Want to hear an embarrassing story? After getting engaged, I was determined that once David and I tied the knot, we would be completely honest with each other–sharing everything, not holding anything back. Except one little thing.
Just one small thing I didn’t want him to find out about me.
I didn’t want him to know…
…that I fill in my eyebrows with a make-up pencil.
Yep. That’s it. Believe me, it was painful to write that sentence.
I wanted him to think that I had perfect eyebrows. Hah. What makes it worse is the thought actually crossed my mind, “What if I just always wear make-up around David? Then he’ll never have to see me bare-faced, with all these flaws.”
It’s laughable, isn’t it? But it was a real, legitimate fear, and sometimes it still is, that he won’t accept me. And not just my face, but my whole body. I’m often very uncomfortable with the skin I’m in. The thoughts race through my mind: I’m just too _____, or not ____ enough. I don’t look like those actresses or that perfect-looking woman I saw at the mall.
Anything can trigger the thoughts. A glance in the mirror, trying on clothes that are too tight, watching a movie and being filled with envy at a star on the screen. I try to fight it, but too often, discontentment and vanity rise up and say, “You’re not good enough.”
Sisters, this is probably the greatest struggle of my heart. One I had as a non-Christian, one I continue to have as a Christian.
I know there are a hundred blog posts on this topic–how to boost your self-esteem, stop worrying about the way you look, avoid comparing yourself to others, etc. etc. etc. And I’m definitely not writing this to tell you “ten easy steps to being happy with your appearance,” because seriously, I haven’t achieved that even for myself.
I don’t think an article can somehow magically resolve this issue that nearly all of us women face. It’s a daily battle, one that may even last until we meet Jesus in glory. That day when we no longer live in a fallen world, bombarding us with pressure to look (and act) like a Victoria’s Secret model. That day when we are fully sanctified and all of our sins, fears, and tears are permanently replaced by holiness, peace, and everlasting joy.
But until then, we can–we must–make progress, by God’s grace and in His power.
To be honest, I may be writing this article for myself more than anything else. Consider it a collection of hopeful truths that I want my mind (and yours) to focus on, in those moments when the temptation comes to say “Ugh!!!” at the mirror.
WHAT YOU BEHOLD
If you’re anything like me, you already have a few rehearsed sermons that you preach to yourself (perhaps, with a hint of condemnation and frustration). How about this one? “It doesn’t even matter what I look like, why do I care so much!”
We say that because we know, in the grand scheme of eternity, the color and style of our hair and the shape of our bodies is of little consequence. Run through a list in your mind of everything else that is more important: sharing the gospel, people’s souls, feeding the hungry, you name it.
And there is truth to this. We should prioritize the items on that list. The Word tells us beauty is fleeting, and that God looks at the heart. The inner man is where God is most concerned.
But try telling God that what you look like doesn’t matter at all. The fact is, that’s not true, because it does to Him.
Why do you think He spent nine months fashioning each of us in our mothers’ wombs, molding us into uniquely designed individuals? Think about it. God could have made us all clones of the same Barbie-type figure, but he didn’t. Something about our diversity–and yes, even our flaws–gives Him glory.
Why do you think He counts all the hairs on the tops of our heads? That wasn’t just a nice idiom from Jesus to keep us from worrying, you know. The Lord knows us perfectly. He watches every beat of our hearts. He sees every bruised knee and every weird haircut we end up regretting. He isn’t bored with paying attention to our lives. On the contrary, He is deeply involved. He cares about us even more than we do.
The fact is, when it comes to what we see in the mirror, we are our own harshest critic. Leave it to us to magnify what we don’t like and ignore the ways we reflect the image of God.
Leave it to us to think that being a temple for the Holy Spirit primarily means being healthy and fit, which (though those things are important) isn’t what the text says. God’s priority? Our purity. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)
Instead of saying, “Looks don’t even matter!” maybe we should gently remind ourselves of that simple children’s creed: “Who made me? God made me.” And not only that, He bought me–body and soul. Let’s not give up until we’ve plumbed the depths of what that really means.
WHAT THEY BEHOLD
My poor husband David has, on more than one occasion, been on the receiving end of my struggles. Ashamedly, I’ve riddled him with unfair questions, cast doubt on his compliments, and baited him to make me feel better about myself.
He has responded with such grace to me in those moments. But it can take some convincing to get me out of my own head, in order to believe that what he’s saying is true.
How often do we project our own insecurities on those around us? Especially our spouses? We think that all they must see is the ugliness we see in the mirror. But our friends, family, and loved ones will shake their heads and say, “I don’t think you look horrible at all! You’re lovely!” Are they out of their minds?
No, because to them, you are lovely.
