Eyes to See True Beauty

In a world filled with picture-perfect people, it’s time to wash away the makeup.

“The skin of her hands looked like walnuts,” my husband Patrick said when he talked about meeting the most beautiful woman on the planet. “And she hunched over as she walked.”

In 1989, Patrick worked in Kalighat, India, at the home of the dying and destitute, where members of the Sisters of Mercy lived and ministered. One day while looking through his mail, a small-in-stature nun touched him, then said, “Bless you, my child.” He looked up to meet the gaze of Mother Teresa.

In 2015, I scroll through images from women’s ministries, Pinterest-worthy quotes with images of drop-dead beautiful young women gracing the Instagram square, and I hearken back to my husband’s memorable encounter with the beautiful woman with hands gnarled from love. I shake my head.

Mother Teresa would fail our culture’s standard of beauty. And, I fear, she would fail the church’s standard, too.

We are upside down, friends. When we glorify youth and emphasize attractiveness, we stray from the biblical standard of beauty. So why do we share such culture-approved images? Why have we bought into this strange beauty standard?

Mother Teresa would fail our culture’s standard of beauty. And, I fear, she would fail the church’s standard, too.

Men and women may say all the right words about the importance of inner loveliness, but our images betray us. And no wonder, because men and women alike are daily (minute-ly) bombarded with Photoshopped impossibility, images screaming that this kind of bodily perfection and ageless skin is more valuable than stretch-marked bodies and smile-wrinkled faces.

The church should put forward an accurate kingdom-of-God standard of beauty—that is, one of sacrifice and selflessness, of service, hard-won wisdom, and grace amid brokenness. Peter touched on this when he wrote, “You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3:4 NLT). How beautiful that Peter esteemed this inner quality. And how revolutionized our world would be if there were more men praising this kind of unfading beauty quietly, overtly, in the marketplace, in the home.

Some may read this little rant and accuse me of sour grapes. After all, I don’t fit the pretty Instagram demographic. There aren’t pictures of me laughing while on my cell phone, wearing impossibly high heels, with a Scripture overlay to my left in the bluest of skies. I don’t run in the rain in my slim-fitting designer clothes. Nor do I share secrets with equally young and beautiful friends over lattes in a trendy cafe.

I’m 48, teetering on the fulcrum between youth and age. I have wrinkles around my eyes, extra weight I can’t seem to shed, and a heart to minister to many. But I feel marginalized by social media images. With the juxtaposition of positive thoughts, Scripture, and 20-something beauties, they seem to tell me I’m not valuable, not enough. That the true standard is external—and impossible.

I am grateful for a husband who empathizes. But more than that, he daily tells me I’m beautiful. When a provocative ad appears on TV, he looks at me and tells me I’m who he wants. His consistency in this area has unburdened me in many ways. Yet sometimes his very real encouragement is drowned out by the sheer immensity of the imagery that yells, “You must be this. You must be that.”

The question becomes, What do these images and this obsession with perfection convey to the wives, daughters, friends, mothers, grandmothers in the church? To those who struggle to eat right and exercise but still can’t win the weight-loss battle? To those whose health has deteriorated from disease or age? To those who are young but have never quite felt they measured up to the beautiful people plastered on magazines?

Here’s what I’d love to see portrayed of Christians: reality.

One word: Discouragement.

And yet, as I grow older and farther away from the “ideal,” there are signs of the kind of pretty I long for, the Mother Teresa standard of beauty I need—a soul that forgives, a heart that relinquishes control, knees that are quick to kneel in tragedy. I desire to have eyes that see beauty in people who don’t reflect our culture’s impossible standard, ears that listen to stories from people who have walked more miles than I have, hands that hold those who falter.

Here’s what I’d love to see portrayed of Christians: reality. Real pictures of God-inspired beauty, where the heart shines brighter than the lipstick. Pictures of women serving Christ in slums, its residents bereft of shoes. Images of work-worn hands attending to the needs of children. An 80-year-old saint enlivening her smile lines with laughter. Instagram pictures of ordinary, overlooked women simply obeying Jesus in unglamorous ways. Pinterest boards of heroines of the faith, regardless of age, stature, or demographic.

Scripture hints that Jesus wasn’t movie-star attractive. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV). And yet, He was the most beautiful man on earth. If we are to be His followers, we need to remember that the infectious nature of our Savior came from His amazing internal beauty.

In the images the church uses, let’s not become imitators of our crazed culture. Instead, let’s all reflect the amazing variety of women whose beauty radiates, as Jesus’ did, from a gorgeous heart.

Related Topics:  Goodness

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What happens to my notes

4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

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