“If you desire to channel the beauty of God, you must seek peace with what you aren’t in order to be the best of what you are.” Chrystie Cole, Body Matters (p.131)
The above-mentioned quote from the Body Matters book by Chrystie Cole has been convicting, challenging and encouraging me. The Lord is using it to do some much needed “excavation” work in my heart, and He has been so kind and gracious in helping me grasp the truth of “you must seek peace with what you aren’t in order to be the best of what you are”. His work in this area of my life has been so freeing and peace giving. I realize holding onto a crafted image of myself hinders my having life-giving intimacy with Him, hinders my original purpose to love Him with my all and to obey Him in loving others. I have not arrived in achieving this at all, but I’m learning daily to welcome the grace of this lesson.
I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lordand seeking Him in His temple. Psalm 27:4
I have never considered myself beautiful. Funny, yes. Friendly, yes. Loyal, yes. Average, yes. But never the “pretty talented one”. That is not a self-degrading declaration, it is just an honest statement. Growing up, when I perceived that outward looks and abilities were rewarded with attention, I spent much time wishing something were more desirable about my appearance and abilities. Oh how I wanted the attention and admiration the current ruling standard of beauty and acceptance in my sphere brought. My measuring stick: the many other young, beautiful and talented girls around me, though I did not realize at the time, were having the same struggle feeling “pretty enough”, but seemed to have attained what I desperately desired. In several years of maturing, the desire for beauty, love and attention the younger me so wanted, does not consume me as it once did, but I still have my season of life insecurities in which I wish something to be better about my appearance and abilities. I have lived long enough to know there is not a single woman, since the fall in Genesis 3, when Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the heart of every human, who has truly ever counted herself beautiful and talented enough and not considered herself a constant self-improvement project. Why? Because the fall corrupted true beauty and our true purpose. And maybe for some it isn’t a cultural standard of beauty they are chasing, but we all desire to be seen, known, loved, admired and accepted and we all have ways at pursuing these things. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to care for our outward physical appearance or feel good about our abilities, the ultimate chase for beauty, success, admiration or uniqueness is ultimately a chase for significance and security that will never culminate in our personal peace and happiness. In our culture and deceived hearts, there will always be another measure of “beauty”, success or uniqueness to aspire toward, worship and elude us.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. Psalm 96:9
Beauty is part of God’s creation, we are wired by God to desire beauty, to notice beauty, to create beauty, but true beauty goes much deeper than appearances and its purpose is never to end in self or the created thing, but rather a means in which others are drawn toward and attracted to Christ. We are created and called to pursue the beauty of loving what God loves and to reflect this beauty as a means of worshipping God alone. In the Body Matters book Cole, writes, “God created beauty as a means to attract us to Himself for His own glory. Therefore, we should not despise or reject beauty…but we also should not worship beauty because the purpose of beauty is to point us to God, who alone is worthy of worship (page 122).” When I think about my ideals for my appearance and abilities, what I so fret over in my desire for admiration, I am very humbled by the description of Christ found in Isaiah 53:2-3: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected…We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” As I reflect on this passage, these questions come to mind: Can I handle being despised and rejected by others if it means Christ in me be more glorified? Can I decrease by letting go of personal pursuits of appearance, abilities, acceptance, significance and security, so that He can increase in my life?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others…You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean…You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:23-28
Like the Pharisees warned by Jesus in Matthew 23 for their impure motives, seeking glory of self in the eyes of others, rather than glorifying God, we can put misplaced meticulous attention on our appearances (whether the focus is liking or loathing what we see in the mirror), the number on the scale, our clothes, our work-out regimens, food choices, clothes, abilities, even with our spiritual “appearances” and deeds, to be approved and admired by others and neglect the true beauty of what our lives are to reflect: forgiveness, love, justice, kindness, compassion, letting our lives be adorned with sacrificial fruit that will reflects the beauty, splendor and glory of God and draw others toward the sacrificial love and power of Christ. This is the true beauty we were created to desire and express. In her book Fasting and Feasting, Erin Davis echoes the conviction of this misplaced focus. She writes, “I fixate on trouble spots that God never does. I weep over my battle with food and weight and downplay the devastation caused by my sin. I feel ashamed of what I put on my plate and excuse what comes out of my mouth. I bear a heavy weight of guilt over the numbers on the scale but don’t bear with my brothers and siters in Christian love. I fret over habits with no eternal significance and ignore the stench of the rotten fruit of my flesh (p.36-37).” Our flesh, apart from Christ, will pursue beauty and ability to the end of self, the worship and comfort of self, not beholding of the beauty of Christ and living out the example of beauty expressed through His surrender and sacrifice, with our lives as an offering to Him and in service to others. If our gaze is not on Christ, it is on self-seeking with the goal of admiration of others. This will always culminate in bondage and cause the true beauty we were created for to remain distorted by the Enemy of our souls.
Listen, O daughter, Consider and incline your ear; Forget your own people also, and your father’s house; So the King will greatly desire your beauty;Because He is your Lord, worship Him. Psalm 45:10-11
And I want women to get in there…in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it. 1 Timothy 2:9-10, The Message
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you… Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony…Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives…And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:12-17
The beauty God desires is a worshipful, undivided, surrendered heart that is focused on adoring Him, delighting in His love and life and being secure in the beauty of His love enfolds us in, clothed in good works for the glory of His name. This truth is what frees us from the tyranny of the world’s standard of beauty and endless, empty, vain pursuits of self-seeking significance and security. When I think of true beauty, I am so comforted by the many descriptions of women in Scripture who had a life changing encounter with Christ. These women are not described by their looks and abilities, but rather the condition and position of their hearts, their need for Christ, their worship, His seeing through all the outward stuff into their heart, meeting their need, lifting them up and transforming them by the beauty of His countenance to become God’s daughters, radiating the beauty of an identity restored and re-rooted in Christ. This is the beauty offered to us in Christ, this is the beautiful life we were created for.
I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.
- Rhonda Loftis