johns) has a heart problem and a shock might kill her. The family immediately pours such love on Lucy that she is hesitant to let go of this wonderful,though imaginary, relationship.
In the real world this misunderstanding could quickly be resolved by Lucy admitting the truth and apologizing for the mix-up. But that would spoil the fun—and not make a two-hour movie. These characters are so well-written and likable that we accept that maybe it could happen. Although Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman) constantly questions Lucy’s engagement story, she makes up plausible explanations. Jack likes her so much he wants to believe she is honest—while not wanting to believe she is engaged to his brother. He knows Peter dates the flashy type (which Lucy is definitely not).
The only one who knows the truth is the family friend, Sam (Jack Warden). Lucy confides in him, probably hoping he’ll tell her to fess up. Instead, Sam advises her to wait and break the news carefully. He loves the family and doesn’t want to see them hurt. Neither does Lucy.
SPOILER ALERT: When Peter comes out of the coma, he seems to have amnesia and can’t remember being engaged to Lucy. (Naturally, because he wasn’t.) The family plans a hospital wedding ceremony. Lucy’s dreams of marrying Peter are about to come true—except that it is under false pretenses and she finally realizes that she loves Jack. As she will later tell Peter, she and Jack fell in love “while you were sleeping.”
Not Sleeping, Just Dreaming
Why does this movie about an unmarried young woman remind me of a woman in the Bible who was married and had seven children? Leah, who first appears in Genesis 29, probably expected that she would get married, have children, and be loved by her husband. As the eldest daughter, in a day of arranged marriages, maybe she also hoped that husband would be Jacob, the cousin who had come to work for her father.
After Jacob had tricked his father into giving him the birthright and blessing that normally his (older) twin would have received, his brother Esau wanted to kill him. Jacob fled to Haran where his mother’s brother lived (Genesis 29:1-12). Uncle Laban welcomed his nephew but immediately began plotting to make him a virtual servant.
Jacob was busy tending Laban’s flocks, but he had enough time to fall head over heels in love with Laban’s lovely daughter, Rachel. He agreed to work the next seven years for Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage. And the years seemed like days until the seven-year price was paid. During the marriage celebration, which included a lot of wine, a heavily-veiled bride, and a dark tent, Jacob didn’t realize that he’d married Leah, the sister he didn’t love. Or as the Bible succinctly puts it in Genesis 12:29: “When morning came, there was Leah!”
This is where we usually talk about how God was teaching Jacob, the deceiver, what it felt like to be deceived. But how do you think Leah felt when Jacob’s wrath poured out on her over her father’s deception? It couldn’t have been easy for her.
Verse 17 points out that Rachel was beautiful and had a lovely figure, but Leah had “weak eyes.” Maybe she was a plain girl, nearsighted, who squinted a lot. (Other versions make it sound like her eyes were her only good feature.) She wasn’t a beauty like Rachel and she knew it. Her father Laban may have decided it would be harder to get a suitor for weak-eyed Leah, so he married her off first. Leah would have had no choice but to go through with the wedding, even though she knew Jacob loved her sister, not her.
To calm down his irate new son-in-law, Laban agreed to give him Rachel as his wife after his one-week honeymoon with Leah was over. But he would then have to work seven more years for her. This time Laban kept his word, and a week later Jacob had two wives. Common sense might say that Leah would have been totally ignored after that first week, but Rachel was childless. The fact that Leah bore seven children–six sons and a daughter–shows Jacob paid her some attention. However, Leah knew the truth and was jealous of her sister. She constantly hoped that the situation would change and she would have Jacob’s love. The names of her first three children show her yearnings:
Reuben: “the Lord has seen” my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.
Simeon: “the Lord heard” that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.
Levi: “Joined” at last my husband will become attached to me because I’ve borne three sons.
The first three names show that Leah at first believed the “it’s all about me” philosophy. She had to learn what Rick Warren wrote in the first line of The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not all about you.”
By the birth of the fourth son, it seems Leah was growing spiritually. His name, Judah, means “praise.” Maybe she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”
Did God remove or change Leah’s problem? No, Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and Leah knew he always would. But God taught Leah how to live with the problem. And more children came:
5th son Issachar: “Reward” God has rewarded me.
6th son Zebulon: “Honor” God has presented me with a precious gift.
Rachel may have been the love of Jacob’s life, but it was from Leah that God chose to bring forth six sons—men who would become fathers of half of the twelve tribes of Israel. And a special honor came to her line. Of the sons born to Leah, Judah, becomes an ancestor of Jesus Christ (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah).
Like Leah—and Lucy in the beginning of the movie—we can focus on what we lack and be miserable, desperately pleading with God to change the circumstances of our lives. Or we can focus on what we have been given, as Leah started to do with Judah’s birth. And we can decide to praise the Lord. Leah came to recognize that she needed to praise and trust God anyway. To bask in His love. And she had a constant reminder. Every time she called Judah in to supper she would be reminding herself to “praise” God.
Praise is a way to express our faith and one of the best ways to strengthen it.
Leah’s life teaches us, as Ruth Myers wrote in 31 Days of Praise: Enjoying God Anew (Multnomah Books, 1994): “Even in troubled circumstances, or when God does not choose to work in spectacular ways, praise can help us view our situation through different lenses. True praise is unconditional. It’s not an attempt to manipulate God into producing the precise results we hope for. Instead, it helps us accept our situation as it is, whether or not He changes it. Continued praise helps us reach the place where we can say, ‘Father, I don’t want You to remove this problem until You’ve done all You want to do through it, in me, and in others.’”
When I think of Leah and her disappointments, I like to think of the acronym PGA, which stands for Praise God Anyway.
©2016 by Vicki Huffman
*Affiliate links included.