As I was just going through my mail, I came to a magazine cover that had a drop dead gorgeous woman perfectly tanned with long flowing hair and voluptuous breasts wearing a skimpy bikini next to the caption, “How She Stays This Hot at 41.” Honestly, my first thought was, “I am 41, and I definitely do NOT look like that.” As a matter of fact, I am sitting here wearing my too short sweat pants, with a gray tee shirt, no make-up, and my hair in a pony tail. Of course, I am not showered. Why shower when I am going to work and then go workout? Oh, yea, I forgot to mention the extra pounds, age spots on my hands and wrinkles on face. I only have a couple of gray hairs so far, but they are comin’.
These images of how to compare our beauty to others are plastered everywhere in our society. I myself, do it all the time, and others do it to me all the time. If I do my hair and makeup, other women will say rather condescendingly, “Why do you look so nice?” Or if I am dressed for a meeting with a client, guys will make comments to me that are just so wrong on so many levels. However, if I go to the bank with three kids hanging on my sweaty, ponytailed self, they just look at me like, “Oh, my GAWD. How did YOU make money to deposit??”
And we don’t need society to do it to us. We do it ourselves. A few weeks ago, I came home from soccer and announced to my husband, “Every single mom at soccer practice has an 18 inch waist except for me.” Now, my husband has been married to me for 19 years and with me for 22 years; so, he is not a novice man. A newbie would say, “Well, honey, you could try using that gym membership and stop eating sweets.” My husband is seasoned and has been around the block a time or two, though, and replied that I was beautiful and he loves me just the way I am. Then, he smiled to himself knowing he would not be sleeping on the couch that night.
A similar situation happened a few weekends ago. I had ridden my bike with my husband from the University of Washington to Bellingham, WA. It was 110 miles, 90+degrees and very hilly. However, the next morning I was messing around on Facebook, and saw that my husband had posted a picture of us. I was just devastated. I looked at the picture and thought I looked fat and ugly. I could not believe that after having accomplished a very strenuous athletic event, all I felt was fat and unattractive. Now that I am in my 40s, I have come to understand beauty very differently than our culture depicts it, however, I was still sucked into that cultural trap of my identity and beauty being defined by how much I weighed, my hair, my makeup and my clothes.
This got me to thinking about how do we really want to define our beauty as Christians-men and women- and what do we want to teach our kids.
It reminded me of a friend I was visiting with at church on Sunday. All day long after talking with this person, I had this feeling as if I had just experienced a life changing, defining moment in my life. I could not put my finger on why, though. We only talked briefly-maybe 3 minutes or so. We did not talk about anything earth shattering-riding our bikes, a future business trip. There were tons of people going in and out of the door as we were visiting, and he was holding my 10 year old daughter. There were no candles, no worship songs, no Kleenex, yet, that moment radically impacted me. Throughout the day, I kept thinking about it and wondering why it was so powerful for me. Later that night, I had a vision in my mind, and I realized what had happened.
The picture I saw was of my friend talking with me, but tangibly within him, I could physically see Jesus. I realized at that moment, I was so moved by the brief encounter because I had talked directly to God that day. My friend loves and adores Jesus and has invited Jesus to take over his heart and life. When I visited with him, my spirit saw the beauty of my loving, heavenly Father in him, and it moved my spirit to experience glory.
I always tell my kids and nieces and nephews that our true beauty happens when we are looking at Christ and radiating His love to others. Moses gives us a great example of that after he went up on the mountain and visited with God. He came down and was so radiant with the beauty of God’s glory that He had to put a covering over his face before others looked at him.
I always desire to be like that. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I fail. One time when I was in line at Starbucks, I started visiting with this woman behind me. Shocking. I know. My husband always tells me I could find out someone’s social security within two minutes of meeting her. What can I say? I just genuinely love people so much. I want to know every single detail about every single person I meet. I love how God made each of us, and I want to experience Him in others by finding out who they are. So, anyway, after a few minutes the lady looked at me and said, “There is just something really different about you. I can see it on your face.” I told her that it was Jesus in me she was seeing. The beauty of Christ was calling out to this lady and drawing her into relationship with Jesus-a magnetic pull she could not understand.
However, I have also had times where I did not reflect Christ at all. I showed my sinful, human nature. I recently had a bad encounter with a lady at my son’s school. I called my husband, said a few choice vocabulary words, and said, “I hope SHE has a bad day. I hope her kids have a bad day. I hope her grandkids have a bad day.” My husband lovingly told me to stop and not go down the bitterness road. That was just flat out ugliness in me. I was not beautiful at that moment, and did not draw anyone into His deep, merciful compassionate embrace.
This tension between physical beauty and Christ’s beauty has been going on probably since the beginning of time. Now, one thing I would like to clarify is that inner beauty and physical beauty are independent of each other. If you love Jesus and are compassionate and beautiful, that does not mean you are cursed to wear a bag over your head the rest of your life. I have known some truly gorgeous people in my life who were both beautiful on the inside and the outside. I also have known some physically beautiful people who were very ugly on the inside, and I have known not so attractive looking people who make my heart soar with love, joy and happiness because of their internal beauty.
There is one woman in the Bible who experienced “the curse” of physical beauty. In the Book of Esther Queen Vashti was ordered by her husband to wear her royal crown and walk before the men in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles because she was lovely to look at. When she refused to be paraded in front of the drunk, ogling guys, she was stripped of her thrown.