I’ve learned something–that the more you know and love someone, the more beautiful they appear. I’ve seen this in my own relationships. When I first meet people, I notice their flaws. But in spending time with them, the best things about their appearance are what dominates my view of them. I hardly remember any flaws at all.
Especially if their inner person reflects Christ and His attributes–love, mercy, kindness, patience, passion for God’s glory. These graces are like beautiful ornaments, and the more we see them, the more attractive that person becomes.
So, two takeaways: let’s remember that people don’t often see us the way we see ourselves, that we can trust their kind words without suspicion. And let’s pursue Christlike traits that will transform us, inside and out.
WHAT GOD BEHOLDS
In the end, the One whose view of us matters the most is God Himself. Oh, that we would care more about being precious and beautiful in His sight, and less about how the world sees us!
As we already discussed, it’s not that God doesn’t care about our outer appearance. But what He looks at above all else is our hearts–where our character resides, where we can choose to love God, or to rebel against Him–the place out of which all of our attitudes and actions flow. When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit indwells us. Though His presence isn’t visible on the outside, He is clearly perceived by us within. And He interacts with our souls in a way that sanctifies us and guides us into all truth.
So what does God desire to behold in us?
Consider these verses:
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. (1 Peter 3:1-6)
I don’t believe the Lord is banning us from adorning ourselves externally in this passage. In fact, I think He is using our natural tendency to want to adorn our hair and bodies in order to direct our adorning toward the most significant part of ourselves–the hidden person of the heart.
We were made to adorn. That’s what we women do. And while there may be confusion in how to adorn ourselves and our homes, the Lord here gives us specific instruction on how to adorn our souls.
“With the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” He reminds us that this inner, God-reflecting beauty is never going to fade or go out of style.
The context of this passage–submission in marriage–helps us understand what a “gentle and quiet spirit” looks like. Husbands, including those who aren’t saved, will notice and even be drawn to the Lord by the way we lovingly submit. We don’t need to nag, shout, or make a loud noise for that inner beauty of grace to be shown.
A gentle and quiet spirit rests completely on Christ, trusting Him and faithfully taking confident steps of obedience toward Him. It does not fret or worry, but quiets itself in the peace of knowing “all things work together for good for those who love God.” It does not seek revenge or express rash anger, but humbly and patiently appeals to God’s justice. It does not rely on tumultuous emotions, but seeks the steady and trustworthy wisdom of the Lord.
Not perfectly, of course. Think of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who is given to us as an example here. Remember how she laughed when God told her about Isaac? Remember how she pressured Abraham to get his seed from Hagar? She doubted God’s promises. But in spite of that, she still trusted in God and obeyed Him. Aren’t we the same way? “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief.”
Why should we adorn our souls this way? Why bother putting our time and effort and prayers into cultivating that kind of spirit? Because it’s precious in the sight of God.
Isn’t that amazing? The Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe peers deeply into us. He knows that we are dust, He knows that we are flawed and sinful and messy. Yet He loves to see a soul that has been so redeemed and so transformed that it looks like Christ, His beloved Son. We may never be as majestic as a mountain, nor as radiant as a sunset. Yet we give Him more pleasure than the beauty of nature ever could.
THE PARADOX OF BEAUTY
I close with a story (less embarrassing this time). When I was in the middle of fighting with the mirror one day, David took me by the hand, wiped my tears, and told me something. What he told me wasn’t something groundbreaking or new, yet it had a lasting impact on me. Since then, I’ve recalled to mind what he said, because it helps me.
Here is a paraphrase of our conversation.
David asked, “Who is the most beautiful, above anyone else?”
“God,” I replied, sniffling.
“Right. And what does God look like?”
“Yes, He is. We can’t see Him. Yet we can see how lovely He is, lovelier than anyone, right?”
At these words, my mind filled with the reasons I love God, the ways He is precious to me, all of His marvelous attributes. My eyes filled with tears again, not out of frustration or worry this time, but out of love.
“That means,” David continued, “the most precious beauty of all is… invisible. And that’s the beauty I see in you.”
It’s a paradox, isn’t it? That while our world is clamoring for better bodies, better faces, better houses, better cars–just so people will look at them with approval–they can’t see where the true beauty is found. And sometimes, we forget, too.
It’s found in being Christlike, because God is the source of all that is lovely and delightful and satisfying. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Ps. 103:8). The wonderful news is, that more we behold Him, the more we become like Him: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
From glory to glory.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Therefore, sister, do not lose heart. Fix your hair, put on your makeup, and wear a dress, if you’d like. Or don’t. Either way, don’t be afraid of the mirror. Above all, let’s adorn ourselves within, as the Holy Spirit renews us day by day. Let’s sense the gracious eyes of the Lord upon us, approving of us, loving us in Christ. He is the fairest of them all.