My four year old daughter thundered down the staircase and threw our large plastic paddle brush into the dining room. “I will never be beautiful,” she said.
“I can NEVER brush through these tangles in my hair.”
Her ringlet curls do make it difficult to brush through her hair and every day brushing is a battle. For a four year old, it must feel frustrating to try to brush through hair which always seems to be tangled.
Gently, I picked up my daughter, the brush, and dug down deep for Jesus and His compassion and empathy. I told her we simply needed to wash her hair and start all over again. As I washed her hair in sink, I talked to her about how beauty is not what is seen on the outside; I told my daughter that beauty comes from within.
What is Beautiful?
This is a question I have been struggling with in my own heart lately. As a girl who loves a cute dress, a fresh highlight, and has been able to give a good first impression with my outward appearance in seasons in my life, the news of the recommendation for a double mastectomy and reconstruction at the age of thirty-five has left me thundering down the stairs and throwing things into the dining room.
Emotionally my heart feels like hard-to-brush-through-tangled-up hair. This coarse feeling I have on the inside about beauty has caused me to take a closer look at how beauty impacts my personal story, what is the current cultural definition of beauty, and what is God’s definition of beauty from His Word. I have needed to go to God’s Word and wash out the untruth I have tangled-up in my heart with the gospel.
My Story of Beauty
As a woman who cares about what others think of me, I have found myself tangled-up in caring a lot about what I wear and how I look. In my story I have gotten attention for what I look like, compliments on my clothing, and affirmation about my outward appearance. This is a piece of my story I still wrestle with. Even after losing much of my youthful beauty after having four children in four years, the distorted desire to impress others with my outward appearance is a deeply woven thread in my story.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”
Culture’s Story of Beauty
Our culture values beauty. Our culture sees beauty first. It is natural for our hearts to be attracted to beauty because God made things beautiful, but sin distorts our attraction to beauty. When our hearts desire being beautiful or seeking beauty more than our hearts desire the Maker of beauty we find ourselves living in a culture with an upside-down order.
This upside-down order leads to a never enough cycle of thirsty living. We feel never enough because beauty in itself can never satisfy, there is never contentment or peace in upside-down order. We find ourselves thirsty at a well that can never satisfy the longing we have inwardly. Inwardly we are made for right-side up order, to love God first and recognize all the things that are beautiful come from Him.
“ ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’ (Jeremiah 2:13).”
When I observe the world around me I see many of us women always working so hard to be beautiful. Outward beauty is highly valued in our culture. I am one of these women too. This upside-down order of seeing beauty before we see the Maker of beauty leaves us as women living with a distorted lens for what is actually beautiful.
The Gospel’s Story of Beauty
I have cried many tears over the past few weeks and I confess this has to do with the fact that my heart is tangled-up in a distorted definition of what is beautiful. I quite possibly love my current body and the way my current dresses fit more than I thought I did. Changing my body brings the weight of grief and sadness.
I have needed to take these coarse tangles in my heart to the sink of God’s Word, wash my heart with them, and start all over again; in the same way I washed my daughter’s hair in the sink and reminded her that beauty is not what is seen on the outside, beauty comes from within.
As a woman who professes faith in the gospel, the good news of Christ’s work on the cross, I have to unravel the untruths I have tangled-up in my heart about beauty. These untruths come from my personal story and the way I have observed the culture around me. Next, I need to be transformed by the renewal of God’s Word and the Spirit which transforms from the inside out. Finally, I need to walk in these truths with obedience to truth, the support and accountability of God’s community and their encouragement and love during this time.
God is using this chapter in my story to remind me that He is making me new (Rev 21:5), my body is a living sacrifice for His glory (Romans 12:1, Col 1:27), and yes outwardly I am wasting away, but inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).
Before the foundation of the world God has been preparing me for this chapter in my story (Eph 1, Ps 139:16) and He has chosen this time in my life because I have wrestled with many of the coarsely woven tangled-up places in my heart. I have gone to the sink and started over. Over and over again, and I am surrounded by many people who know me, love me, will pray for me, and will remind me of God’s promises when I cannot remember them for myself.
What is Beautiful?
Jesus is beautiful. He sacrificed Himself so many could have eternal life through their trust in Him and His work on the cross.
When I think with the lens of this gospel picture, a few scars and changes in my body feel insignificant compared to Christ’s sacrifice. I have a life giving opportunity though wounds and scars to live a longer life with my family and protect my children from the hard childhood story that still impacts my life today.
Trusting in God’s promises is beautiful. God has been writing this story for me since before the beginning of time. He has gone before me and He is holding me. I simply need to trust in Him. The path may not be easy, but God promises that when we are weak, Christ’s power is perfectly displayed (2 Cor 12:9). I am a broken person and I feel weak. But it is Christ’s power that will sustain me.
God’s people are beautiful. Though it has been hard to walk through this publicly, it has been God’s people who have walked me to the sink of God’s Word and helped me unravel the coarse places I have tangled-up in my heart. It has been God’s people who have encouraged me and reminded me of His love and His promises during this time. I am so grateful for the beauty of His church.
I am beautiful. Not because of how I look on the outside, but because of God working in and through me on the inside. Behold, He is making all things new (Rev 21:5).
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.