My husband is a liar.
At least that’s what I assume when he tells me I’m beautiful. I think he’s sweet to say so. But still, a liar. Or at the very least, delusional.
Though I’ve doubted his sincerity, he has faithfully, doggedly, persisted in this lie for more than thirty years. Because of that, my self-perception–injured by insults and abuse–has improved. A little. At the speed of a glacier. It’s followed a progression something like this:
I am ugly.
I’m not the ugliest person around.
I’m not all that bad.
I am okay.
I’m kinda cute…
in the right light…
from the right angle.
Despite my husband’s best efforts, I still can’t look in the mirror and say I am beautiful. The reason? I don’t believe it. Not deep down.
I know I’m not alone in this. Many of my beautiful sisters and friends can’t see their beauty. Especially now that their mirrors reflect gray hairs, wrinkles, age spots, and skin sags and tags. Like me, they struggle with the concept of their beauty.
Accepting the name Bride forced me to drag the beauty-beast out of its dark cave in my wounded past and wrestle with it. After all, who hasn’t heard the words “beautiful” and “bride” together, as in “beautiful bride”?
If God named me Bride, and He did, then I am His beautiful bride.
The first time He pushed the issue, I squirmed in discomfort. It happened on my way to work. That morning, the sun rose in a partially clouded sky that magnified and intensified the colors over the hills. Slowing down wasn’t enough. I stopped the car so I could dwell in the view. But instead of admiring the beauty of God’s world or admiring Him as the author of nature’s beauty as I usually did, I found myself admiring His beauty. So I told Him: “You are absolutely gorgeous!”
He responded immediately: “You are, too.”
I felt like God had me by the shoulders, making sure I gave Him my full attention. And then, in a sweeping gesture that encompassed the eastern heavens, He said, “You are this beautiful to me.”
I could see being compared to a saddleback caterpillar. You know, with a sort of odd, prickly, present beauty and some potential for future beauty. Perhaps in the post-mortem angelic state.
But as beautiful as a sunrise? Really? That beautiful? That was so far beyond “cute” I balked at the idea.
The problem was, I didn’t believe it any more than I believed my husband. But standing on that solid doubt and fragile half belief-half hope, I began to formulate questions for God, questions that ultimately led to my understanding and acceptance of my beauty:
- Why is beauty important?
- Why do you want me to believe that I’m beautiful?
The first question took me to the Messianic message of Isaiah:
…the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isa. 61:1-3).
That’s when I began to understand that beauty has a purpose: it replaces the ashes of mourning–the grief, the pain, the wounds of life. And boy did my life have ashes! I didn’t just have a smudge on my forehead, like the neat crosses marked by a priest on Ash Wednesday. I had rolled in the ashes of mourning and covered myself in soot.
I mourned the loss of my childhood and innocence and trust, stolen by abuse. I mourned the loss of my self-image, nibbled away by insults and distorted by fear and the lies of my abuser. I mourned the loss of four children I never got to hold, taken through miscarriage. I mourned the loss of my son’s happiness, devoured by years of anxiety and depression.
These were gritty ashes that scratched my eyes, stuck in my teeth, and turned my boogers black.
But God the King offers me a crown of beauty as His bride. He tells me I am worthy of wearing it.
You are, too! And if we accept the crown, we don’t don it over the soot. He offers the beauty of comfort, praise, and freedom instead of the ashes of mourning, despair, and chains. It’s a trade that enables us to step out of ashes into His splendor.
Why is beauty important?
Because it heals!
So many of us struggle to see ourselves as beautiful. That’s because we’re looking through eyes whose vision has been distorted by the world. I pray that God would allow us to see ourselves through His eyes–the eyes of a loving Bridegroom who sees us as pure and lovely as a sunrise–and that we would find healing in the image.
Very profound and provocative words. Thoughts that reflect the unspoken feelings and assumptions that fill the hearts & minds of many women, myself included. We/I have believed the lies instead of what the creator has said about what is beautiful about us as people. We are His beloved children created in God’s image therefore we are infinitely beautiful and worthy. Starting with Adam and Eve, we have, like them, found ways to hide that inherent loveliness. Whether it be cosmetics, clothing, or other ways to improve our appearance, we are continually wrestling with our self image and the beauty other perceive in us. Beauty is a relative term and defined differently in every culture. Especially in the USA, our culturally-corrupted concept of beauty is pervasive and completely opposite of what God sees.
It is only when I understand on a heart level who I am and how deeply I am loved, that I can begin to take in God’s imparted beauty. I’m not there yet. Maybe one day I won’t go in to my default mode of rejecting every compliment and fully believe there is beauty within and without me. Truth shared between like-minded people helps a lot to remind me I am not alone in my daily battle to walk in this truth and be comfortable in my own (aging but beautiful) skin.
Thank you Cindy for sharing these beautiful encouraging words. God is using you to turn others’ ashes into beauty.
So beautifully written and so poignant. We are beautiful, but some days we feel less so than others. My husband doesn’t tell me that I am beautiful, but I do hear God saying it when I listen hard enough.
That is beautifully written! You are so insightful! Thanks for sharing!