This seems to be the topic of the week. In the space of only a few days, six different women, ranging in age from 19 to 55, have reached out to me to walk them through doubt, uncertainty and pain over one simple question.
Am I beautiful?
I am so not qualified to answer this question. On most days, I see myself as anything but beautiful.
What is beauty? Of course, this is a huge question. Creation is beauty. Worship is beauty. Family is beauty. Love is beauty. So many things reflect God’s creation and presence and can be called “beautiful”.
Although beauty is not gender specific, I do believe women struggle with this concept more than men, in that at the core of a woman’s soul is a longing to unveil her beauty. And usually, for a woman, the context of the question starts with standards placed on personal, outer beauty. I am forty-something, yet still delight in my earthly father’s affirmation of my beauty. When he says, “you look very pretty, Melissa” (which he does often because he’s a wonderful father), my heart still melts.
This idea of beauty isn’t limited to the external, although the world certainly places an emphasis on that. Our desire to share beauty is far more than external: it not only includes, but demands the presence of an internal beauty – a beautiful heart. I do not feel beautiful when I am critical or mean-spirited or impatient or harsh. I do not feel beautiful when my relationships are not healthy and whole. I am not married but know that if God calls me to marriage, then I will long to unveil beauty to my husband, both in my outer and inner appearance.
Before others, we long to offer beauty to the world. This shows in many ways – our bent toward decorating a home, putting flowers on a barren table, or nurturing those we love with encouragement. Simply put, I am not at home if I feel as though I am not offering beauty to the world. If taken in the context of God’s image, Scripture says that “God created human beings; he created them Godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female” (Gen 1:17, MSG). God’s nature defines beauty, and if He created us to reflect that nature, then it’s easy to understand the longing to unveil beauty to those we love, and to the world.
That all sounds nice and flowery. It probably is in heaven. But it’s not down here.
Because down here, it’s hard. The mirrors are distorted and deceptive. There are many other voices and pictures and ideals that tell us we are not enough. The first experience of rejection in our young lives can catapult us into a lifestyle of striving and performance. It is a bitter root that bakes slowly in us and over time, burns into our minds and hearts so deeply that we no longer recognize it. We move from freely offering beauty to withholding it, out of fear that it will not be enough, or even worse…rejected. But the desire to unveil it remains despite the rejection…so we strive and strive and strive to achieve some imagined benchmark that God never intended to exist.
I have been thinking and praying over this question for days. And God has reminded me how simple it really is. I feel beautiful when I am not striving to be beautiful.
When I’m not obsessed with my appearance.
When I’m not worried about what others think of me.
When I’m truly listening to someone else.
When I openly share my heart with someone else.
When I freely accept God’s love, mercy and grace.
When I am no longer Melissa the earth-girl, but Melissa the Spirit-filled girl.
I feel beautiful when I am at rest, because that’s where He is.
And He is beautiful.
Those who look to Him are radiant (Ps. 34:5).