Beholding Beauty | Fashionless Friday

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

For years those words haunted me: am I only beautiful if someone else considers me to be so? And, as someone who has never met our society’s conventional beauty standards, why couldn’t I just accept this fact — why was I so hung up about wanting someone to find me beautiful?

As a young teenager, I used to fantasize that there was a boy somewhere on this earth who would look at me — in all my skinny scrawny shapelessness, with my frizzy unruly hair, buck teeth, acne, freckles, and weird-looking bony knees and feet — and somehow find me beautiful. And, since I was fantasizing, I imagined him as a nice, sweet, wholesome, kind, sane boy rather than as a desperate, lunatic boy with low self-image and poor taste. Finally, that fantasy seemed too ridiculously improbable, even for me, so I began dreaming of a boy who would overlook my outward appearance and even my misfit personality, and would somehow manage to fall in love with a hidden inner beauty that hitherto no one — not even me — had ever managed to discern.

I was thinking about all that recently, as I had the enormous privilege to kneel — and I mean this as literally as possible — at someone’s beautiful feet. As I rubbed these dear, sweet, painful, elderly feet with soothing lotion, I thought of the verse, “How lovely are the feet of those who bring good news!” My mother has truly announced “good news of happiness” to many. Her feet are beyond beautiful.

All that has made me think, yet again, about my notions of beauty and my desire to be found beautiful. I’ve written about it before, about three and a half years ago.

That post was about, among other things, purposing to cling to “my other-worldly notions of beauty, and of what makes someone attractive to me”. I ended by stating:

After all, the thought of hearing the words “my good and faithful servant” means far more to me than even the most flattering words and opinions of mere mortals.

What does that have to do with beauty being in the eye of the beholder? I realized, as I knelt at my mother’s feet recently, that God has been changing my eyes — not my physical eyes, but the ways in which I see and appreciate beauty. There is so much more to loveliness than most of us can recognize, especially if our eyes and hearts have been trained by societal norms.

One of my favorite people to pray with has hands I find absolutely beautiful. She sees hands damaged by hard work and arthritis; I see hands that have served Jesus oh so very well, hands that have soothed the dying, hands that have brought me flowers she lovingly tended in her garden, hands that continue to bless everyone she touches. I see hands so beautiful that they have moved me to tears.

Back when I was that young teenager, facing constant mocking and bullying at school, desperately dreaming up fantasies of sweet boys who would find me beautiful rather than ugly, I began looking at myself through the wrong set of eyes. The people who truly loved me never considered me ugly — not even when my actions and attitudes were. It has taken me decades to be able to look at pictures of young teenage me and not feel embarrassment and humiliation… and self-loathing.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭45:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Ouch. That’s what I was doing. I was telling my Creator that He did a lousy job when He knit me together in my mother’s womb. I was accusing Him of shoddy workmanship… just because some people, including myself, were looking at me through the wrong eyes.

Love sees beauty even when others don’t.

That’s the kind of eyes I want, so that I might be a beholder of beauty, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I want to have beauty in my eyes, so that I might see beauty wherever it is to be found.

I don’t love Jesus enough

During this past Holy Week, as I contemplated the enormity and necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, I was struck again with a painful realization: I do not love Him nearly enough. I don’t love others enough either. This sad truth comes as no surprise to me nor to anyone who knows me. In fact, those who apply love as the litmus test for followers of Jesus — “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another” — no doubt could find reason to fear for the state of my soul. All too often, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.

Even as I admit the sorry state of my pitifully stingy heart, defensiveness rises up in me. But, but, but…! I’m not as bad as some other people! It’s not as if I don’t love Jesus at all! Besides, I used to be much worse — look how much I’ve changed!

It is painful and difficult to admit is that I continually fail at the two greatest commandments we have as Christians: I don’t love God with every fiber of my being, and I don’t love others as much as I love myself. In fact, all too often my life is pretty much all about me, even when I am attempting to be at my most selfless, even when I am attempting to love sacrificially. No one who has met me would ever mistake me for Mother Teresa, and they certainly wouldn’t mistake me for Jesus.

I could trot out excuses. I love to the best of my ability, in my own way. I’m broken. Let me tell you about my past. I’m a trauma survivor. Introverts show love differently. And I do love — after all, I’ve raised six wonderful children and I’ve even been to Thailand twice. 

Someday I will stand before Jesus, and all my excuses and “sinsplaining” will become like ash in my mouth. I will be without excuse.

As Protestants, we all too often want to jump quickly past confession and repentance straight to grace and forgiveness. But the Catholic liturgy contains a penitential prayer that says in part: “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…” I encountered this prayer on Saturday night and felt so overwhelmed by grief and sorrow that I understood why many in the past, when confronted by God’s holiness, felt compelled to repent in sackcloth and ashes.

The gospel does not make sense until we confess our sins and truly repent…and not just via a one time “sinners’ prayer” either. I am becoming increasingly convinced that repentance is an ongoing lifestyle in which we renounce our sinful, selfish ways and acknowledge that, while there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, we are in desperate need of Him daily… hourly… constantly.

It’s not just that I don’t love as I should, it’s that I can’t — hence my overwhelming need for transformation, for more of Jesus, for the constant indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I want to love what He loves and, in order to do that, I need to get to know Him a lot more than I already do. I need the constant presence of Jesus in my life so that, the more time I spend with Him, the more I become like Him. 

The good news is that He rewards those who seek Him…and in His presence is fullness of joy.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

– ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

May I learn, more and more, to love like Jesus. May my hard heart be continually and forever broken until I can truly love like I should.

Updated to add:

The other good news is that He is truly wonderful beyond words and, the more we know Him, the more He captivates our hearts. That in turn makes all the difference in the world.