"But what if they don’t like the way I look?”
She asked it this morning and you better bet I marched her right over to the mirror.
Who made you? God
Whose image are you made in? God
What did God say when he created you? Very good.
Dearest girl, the curve of your nose, the color of your eyes, your cowlick, and the way you hold yourself Declare the glory of God. You could never not be beautiful.
Character is important, but maybe we need to stop telling our girls their beauty is on the inside when God made them in love to be lovely. When every bump and angle on their body declares His glory.
We can’t expect our girls to honor God with their bodies when we have disembodied their faith.
I wrote that Instagram post a few weeks ago after an intense conversation with my seven year old daughter. The overwhelming response in comments and messages was, "I wish someone had told me that..."
And I nodded my head up and down so hard it left a crick in my neck. Yes. Me too.
But wait a second...
Now I can't speak for every woman who wished they had been told that, but honestly? I bet most of us were told we were beautiful. I imagine all decked in out Easter dresses or flower girl ensemble someone told us we looked lovely. I bet when we donned our new haircut, or put on the dress for our first dance someone sang our praises. Surely when we left for prom someone declared us dazzling.
Yes. That happened. So what's the disconnect?
Well, for starters, I suspect we all knew we were a little broken already. And if we didn't already have an inkling that our bodies might not always be beautiful, we surely get a glimpse as soon as we become conscious of them.
We see the women in our life looking at themselves with a sharp eye in the dressing room mirror, we listen to them discuss their current diet plan, we watch them make their bodies an enemy to be conquered. Or maybe we just look in our own mirrors and see the outbreak of acne taking over, the hair that won't stay in place, or the jeans that never seem to fit right. We listen to the whisper, not enough. Not enough.
Also there is this: "Your beauty is on the inside."
We are terrified of our own vanity (as rightly we should be) so we hold it up against against virtue. We pit our character against our very created being. As if they were mortal enemies instead of natural allies.
It only holds to sense that if we have any hope, any truth, any conviction it must manifest itself in our physical person. The same must be just as true of beauty as it is for justice, mercy, and love. Those ideas are nothing if they are not made incarnate.
But we don't have the theology to deal with our own physical bodies so we quietly push ourselves to improve looks to fill our quiet longing for beauty while at the same time preaching to ourselves that it shouldn't matter. Shame.
When we create a gulf where God created a connection we leave room for shame to flood the chasm.
As if that weren't bad enough, shame is an energetic force and it pushes it's way down to all sorts of places in our soul, it seeps into crack we didn't even know we had until they are broken and we are left without a bridge.
Possibly this is just about our physical beauty, but more probably, we have for several generations now (to my knowledge) completely disembodied our faith. We have disconnected character from creation in so many ways that we as Christians can't even recognize the ways we have disengaged from the world.
When we deny beauty, we are denying that our broken can ever truly be made beautiful. We are at it's deepest, denying redemption.
But, all the way back to my original musings, we don't always deny it do we?
Sometimes we just can't stop talking about it, thinking about it, and minding the business of beauty. In fact, not only was I told I was beautiful when I was younger, I was often compared to my friends. Choices about what looked best and flattered most took up immense amounts of time, money, and relational capital.
Often it was, in a word, consuming.
It begs some questions: Is beauty bad or good? Where is the line between beauty and vanity? Isn't our inner beauty more important than our physical beauty?
Perhaps a metaphor.
I, for most of my adult life have attended churches that were first something else. A shopping center, a grocery store, a barn. They were/are wonderful. However, on Wednesday mornings I now drive to First Presbyterian Church to attend a Bible study. The first week we had our service in the sanctuary. It towered with pipes and the light flooded in through the stained glass and landed in a riot on a beautifully crafted alter.
And I loved it.
And then I immediately felt bad for loving it. Isn't church about more than a building? Aren't the hearts of God's people what make up a church, not the edifice in which they worship?
A few weeks later a friend was railing about a church in a metropolitan area doing multi-million dollar renovations to try and draw people in. Something about that seems wrong. Because really? Not to be trite, but there are starving kids in the world.
That's when I realized that we've fallen into the trap. We build nondescript churches with the very true idea that it is what happens on the inside that counts only to find that not everyone has come to that conclusion and to attract those people we will have to add something. Or lose something. Or buy something. Or streamline something.
In contrast, this cathedral like church, practically ancient for the Texas Panhandle (still the Wild West one hundred years ago), stands unmoved. It's steeple raised high and it's beauty drawing me in. I don't know what the original builders or congregation intended, but it certainly feels like a thoughtful celebration.
Therein lies the difference.
When we deny the hunger for the beauty placed in our hearts it often manifests itself as consumerism. We are buying something, or worse...selling something and beauty is the end goal.
Is it wrong to redecorate a church? I don't think so. Not anymore than it is to buy a new sweater. But the question always needs to be asked:
Is this about Celebration or Consumption?
Consumption tells us that beauty will happen when the exchange is made. When someone buys what we are selling or we consume what we have bought. It turns beauty into a by-product of transaction, completely dependent on human will.
Celebration taps into the beauty of creation to express externally an inward connection to God. It confirms His goodness in every detail. It is an outflow of something that already exists.
Consumption tells us that it the process doesn't matter only the outcome
Celebration tell us the story of every moment and every person that got us to this outcome.
Beauty should be our starting point, not our endgame.
Whether it's our homes or closets, our make up drawers or gardens, our art or work we are called to be women and men who celebrate God's very good creation. We, as the church, have to find a way to reconnect the character of God to his creation.
If we hope at all to have a generation that serves Jesus with their not only their whole heart, but their whole body we must start marching our daughters, our sons, and ourselves over to the mirror and preaching the truth. You were made in love, by love, for love and you could never not be beautiful.