I stood in front of them on the platform, where our eyes met. I gazed over a wide sea of eager eyes across the auditorium, staring back at me hungry and hopeful, waiting for Truth. The conference leader had asked me to speak about the doubt, uncertainty and pain over one simple question…
Am I beautiful?
“I am so not qualified to answer this question,” I told her when she invited me to come and speak. On most days, I see myself as anything but beautiful.
So I guess we start with the basics…what is beauty, anyway? 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.
But earth-mirrors can be so cruel – especially when the enemy of our soul holds them up to our gaze. Whether they reflect our external physical appearance or the internal courts we create for ourselves and for others, those mirrors are distorted and deceptive. There are just so many voices and pictures and ideals infused with lies 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 some more) to achieve some imagined benchmark that God never intended to exist.
But it’s so simple, really. So very simple.
I am beautiful when I am not striving to be beautiful.
When I’m not obsessed with my appearance.
When I’m not obsessed with my performance.
When I’m not worried about what others think of me.
When I’m truly listening to and connecting with someone else.
When I fully open myself to giving and receiving love.
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 am 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).