God created beauty, and He prizes inward beauty, so before I close this book I want to pause and take a look at what I think God’s original idea of beauty looked like. This chapter is comprised of my personal theories rather than teachings from the Bible, because beauty is so mysterious and awe-inspiring that I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. The only reason I am stopping to have a coffee chat about something I still don’t understand myself is because I don’t want you to think I’m anti-beauty or wish the world was painted in greys. Heck, I even spell grey with an “e” because it looks prettier that way. Trust me, I’m a huge fan of beautiful things. It’s just that our culture has tarnished the idea of beauty to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable. We’ve put such an emphasis on beauty that it distracts us rather than focuses us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. So let me lay it out on this high top table for you: My theory of beauty.
My Theory: Beauty in Its Purest Form
True beauty isn’t about keeping up appearances. Many times we wouldn’t even describe true beauty as “attractive.” Jesus on the cross was one of the most glorious and beautiful things ever, but He didn’t look like stain glass windows make Him look. In fact, Isaiah 53:2 says that there was nothing about Him that would cause us to desire Him. In other words, He was bloody, messy, and unattractive.
“I just thought you’d be better looking.” [Mack]
“By whose standards? Anyway, once you really get to know me, it won’t matter to you… Being always transcends appearance – that which only seems to be. Once you begin to know the being behind the very pretty or very ugly face, as determined by your bias, the surface appearances fade away until they simply no longer matter.” [Jesus] 2
True beauty has nothing to do with physical attractiveness. What true beauty does is draw us into the heart of God. Sometimes it is through a breath-taking sunset, sometimes through a wrinkled, scarred face kissing an orphan. Sometimes it is through a triumphant symphony, and sometimes it is through the broken body of someone who gave his life for his Savior. All those things are beautiful because they draw us into the heart of God. I like to think that beautiful things are all covered with the fingerprints of God – that’s the common thread that makes them beautiful.
My theory is that God created beauty to draw our hearts to Himself, to refresh us, and to capture our attention. I think that beauty was such a good and powerful thing, that the enemy wanted to get hold of its power in order to twist and pervert it, offering to us a flawed counterfeit of the real thing.
The enemy has sold our culture the lie that beauty is about perfection, when beauty actually is not about perfection. Beauty isn’t always what we think it is. It’s completely different than what this world says it is.
In this world, we try to limit beauty to outward appearance. In the church we try to limit beauty to our character. We are all about perfection, and conforming to a stereotype. We are all about defining things, when some things, like beauty, are simply beyond definition.
Actually, God created beauty to be so much more than we make it out to be. We are the ones putting boundaries on beauty; He is the One with whom beauty is limitless. We are the ones who say beauty can only go skin deep; He is the One who says that beauty overflows from deep within us into everything we are. We are the ones who make beauty shallow and hollow; He is the One who causes beauty to run deeply and fully. We are the ones who try to define beauty by the way we appear to the eye; He is the One whose definition for beauty is eternal, ageless, endless, and greater than we could ever imagine.
God isn’t about perfection. He’s not at all about conforming to a stereotype. God likes variety. Can’t you tell from creation? God prizes diversity. He has fashioned us individually, uniquely, and none of us were created the way we were created on accident. It was purposeful. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs on purpose.
True beauty isn’t necessarily attractive. Just like attractiveness isn’t necessarily true beauty. Those two words do not equal each other. True beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, all forms, all different ways. It has variety and diversity. But I believe that the one defining element, the common denominator, of all true beauty is that it draws us to the Lord. There’s something about beauty that stirs up our hearts, intrigues us, and draws us to Jesus.
I believe God gave us beauty to enjoy and to remind us of His glory. It’s like a taste of what heaven will be like. The problem is not in beauty, it is in idolizing beauty. There is nothing wrong with trying to look beautiful; however, there is something wrong with putting our trust in perfection or appearance, with being jealous of the way someone else looks, rather than enjoying the way we were purposefully created, and with trying to find our worth and value in beauty of any kind. Anytime we try to find satisfaction outside of the Lord, the quest leaves us insatiable, broken, and empty.
Fixing Our Emphasis
Beauty is a wonderful gift from God, but it was never meant to be an end in itself. It’s a magnet to draw our hearts toward the Lord and to remind us of our heavenly home, but it’s not the goal for which we should be striving. It seems to me that our emphasis on beauty has made it a distraction from God, instead of a finger pointing to Him.
I believe that both in the world and in the church we have placed an unhealthy emphasis and focus on beauty of all kinds. Whether we say we have to be beautiful outwardly, inwardly, or believe that God says we are beautiful, our focus is still on beauty. We are playing into the enemy’s scheme to keep our eyes off of the Lord and on something else: Beauty, in this case.
We have taken our eyes off of the Lord and put them on beauty – and not just beauty, but on attractiveness and perfection. We think we have to be beautiful no matter what, that it is essential, and that it is our confidence. In reality, God is saying, “I love you! I delight in you! I want to know you, I want relationship. I’m not looking for perfection. Yes, I’ll take you on a journey to transform you so you become more like My Son, but your worth does not come from perfection. It doesn’t come from beauty. Stop looking at beauty, and start looking at Me. Start to find confidence in the fact that I love you unconditionally. Then let go of your life and start living for Me. When you take up your cross, fullness of joy will be yours.”
Beauty will never make me happy; I’m already happy just as I am. Anytime we look to our circumstances to make us happy, we are in danger of losing that joy. My joy is in a secure place – in the unchangeable love of God – so I can have a healthy and honest self image.
