Sunday, May 13, 2007

What is “Beautiful”? (original posting date 10/18/06)

The concept of true beauty is something I've been thinking on now for several months and trying to write about for almost as long. It's a difficult concept because we are so apt to fall into the definitions of the world. We feel good when we look good and we are insecure when we feel we don't make the mark. I hear this again and again. I see this again and again, in females and males alike. Our insecurities are rampant. Some times we hide because we feel so badly. Some times we flaunt too much to get attention, the physical validation, we so desperately need. It makes me quite sad, because God never intended us to struggle so deeply about our personal appearance and live in fear of the judgments others might make based on it. We spend hours in front of the mirror trying to look just right. We take photo after photo to be sure we can post the perfect one to MySpace. We worry about beach trips and bathing suits.

I thought about this a lot more around Labor Day weekend. I went to the beach with 60 people. There's nothing more terrifying than spending a week in a bathing suit if you're not ok with your looks. That's how I felt last year. This year, however, I actually looked forward to it; I was excited about how I looked. I felt good about myself and my body. And you know what? People really responded. I have had so many people tell me how great I look and how beautiful I am in the last few months, that I'm starting to get a swollen head. The funny thing is - I know it's not just my looks they're complimenting me on. In fact I venture to guess that's less than half of it. The change they see in me is beyond my looks. It's the confidence, the peace, the joy. I look at pictures of me now and hardly believe it's me. I have always felt ugly. Now, I look and feel more beautiful than I have in at least ten years. But that's not what blows me away - its how beautiful, wonderful, and cherished I feel on the inside, because the beauty of God is alive in me.

"One thing I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4)

Beauty is often equated to perfection, perfect figures, skin, eyes, hair, etc. But true beauty can only be found in God's perfection. It is his perfect character that is beautiful. It's his love, his graciousness, his holiness, his humility, his gentleness, his peace... and so much more, that make him beautiful. It is what draws us to him. Likewise, when we exemplify his character in our lives, we become beautiful. All that is of God is good. All that is good is beautiful. As we draw closer to Christ, we become more beautiful. As we move further away, the ugliness of the world and our own sinful nature can take control rendering us ugly.

"And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." (Psalm 90:17)

John and Staci Eldridge wrote a book called "Captivating" that I read this past winter. It's about the heart of a woman and how above anything else, we long to be loved and called beautiful. I highly recommend this book, especially for any woman who struggles with self-esteem. It talks about what makes us truly beautiful, truly captivating. It further defines beauty like this:

"A woman of true beauty is a woman who in the depths of her soul is at rest, trusting God because she has come to know him to be worthy of trust. She exudes a sense of clam, a sense of rest, and invites those around her to rest as well. She speaks comfort. A woman of true beauty offers the grace to be and the room to become. In her presence we can release the tension and the pressure that so often grip our hearts. We can also breathe in the trust that God loves us and he is good."

The origins of beauty are found in the very essence of God. Beauty is about God and our relationship to Him. It's about our ability to grasp His love for us, trust His character and begin to live out His character in our own lives. Have you ever been around someone with this inner peace and calmness? It draws you in with such strength, because with these kinds of people, you feel like you can be anything in the world… but need to change nothing at the same time.

In March, a received some news that absolutely leveled me. It took me so off guard and hit me with a pain so profound, that I had no idea how I would handle it. Everything I believed to be true had just changed. Everything I'd hoped for had just gotten out of reach. But over the next few days, God would amaze me in my own response, because I had learned to trust Him.