I am sure that there are those who would feel that was the correct thing. Queen Vashti should have submitted to her husband. Obviously, I have a different perspective. The Bible teaches that the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church. Would Christ put any woman in a situation where she was being defiled physically and emotionally? Christ showed nothing but the utmost care, love, respect and tenderness towards women. He would have guarded and protected and kept Queen Vashti safe from the inebriated men.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I was Queen Vashti, I would not have been happy about that situation at all. Her husband and all his buddies are drunk and want to ooh and ahh over her. What woman wants to go in a room with a bunch of drunk men and have them cat call at her? I remember when I was in my early 20s I worked at Sizzler as a waitress. One evening a group of guys came in who were drunk and kept saying, “Ooooh, Sizzlin’ Shannon, will you dance on the table for us?” I did not feel beautiful or treasured or adored. I felt defiled and gross as if I wanted to go take a shower.
After Queen Vashti refused to be a walking aphrodisiac for all these men, she lost her thrown and the king decided to find a new woman who was also beautiful. I guess it would be kind of odd if a man advertised for a wife saying, “The uglier the better.” BUT again, the woman’s heart was not a consideration in the beginning. He wanted the beautiful women in the kingdom to come and be given beauty treatments for a year. They then would be called to come in and spend the night with the king. Again, would Jesus do that to a woman? “Hey, I have already had unprotected sex with 100 other women this year. Now, it’s your turn. Show me what you got, and I will rate and compare you to all those other women.” I just know if I lived in the time of Christ, there is no way he would have condoned that. He would have been the perfect gentleman treating me with respect, honor and dignity as a princess of the King.
However, that is not what Esther experienced. She went through all the beauty treatments and did end up having her night with the King. Now, I don’t know why he chose her in earthly terms. Was she just really beautiful on the outside far beyond all the others? Or did she maybe show the king her heart? Both of her parents had died, and she was under the care of her uncle. Did she let the King see those parts of her that were broken and hurting and weak? Did he see that in her and have compassionate love for her? Or did she just really satisfy his manly carnal desires? We don’t know.
BUT, we do know that the Lord decided to use it for HIS glory. There was a man, Haman, who was very close to the king. He had a huge ego and wanted everyone to fall down and worship him. I am not exactly sure why, but for some reason, the king was blind to this. I don’t understand how he could not have seen Haman’s true colors when they worked so closely together every day, but the king didn’t. Well, Haman got mad because Esther’s Uncle Mordecai refused to bow down to him and worship him. SO Haman decided to have the king sign a decree saying to kill ALL the Jews in the Kingdom. OK. That sounds fair. You don’t feed my ego, and I will kill every person who has any relation to you at all in this entire kingdom.
At this moment, Mordecai asked Esther for help. Esther was scared because the rules stated that she could be killed if she went into the king’s presence without him inviting her. However, Mordecai replied, “Who knows that God has not brought you to this place for a time such as this?”
Did God use Esther’s physical beauty to save an entire nation? Did He make her appealing to the king with her looks; so, that she could impact the world for good? We don’t know if the king chose her for her looks or for her personality. However, we do know that she was beautiful to begin with or she would not have been in the pool of choices. We also know that he respected her because he listened to her and let her come into his presence without being invited.
Perhaps it was both. Maybe God used her physical beauty to attract the king’s human desires. Maybe the king then saw her true heart and loved her for her beauty on the inside.
Beauty does not have to be a good or an evil. NO matter what each of us looks like, what matters is that we are using it for the Lord as Esther did to love and serve an entire nation.
For me, beauty has always been an elusive fantasy. When I was young, I was very large. My family used to call my sister Tink because she was tiny and me Tank because I was fat. No matter how much I have weighed in my life from 120-200 lbs, I have never had one single day where I felt “skinny”. BUT I have felt beautiful on many occasions. I feel incredibly beautiful when someone looks at me and smiles with joy in their eyes. That tells me that my presence on some level has brought the love and joy of Christ into their world for a moment. THAT makes me feel beautiful.
I also feel beautiful when I hold my tongue. Sometimes a blessing; sometimes a curse; I am very quick witted. My husband always laughs and says, “You really crack yourself up, don’t you?” As I am laughing so hard that I am crying, I reply, “Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact I really do crack myself up.” BUT there are times when my quick wit and sarcasm can be cutting to those around me. When I have the urge to make one of my sharp comebacks, but I hold my tongue, I seriously feel beautiful. I feel tender, gentle and feminine.
Our beauty can be physical and that is fine. The Bible talks about our bodies being a temple for the Lord. We can use our bodies to glorify the Lord, and I believe that can be by looking nice. However, our most important beauty needs to be the reflection of Christ in us as well as radiating off us when we are looking to Him and worshipping Him. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 it says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
And that is what I saw in my friend that moved me so profoundly from such a hectic, chaotic brief conversation. I saw true beauty in him because of him inviting the God of the Universe and creator of all that is beautiful to come and live inside of him. When we encounter Jesus and His beauty in another human being, it changes us forever. When I experience Christ that way in another believer, it makes me desire true beauty from our Heavenly Father. Sure, I still want to look nice and stay fit, but it is nothing compared to the desire for beauty on the inside from Christ living in me.
Also, it is not for me to judge if someone is beautiful on the inside. Maybe this incredibly sexy woman on the cover deeply loves Jesus. I don’t know. I can’t see inside her heart. I just can see her perfectly shaped purple bikini self.