I’m going to say it again: It really doesn’t matter whether or not we’re beautiful. He loves us anyway. What the Lord wants is for us to take our eyes off of beauty so that we can put our eyes on Him. If we see beauty along the way, it should remind us of Him.
So how do we fix this ungodly emphasis on beauty? How do we take the focus off of beauty and put it back on the Lord? I know we’ve talked about this for the past 13 coffee dates, but I still have a few final tips left to share with you.
A Few Final Tips
#1: Change your habits.
Little habits can go a long way – for example, instead of reading a magazine, pick up an inspirational book. Instead of listening to pop music about giving your body away, turn on music that lifts your heart to worship. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read magazines or listen to popular music, but watch what you feed yourself, because you will begin to think and act out of the influences you allow in your life. If you surround yourself with the message that beauty is ultimately important, you will begin to believe that.
You may have heard the saying “Old habits die hard.” It’s true. Fixing habits that have been ingrained in us is difficult – but possible. If you fall back into old thinking patterns or habits, just get back up and keep going.
#2: Wash your mind in God’s word.
A few years ago I came home from taking a walk and promptly fell on my bed for a nap. When I stood up, I saw specks of dirt covering my sheets, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out where they came from. Eventually I realized that as I had been walking, the bottoms of my jeans had picked up dirt without me ever realizing it.
As we walk through everyday life, we pick up attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs from the world around us. Many times we don’t even notice it happening. The Bible says that sin is sneaky and often hard to recognize at first (Heb. 3:13).
In order to get the dirt off our minds, we have to be reading the Bible to see what God has to say. As you read and memorize verses in the Bible, you will be reminded of the truth. Compare the attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs you find in the world to the truth written in the Bible. This will help you remember that beauty is not the basis of our confidence.
When one of my friends managed to end a very damaging relationship, she was afraid she would fall back into it. I quickly got her hooked up with my mom. They started meeting every other week for a few hours to talk, laugh, cry, and pray. Through sharing life in those moments with my mom (and eventually going shopping, out to eat, and even texting with her over the next two years), my friend’s life was completely changed.
We weren’t meant to do life on our own. In our culture it’s easy to think independence is strength, but just the opposite is true. Real strength is when you are willing to be weak around a trusted woman of God and let her mentor you, sharing your insecurities and struggles and allowing her to speak into your life, pray with you, and hold you accountable.
Each month I meet for a few hours with my pastor and his wife, to talk and pray with them. Those meetings have changed me. I have so much more confidence and wisdom, two very smart and godly people to bounce ideas off of, and people to pray with when I’m struggling.
Find someone you respect, someone you want to be like, and ask her to meet with you, even if it’s once a month while going grocery shopping and cooking dinner. Get to know her, find out her secrets to living as a woman of God, and start to talk about your struggles with her. If the first person you ask doesn’t have time, find someone else. Start praying that God would provide someone who would be a good fit with you. Ask your parents or youth pastor to help you find someone.
And get to know your parents. Even though I haven’t lived home in nearly two years, I talk with my mom almost every day, asking for advice from little things to big things, and I love hearing my dad’s wisdom. Find out what you can glean from their examples. Every person has flaws, but almost every parent has a special, God-given kind of love for their children, and a special kind of wisdom, because in some regards they know you better than anyone else (as much as we hate to admit it).
#4: Practice thought stopping.
I don’t know who coined the term “thought stopping,” but I’ve been hearing it everywhere these days. Basically it’s a cool term for a technique the Apostle Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 10:5, when he said to take every thought captive, so that it’s obedient to Christ
When you start to think you have to be pretty to be loved, or whatever your go-to insecure thoughts are, STOP. Don’t let that thought race through your head, growing into a monster. STOP. Realize you’re thinking it, take a deep breath, and stop thinking it. Pray for God’s help, and start thinking about something else.
This takes a lot of practice and is hard. Don’t get down on yourself during the times when you don’t succeed, but keep trying and eventually you will find it gets easier, until you’re not even thinking those lies anymore.
When Hezekiah, King of Israel, was confronted with a letter from an enemy king, saying that God would not be able to save Israel from their enemies, Hezekiah immediately brought that letter straight to God. Bowing on his knees, he said, “God, this king has said that you cannot save us and that their nation will destroy us, but I know what you have told me. I know that this king is lying and you are God of all the earth. Please show yourself strong for us.” God ended up proving His truth and saving His people, in the process destroying the other nation (2 Kings 19).
Do the same thing as King Hezekiah. Say, “God, I’m feeling like I have to be perfect to be loved, but I know you said in Romans 8 that nothing can separate me from your love – not even my imperfections. Please remind me of that.” Or you could pray, “God, I feel like I can never be free from my quest for beauty, as though not even you could save me. But I know that’s a lie from the pit of hell. Please show yourself strong for me.” He will!
Kick out the old thoughts and replace them with new thoughts.
Different Kind of Beauty
It is not wrong to want to be pretty or look our best; however, we need to desire Him more than we desire beauty. In fact, He wants to be our glory and our beauty. In Zechariah 2:5 He said to His people Israel, “‘For I,’ says the Lord, ‘will be…the glory in her midst.’” I believe that is what God is saying to us today as well. Moses asked the question, “What will set us apart from the rest of the world?” and the only answer he could find was this: The presence of God with us. Check it out:
“Then Moses said to him [God], ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)
It is a different kind of beauty – the beauty of heaven. It has nothing to do with physical attractiveness, and everything to do with hearts set on and drenched in the love of Jesus. If you want to stand out in a crowd, this is the secret. Will it be appreciated by everyone? Probably not. But when we pursue Jesus with abandon, His glory is the beauty that will be ours.