I wrote this to a friend:

"You see, my whole life, I've wrestled with not feeling beautiful, not feeling worthy, something too awkward to be loved by my peers. It aches. Some times I think I feel that way b/c of my weight. Some times I think I hide behind my weight b/c if I was thin and the world still rejected me, I'd have nothing to blame it on. Maybe that's why it's peeling off now... b/c I know who I am, as a woman and a child of God. I don't need the mask. The quote from Captivating (above) impresses on me what real beauty is anyway. It's not just our outward appearance. God doesn't look at outward appearances, he looks at the heart. Problem is, the first time I read this, my heart still sunk because I still didn't fit the bill. It made me sad... because I desperately wanted to be that kind of woman. Last night you said to me that you hoped too that I was encouraged and felt better about our conversation. I didn't really respond, b/c frankly I wasn't sure. I was so thankful that I had blessed you... and our conversation did bless me... but I didn't know if I really felt better or not, until right now. Last night, everything I said, everything I felt with my whole heart, showed me that I've become that woman! God has worked an amazing work in me and I am becoming exactly who I want to be... who He wants me to be. A woman who is beautiful b/c of Christ's work in her life... and one who is able to share that blessing with others."

I realized that day, that I had become beautiful, not because of the improvements in my physical appearance, but because of the improvements in my soul. By spending so much time at the feet of my heavenly Father, I'd come to trust him. So that when something hard was thrown my way, I was still able to be at peace and at rest. I was able to give to another person a profound gift of unconditional love, acceptance and support. I was able to exude God's compassion and strength. This kind of beauty is contagious. This kind of beauty changes lives. And over time, God would use this news to change my life in positive ways, growing my faith, my hope, my trust to whole new levels... making the news not an issue at all.

It's a tricky thing though to stay beautiful. Again, I'm not talking about our waistlines and our hair, face and clothes. But to exude that confidence, that calm, that rest, that ability to look outside ourselves to comfort others. It's a struggle! The world tries to take it away from us every day. I know I'm more apt to react out of emotion than out of Christ, so I continually have to stop, take a deep breath, and sit at the feet of the cross before I react. It's that time with Christ that enables me to be beautiful. In the last couple of weeks, I've spent more time than normal in quiet, just focusing on Christ in worship and prayer, because I needed God to recharge my batteries. Oh the world of difference its made!

When I let the world take its toll on me - what others say, my hectic day, my own doubts, fears and wants - I get uglier again. But when I focus on Him and let His character flow through me, I'm at peace. The circumstances of my life have hardly changed at all in the past year, but I've completely changed. Though it's been a wild ride, God continues to mold me and I become more beautiful, on the inside, each day. I trust my heavenly Father and that's made me beautiful. Ah… if we would only spend as much time on our inner beauty as our external beauty, I think we'd be surprised how beautiful the world begins to see us. We so often focus on all the wrong things.

A guy friend recently shared his belief on the beauty of women: "I may look at a girl and think she's cute, attractive, pretty, maybe even alluring, sexy… but until I know her heart, I'll never know if she's truly beautiful… someone I'd want to spend time with." How blessed I was to hear a guy utter these words! I think as women, we allow men too much control over our self-esteem based on our looks. But there ARE good men who are looking for the right thing. Take the best care you can of that temple God gave you, but wait for a man that loves you for your inner beauty above all else. Don't sacrifice your soul fretting over what won't last anyway.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139:14)

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." (Proverbs 31:30)

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"" (Isaiah 52:7)

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, 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. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful." (1 Peter 3:3-5a)

Father God, I know you have entrusted me to an earthly body that I should take care of. Help me to do that. But even more so, you are concerned over the condition of my heart and my character. I am so thankful for your faithfulness. You are so worthy of my trust… you prove it to me again and again each day. And each time I take a step of obedience and trust you, you blow me away in how you play out each circumstance. Even now, you are working out so many things; I have no need to fear or worry, but only be excited and full of joy at all of it. It is this heart connected to you that makes me beautiful… even though that beauty may show in my face.

Lord, I pray for all who read this, especially the women. Help them to feel in the depths of their soul how much you love them and how beautiful they are… they are fearfully and wonderfully made. If there is work you want to do on their hearts, challenge them in that area. But if they fret too much over the external, relieve them of that stress and give them peace. You love us and call us beautiful. You delight in us. You are most pleased when we're satisfied in you. Help us to freedom, where that is enough. AMEN!

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