I still see their faces; they’re seared in my mind, those beautiful faces in a tiny southern town. Some of them were rescued from selling their bodies or being forced to, others from strands of suicide attempts, scars etched on their skin, a surfacing of the pain within. I can’t get them out of my head tonight, so I went back and reread my words penned a few moons ago. If you’re brave, read below.
So I was thinking about a time that I shared a devotional at Mercy Ministries in Monroe, Louisiana. I had asked a musician there at the time to lead us in singing a song called “Jesus, You’re Beautiful” by Jon Thurlow. It sings from the description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 1, “I know that your eyes are like flames of fire, I know that your head is white as wool, I know that your voice it sounds like waters; Jesus, you’re beautiful.” I saw this roomful of women desperately broken, and this was it–this was their last hope for some of them.
They lifted up their voices, declaring, “Jesus, you’re beautiful” into the air. All the while my heart ached for them. I had been praying for days asking the Lord to show me what I was to speak on, and I still didn’t know exactly what I was going to say even up until that moment I stood in the classroom. Then I had a question drop into my head, “What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” Images danced across my mind’s eye–sunsets, horses, the ocean that seems to go on and on, waves crashing over me, my nieces and nephews. I nodded to the musician still leading us in song. I hadn’t given her much direction and we’d been singing for quite a while.
As the piano continued in the background I took the mic in hand. I posed a question before those women that I had grown to know and love. “When you think of beauty what is the first thing that comes to mind?” I asked them to go around one at a time. Each one said what came to mind, among those things named were children, newborns with their parents, mountains, the sky, the ocean, and music.
Then we got to one girl who seemed to be slumping lower and lower in her seat in the back row; head down, shoulders drooped. I said her name as if to give her a nudge to share and remind her gently it was her turn. Her eyes didn’t leave the floor as she said, “Being thin. Models.” The silence after those words spoke volumes.
“Finally, someone with enough gumption to say it,” I thought to myself. I pointed out that almost every person had a different answer. I even pointed out that in different nations being thin is not the definition of beauty. In other nations and cultures it can be quite the opposite, really. Even over the years in the States, here in America, the definition of what is beautiful has changed.
I think of Marilyn Monroe, she was not so long ago. She was curvaceous and was the aim for beauty during that generation. Then we went down the road further and in came the model known as “Twiggy” for her twig-like figure. I said this to the roomful of girls that night and then posed another question. “What is the definition of beauty?” If the world is swaying and changing from one thing or person to the next, from one trend and figure-type then we are just left trying to keep up. I mean, I only have one body here, folks.
Frankly, I’ve spent my whole life trying to chase the ideal image that I had painted in my mind. But no matter how close I got to that ideal image it still wasn’t enough. The number on the scale, even when it was under the goal I was shooting for, didn’t do justice. I still wasn’t satisfied, still felt empty, and still longed for beauty. I just wanted to lay hold of it and not let go. I wanted it to be mine so badly and it always eluded me. Man, woman, or child could tell me I was beautiful a million times and not leave a dent. It was as if the words bounced off and fell to the ground every time. I shared some of these thoughts with the women at Mercy Ministries.
I asked another question, to myself and to them, “Are you ready to stop chasing what the world says is beauty?” I don’t know about you, reader, but I’m exhausted. I’m ready to surrender. There has to be something more than this, than eating disorders, trying to change our bodies until we meet the image desired. But some girls have died as causalities in this war over beauty. I know there’s more than living my life around my exercise and gym schedule. Seeking beauty in all the wrong places led to my, and millions of other’s, imprisonment.
There is a firm definition of beauty and it’s right before us. It hasn’t changed over the endless ages. Generation after generation has sung about it, written about it again and again, “Jesus, you’re beautiful.” For thousands of years people have declared this beauty. He is real beauty. He was in the beginning and he created those mountains that take our breathe away, the stars that shoot across the sky he has named, the waves he has told how far they could go as they roll in to dance across our feet. Those glimpses of beauty that we long to hold on to come from our Creator.
It’s evident that we become what we behold. You hang out with a friend often enough you begin to catch yourself saying the same phrases and words as them. Older couples even begin to look and dress like each other after years of marriage. After living in the southern states long enough my family and friends caught some southern twang in my speech, unbeknownst to me. It’s inevitable. It’s just a fact of the way we human beings are made. It’s a principle which no one is immune to.
You want beauty, it’s a longing created in every human heart. It’s why we stand in awe at the sun rising over the dew laden fields. You want beauty and you want to be beautiful. A plus B equals C, here. You need to spend time with the Beautiful One. You become what you behold. You become like the One you hang out with. It’s not religious or some difficult answer that’s escaping you. Jesus has been the one pursuing you in hopes that you may leave the futility of your ways and the chasing of the world and finally look into the eyes of the One who made you. He is the answer you’ve been searching for.
Just as the choice is real to chase the world, and we’ve intentionally done that, the choice is real to chase Jesus, the author and definition of beauty itself. It’s not easy, surely. But anything worth pursuing isn’t easy. We weren’t built for easy. It’s against the way God made us in that respect too. We love getting to a place of triumph because we’ve overcome obstacles on the way; that’s what makes it a triumph and makes the reward sweet. Jesus is so honest that he told us it wasn’t easy:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7)
We’re bombarded daily with images and notions that urge us to chase false beauty and outward loveliness. No, it’s not wrong to take care of your appearance. In fact, we need to. To boycott make-up and nice clothing, which I’ve done, is not the answer. Please, don’t forsake showering and caring for your appearance. No one will be helped by that. The flesh is evidenced in the black and white reactions we have, but with the Spirit there is a balance.
I’ve seen the most beauty in old women, grey haired and wrinkly skinned, who know and love Jesus. They radiate beauty and it’s captivating. Moreover, I’ve met aesthetically pleasing people that have done the most ugly things. We have all known and experienced that firsthand. We know that “beautiful” people can be repulsive rather than attractive.
This is a challenge to you, reader, and myself. Seek his kingdom of heaven first, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6) Seek Jesus first and you’ll find that beauty you’ve been chasing will start to radiate out of you. It’s a natural overflow of being with Jesus. So are you ready?