I bought face serum the other day. It was expensive, but isn’t it worth looking radiant and beautiful? Those actual thoughts ran through me. A woman who clearly knows her worth is not in material beauty. A woman who has almost died and who has come back from darkness and who has been held up by the strong merciful hand of God. I was like Hells Bells this is on sale I’m stocking up, baby. I’m 41 with a gimp eye and a midsection that has just given up and has settled for elastic. Who am I kidding?
Nothing is evil about beauty products. What is evil is the allure of beauty as the solution to insecurity and fear. Of thinking Chanel earrings will make your life better or your wedding day more special. It’s misaligning beauty with power. Replacing God with photographs of peonies and perfect family portraits. SIDE NOTE I JUST BOUGHT VINTAGE CHANEL EARRINGS. I’m no poster child. Also I said hells bells, in case you thought I wouldn’t be embarrassing if you talked to me at a dinner party.
But I am concerned about the image of beauty as being the standard to which we all strive to achieve. Not in prisons, or school yards, or with our teenagers. With us. With me. Christian circles seem to have it all figured out, with our collective blond hair and blue eyes and jewelry that benefits African villages. Look at us! Look how hard we are trying and how God loves us! Let’s all drive around in our large luxury cars and buy overpriced coffee! Always justifications, always reasons. Always some excuse to cut in front, show more, be more, pray out loud, use volunteering and good works as a measure of our own worth.
We are failing. We are not showing the sacrificial love of Christ. We are just showcasing our edited selves in an effort to prove something against our raging insecurities. And what we are doing by that is white-washing the Gospel with filters to make sure our own wrinkles don’t show. We are building walls around faith so that others don’t want to come in. That’s the devil’s work.
Let’s take off the filters. We can only start with ourselves.
I am currently re-reading the Old Testament. I don’t enjoy it, truth be told. I skim and I groan like a petulant child reading about Levitical law and rules and sacrifices and descriptions. WHO CARES WHAT COLOR THE TASSLES ARE ON THE STUPID GARMETS LET’S MOVE ON ALREADY. It’s like reading someone’s grocery list. Salt, blue soap, little carrots, beef, that pork Susan likes. I don’t even know Susan. I like to write out psalms on the blackboard in our kitchen. David is a creative type that I can really rally around. But ask me to read Numbers and I feel like a kid who has to scrub the bathroom floor.
Why is it so hard? Because it’s not pretty. It’s not interesting. It’s not as powerful as sermons and parables that Jesus so lovingly unpacks for the seemingly dim-witted disciples like an after-school special. You don’t see this stuff written on barn wood and put up in living rooms. What it does instead is create more questions and raises up what seems like unmerciful and unjust punishments and creates some sort of foreign world where various rams are slaughtered and blood is sprinkled. Every time I read the Old Testament I keep thinking of dead animals and people just gleefully flinging them around in order to spill blood.
But it forces me to think, and attempt to understand, and read interpretations and commentaries and try to put my head around a different era and the lessons God is trying to teach within it. It shows me how important Jesus is as the ultimate sacrifice, and how the blood shed for us is so powerful. Wisdom is truly beautiful, and something to be desired. The more I seek it the more I realize how elegant it is to be in communion with God. To try and listen to knowledge in these seemingly arcane lessons. Often times I’m thinking of what to cook for dinner and how much laundry is left. I skim and skim. But I pray that I can focus. I attempt to see the symbolism and foreshadowing. Lord knows I’m not perfect but he knows how words hit me where it hurts.
I run in a great many circles. Many are religious. I see wonderful women writing so many pretty books. But they are also getting head shots and having their makeup done and worrying a bit too much about the size of their jeans and less about the state of their heart. And as their audience grows, they grow more worried about numbers and followers. This is a slippery slope to pride. I know this intimately well because I am one of these women. I am one who filters and purifies and puts on a new face. I cover up the imperfections and broadcast to the world that I am STRONG and CONFIDENT and MAKING IT. I give speeches about God and yet I can’t seem to get out of the house without under-eye concealer.
But as Adam and Eve could not hide, neither can we. No matter what our Instagram feed looks like. No matter how much Estee Lauder creams we buy. We cannot hide because our skin is only a flimsy film covering up our raging, beating heart.
Do you know that moment when your child throws a huge fit, the kind that results in name calling and throwing and rage-filled eyes? You do not see them and wonder how their hair got so greasy or why they are getting plump around the middle. You don’t worry about their acne or think they need to buy better shoes. You don’t notice any of this. You look directly inside of them and cry out: My daughter. My son. My love, come back to me. And then you easily forgive and hold and shush and understand, because your love for them is so vast. If we can see a glimpse of this, how much more does God love?
Let us strip the filters for once. Let’s just sit in the back of the room listening. Praise the good we see in others without raising ourselves up. Let’s try to focus more on the inside of our hearts than the state of our skin.
Face cream isn’t evil. But it’s not what makes us. It’s not what defines us. We aren’t receiving God’s blessing just because we have money or things. What we look like and what we own is so temporary and fragile. The kind of love that seeps from the spirit is the kind that lasts. It’s the beauty that radiates. It’s the joy that endures. Hells bells.
Let’s be that kind of beautiful.