I was sitting in the chair recently of one of those extraordinarily talented cosmetic sales women. You know the type? They have an artfully sweet way of pointing out your flaws. They make you think that their product can fix those flaws. And they encourage you to spend more money than you’d planned to spend.
I fell for it. I’ve fallen for it in the past, too. Perhaps because I look at my face in the mirror and thus know its flaws well. I know, for example, that for the past few years I’ve had puffy bags under my eyes that I can’t get rid of. They make me look old and tired all the time. (Well… I’m almost 43 and I’m a working mother of three kids so I AM somewhat old and frequently tired). Despite that I already own four different types of eye creams, at this sales woman’s insistence, I bought a fifth.
Guess what? The new cream didn’t make the bags go away, either.
The pressure to be beautiful is powerful, isn’t it? We like to blame our culture for perpetuating an unrealistic standard of beauty. And sure. There’s blame there. But to be honest with you, the thing that’s most likely to put pressure on me to be beautiful isn’t my husband, friends, or some nebulous thing called culture. The thing that puts pressure on me to be beautiful… Is me.
We can be hard on ourselves about our appearance, can’t we, ladies?
Why? Why so hard on ourselves? That’s certainly not of God.
A writer friend of mine named Jaime Wright decided to organize a blog tour to celebrate the beauty of God’s creativity in creating us with intrinsic value both inside and out. She’s calling it the #FACEme Tour and it’s based on Psalm 139:14.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Jaime challenged everyone involved in the tour to post selfies of ourselves taken without our make-up. So, yep. Here goes. I’m a pretty open person, not especially prone to sugar coat things. Nonetheless, I’m embarrassed to say that after I decided to participate in the #FACEme tour, my mind automatically started thinking… Where can I take this picture that will offer the most flattering lighting possible? Lip gloss? Would lip gloss be okay? I’ll wait until I can use my husband’s phone because his takes far better pictures that my old phone. I’ll do my hair because good hair will help.
Here’s how I look in one of the professional author shots I had taken four years ago:
And here’s how I look now, #FACEme style. I ended up with semi-decent hair the day I took these pictures, but I didn’t let myself wear lip gloss or use my husband’s phone or seek out the most advantageous lighting.
To be honest, I found it easier to feel happy with aging when I was younger. I found it easier to feel happy with the beauty I’d been given when I was more beautiful than I am now. At my 30th and 35th birthdays I shrugged and went on about life. But now that the signs of aging are apparent on my face, it’s more challenging to feel happy with the way God made me to be — now — at 43.
It’s not that I’m hyper-critical of myself or have low self-esteem. I’m don’t. I’m not. I’m quite an optimistic, practical, humorous person, actually. So when I look at my face, I do so with a combination of:
- vindication – I’ve earned these wrinkles and bags!
- resignation – aging is better than the alternative. i.e. Death.
- goal oriented-ness – I wonder if a different eye cream could fix this situation?
- gratitude – I’m so thankful to you, God, for the life you’ve allowed me to lead, for the place in my life you’re brought me to.
Overall, I’m good with how I look. I’m content.
Is that enough? Is that how God wants me to feel? What does God want me to take away from the #FACEme experiment? Does He simply want to remind me that — wow! — I’m fearfully and wonderfully made? Because that’s awesome. Or is my personal take-away that I should feel more beautiful than I do? More happy about myself? Do I have to feel naturally beautiful the way God made me all the time? Is this another thing to add to my daily list of ‘shoulds’? I can pencil it in behind cook, clean, have a quiet time, write books good enough that someone might want to read them, groom myself fabulously, spend quality time with my kids, exercise my body into amazing shape, walk the dog, read, research gourmet turkey brine recipes, spend quality time with my husband, decorate the mantel for Thanksgiving, etc etc….
In the end, I didn’t hear God calling me to add another ‘should’. I heard Him calling me not to worry about my outward beauty. He doesn’t.
"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b
True joy is never and will never be realized in outward beauty. I think God made sure of that when He wired us the way that we’re wired. What have been the most joyful times in your life? Did those times have anything to do with how pretty you looked? No, God made us in such a way that we’ll find our joy in serving, in connection with loved ones and friends, in the fruit of the Spirit inner qualities.
We know this. So why is it sometimes tricky to let go of our longing to be beautiful? Or, as we age, why is it tricky to let go of the beauty and youth we once had?
Billy Graham writes, “I am a soul — and I have a body! The body is the house in which the soul lives.” Oh, how those words struck me! “In this materialistic age we often forget that the abiding part of us is invisible. Much time, money, and effort are expended to perpetuate the physical part of us, and too many are unconcerned about their spiritual health and nurture.” Amen? “At the resurrection, this mortal shall put on immortality, and we shall be like Him, and be with Him forever.”
These words remind me that the twenty-five year old version of me wasn’t the most ME me. If I had plastic surgery and got into amazing shape, that wouldn’t make me more ME. In fact, this physical body isn’t the most ME thing about me, at all. The truest part of me, the only part that will last is my soul. That’s the truly beautiful part, because God redeemed it.
If I get wrapped up in beauty/aging worries — just the same as if I get wrapped up in money worries, relationship worries, health worries, success worries — then that’s a problem of my heart. And that particular heart problem has a name: self-centeredness.
"Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God." Romans 8, The Message
My grandmothers, ‘Mamaw’ and ‘Grandma’, were beautiful to me. It had nothing to do with their faces or their clothing or hair. It had everything to do with love. I loved them a great deal and they loved me a great deal. When we were together, neither of us worried about how we looked, because we were in the presence of great love. We were fully accepted. We were delighted in, even, just how we were.
Through the #FACEme experiment I’ve heard God reminding me that, “Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing–nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable–absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8, The Message.
If I’m connected to His enormous love for me, if I’m living in celebration of it every day, if I’m continually replanting my worth in His view of me, if I’m remembering that He went to the cross for me, then I won’t be as prone to concern over my wrinkles or my weight. It’s not so much that He wants me to feel happy with the beauty of my face, but rather that He wants me to look at His face and drink in His grace until I refocus my priorities off myself and onto Him.
What’s that song lyric?
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Do you dare to take the #FACE.me challenge on your blog? These writers did:
Jaime Wright, Kristy Cambron, Rachel Britz, Cara Putman, Stacy Monson, LaurieTomlinson,
Katherine Reay, Katie Ganshert, Nick Kording, Lindsay Harrel, Joseph Courtemanche,
Gabrielle Meyer, Carrie Wisehart, Emilie Anne Hendryx, Andrea ‘Dia’ Nell,
I’d love to hear your thoughts on true beauty!