We're so much more than our faces and bodies. But is what's beneath our skin any better looking?
I was eating lunch with a girlfriend in the mall the other day, enjoying her conversation — well, what I could hear of it anyway, over the squeals and screams of our toddlers. By the end of lunch, we were both looking pretty haggard from refereeing our kids and wiping ketchup off their cheeks, chests, hands, legs and feet. While she was cleaning spilled milk from the table and I was combing a smashed French fry out of my daughter's eyebrow, an amazingly beautiful woman walked past us. Actually, she looked like she was gliding across the floor, glowing with utter loveliness and grace while holding the hand of her impeccably dressed and pristinely clean 2 year old.
"She's got to have a hideous personality," my friend said, staring after her.
"That would only be fair," I responded, wiping potato mush off my fingers.
"Well, it's a good thing true beauty comes from within, eh?" she assured, trying to sound confident.
"Yeah, good thing," I chuckled uneasily, feeling uglier than I had in days.
It's amazing how quick women are to imagine fault in other beautiful women. You don't have to be a psychoanalyst to understand that's how we attempt to cope with our own insecurities and lack of self worth.
Personally, in moments like these, when I feel like a Cabbage Patch doll standing next to Barbie, I try to remind myself of the importance of inner beauty. I console myself with verses like "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Proverbs 31:30). Or "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). What a relief, right?
Well ... maybe not.
Perhaps the thought of finding security in the idea of inner beauty should make some of us feel a bit uneasy. Consider the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties, either, but right through every human heart.
I must admit there are days when my heart looks like a blackened piece of catfish. Seared with sin. Charred with pride and self-centeredness. There's not a whole lot of beauty to be found in it, and instead of fearing the Lord, I find myself fearing more what other people think. "What comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart," Jesus said. "It's from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies and cussing" (Matthew 15:18, 19, The Message).
It's understandable that we'd want to hide the "ugliness" seeping from our hearts, lest we walk around vomiting on people all day. So many of us will go to great lengths to conceal an unattractive inside by obsessing with beautifying our outsides. In fact, you could say it's a national pastime. Feeling low? Get a new haircut. Feeling frumpy? Buy some new clothes or makeup or a car.
Our culture encourages us to do it. You'll never hear society's influencers say, "Hey, you feeling ugly? Maybe you ought to get your heart right with God." Instead, they'll persuade us to undergo an extreme makeover that includes a nose job, chin enhancement, breast augmentation, full-body liposuction, teeth whitening and a 1200-calories-a-day diet. Or they'll give us endless amounts of advice to feel and look more beautiful. I found many "beauty cures" and tips on the Internet while writing this article. For example, one site advised readers to get a facial when they feel ugly. "You'll instantly feel beautiful." Another encouraged readers to simply "Feel good, feel pretty and that's just what the world will see. If you feel ugly, that's what people will see."
Sure, I get it. When I feel pretty, I'll look pretty. OK. Well, today I feel gorgeous. Granted, I look like a bloated piece of sausage squeezed into a Slinky, but since I feel so fantastic, maybe others won't notice that I can't snap my jeans.
There is an aspect to beauty that includes honoring God with our bodies and living a healthy life. And I know that when I try to look my best, I do feel better. I remember talking to a friend late one afternoon when she interrupted and said, "Oh, I've got to run. I want to put on some makeup before my husband gets home from work." I commented on what a thoughtful idea that was, thinking to myself that I hadn't even showered yet, and my husband would be here any minute. She replied, "Well it blesses him."
Looking our best can be a blessing to others — not only to a spouse or someone you're dating — but also to an employer or a parent. My mom jumps for joy when my sister tweezes her eyebrows or when I style my hair. ("You know, you don't have wash-and-go hair," she likes to remind me.) It's true she's most concerned with the beauty in our hearts, but looking our best brings her honor, too.
Still the externals goes only so deep. In her poem "Beauty's a Flower," British poet Moira O'Neill wrote:
Youth's for an hour,
Beauty's a flower,
But love is the jewel that wins the world.
There's more than just looking or feeling beautiful. What about being beautiful? Mother Teresa's beauty won over the world. Sure, at first glance she appeared to be a short wrinkly old lady with a slight mustache. Kind of like my grandmother. But when you saw her heart so full of love, you saw one of the most beautiful women to grace this world. She proves there really is something to this idea of inner beauty.
No matter how good you look, you may still feel loneliness in your heart that only God can fill. No matter how beautifully white your teeth are, they can never lighten a black heart. No matter how stylishly you dress, you may still have a wounded soul.
Our obsession with outer beauty reveals hearts hungering for God. Real, lasting beauty shines in us when we connect our (sometimes beastly) hearts to a living God who loves and forgives and heals. Fill your heart with His love and "guard [it], for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23) ... and perhaps, of beauty.
Copyright 2005 Kara Schwab. All rights reserved.