A guest posting, with permission, from Mary DeMuth. She shared this with her writing group (of which I am a part):
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I wrote a post for a Christian site, but the editors rejected it. This is very normal for me, and I’m not sad about the rejection. But I am sad that this message didn’t get to the site’s audience, which is a big one. Why? Because I feel many of us struggle with this issue. Read on and see if you relate (yep, even if you’re a man…)
Quit Perpetuating Outward “Perfection”
“The skin of her hands looked like walnuts,” my husband Patrick said when he talked about meeting the most beautiful woman on the planet. “And she hunched over as she walked.”
In 1989, Patrick worked in Kalighat (India) at the home of the dying and destitute where the Sisters of Mercy lived and ministered. One day while looking through his mail, a small-in-stature nun touched him, then said, “Bless you, my child.” He looked up to meet the gaze of Mother Teresa.
In 2015, I scroll through images from women’s ministries, Pinterest-worthy quotes with images of drop-dead beautiful young women gracing the Instagram square, and I hearken back to my husband’s memorable encounter with the beautiful woman with hands gnarled from love. I shake my head.
Mother Teresa would fail our culture’s standard of beauty. And, I fear, she would fail the church’s standard too.
We are upside-down, friends. When we glorify youth, clamor after earthly beauty, and become a part of the young-and-sexy-is-the-only-value crowd, we completely stray from the biblical standard of beauty. So why do we share such culture-approved images? Why have we bought into this strange beauty standard?
We may say all the right words about the importance of inner beauty, but our images betray us. And no wonder because we are daily (minute-ly) bombarded with photoshopped impossibility, screaming that this kind of body perfection and ageless skin is more valuable than imperfect, stretch-marked bodies and smile-wrinkled faces.
The church and the ministries surrounding the church should put forward an accurate, kingdom-of-God standard of beauty. This is the beauty of sacrifice, of selflessness, of service, of hard-won wisdom, of grace amidst brokenness. Peter touched on this when he wrote, “You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3:4 NLT).
Some may read this little rant and accuse me of sour grapes. After all, I don’t fit the pretty Instagram demographic. I don’t laugh while on my cell phone, wearing impossibly high heels, while Scripture is lettered to my left in the bluest of skies. I don’t run in the rain in my slim-fitting designer clothes. My equally young and beautiful friend and I don’t share secrets while we sip our lattes in the hipster cafe.
I’m forty-eight years old, teetering on the fulcrum between youth and age. I have wrinkles around my eyes, extra weight I can’t seem to shed, and a heart to minister to many. But I feel marginalized by the images. With the juxtaposition of positive thoughts, Scripture and twenty-something beauties, they seem to tell me I’m not valuable, not enough—that the true standard of beauty is merely and purely external and impossible.
The question becomes, what do these images and this obsession with perfection convey to wise women in the church? To women who struggle to eat right and exercise but still can’t win the weight-loss battle? To those whose health has deteriorated from disease or age? To those who are young, but have never quite felt they measured up to the beautiful people plastered on magazines at the check out line?
One word: discouragement.
And yet, as I grow older and farther away from the “ideal,” there are signs of the kind of pretty I long for, the Mother-Teresa standard of beauty I need—a soul that forgives, a heart that relinquishes control, knees that are quick to kneel in tragedy, eyes that see the beauty in people who don’t reflect our culture’s impossible standard, ears that listen to stories from people who have walked more miles than me, hands that hold those who falter and need the touch of another.
What I’d love to see in our Christian woman culture: reality. Real pictures of God-inspired beauty, where the heart shines brighter than the lipstick. Pictures of women serving Christ in slums, bereft of shoes. Images of workworn hands attending to the needs of children. An eighty-year-old saint enlivening her smile lines with laughter. Instagrams of ordinary, overlooked women simply obeying Jesus in unglamorous ways. Pinterest boards of heroines of the faith, regardless of age, stature, or demographic.
The Scripture says that Jesus wasn’t Jared Leto attractive. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV). And yet, He was the most beautiful Man on earth. If we are to be His followers, we need to remember that the infectious nature of our savior came from His amazing internal beauty.
In the images our ministries use, let’s not become imitators of our crazed culture. Instead, let’s reflect the amazing variety of women whose beauty radiates, as Jesus’ did, from a gorgeous heart.
Mind if I pray for you?
I spend this podcast praying specifically for you. If you need a pick-me-up, listen here.
And here’s a written prayer:
Jesus, is there something I’m grabbing onto that I need to let go of? Please show me specifically what that is. I choose to open my hands today and let You take that thing that makes me fret at night and worry about during the day. In light of all that surrender, I choose to surrender my outer appearance, and I humbly ask that You would create in me a beautiful soul. Amen.
Choosing to see YOUR beauty and vigor,