Recognizing the power of beauty to heal and accepting its importance were giant steps for me. (See “Wrestling the Beauty-Beast,” Part 1.) But I continued to struggle to believe that God thought I was as beautiful as a sunrise. I simply couldn’t recognize that beauty in myself, like an anorexic whose mirrored image is never thin enough.
By this time, though, I was done with arguing. If God thought it was important, I was determined to wrangle that beauty-beast and claim it as mine.
That doggedness led me to Solomon’s Song of Songs, and for the first time in my life, I read it as a love story about God and me. Not as an allegory of Christ and His Church or of God and His people or of Christ and my heavenly self.
It’s your love story, too. That means we star in the role of the Shulamite, the “Beloved.” God co-stars as Solomon, the “Lover.” And “Friends” serve as our cheerleading squad/advisory panel.
The story–our story–begins with the Beloved longing for her Lover, urgent to get Him alone in His chambers. She lavishes Him with praise for His beauty, yet when she first speaks of herself in verse five, she begins with her physical flaw: “Dark am I” (Song of Sg. 1:5).
Can you relate? When speaking of my physical appearance, I don’t need a moment’s pause before launching into a list of at least a dozen attributes I don’t like–everything from my fat cheeks and long neck to my short legs and curled up little toes.
But the sentence doesn’t end there. “Dark am I” is followed by “yet lovely.” I sat on that verse for weeks, letting it permeate my mind and heart. I came to love the sound of the two parts together:
“Dark am I, yet lovely.”
Although embarrassed by the color of her skin, the beloved still sees herself as beautiful. Since we are also God’s beloved, the same is possible for us. Her words are ours. All we have to do is substitute the flaw:
Pudgy cheeked am I, yet lovely.
Long necked am I, yet lovely.
Short legged am I, yet lovely.
Curly toed am I, yet lovely.
However long our list, the truth is we can be physically imperfect yet lovely. We all know people who attest to that. My grandmother was one. At ninety-eight, she was beautiful. When I looked at her, I saw her shock of white hair, her missing teeth, and her thin wrinkled skin, bruised and age-spotted. But I also knew her life well lived and the love she’d always shown me.
Old she was, yet lovely.
I like that view of inner beauty seeping into outer beauty, of a heart so pure that it radiates the beauty of God. I would have been content to let the issue drop there. But God wasn’t content. Not yet. Not until He convinced me that I, His bride, am beautiful inside and out.
The process continued rather humorously. After dwelling on verse five of Song of Songs, I was ready to delve into the rest of the story. The first time Lover speaks (that’s God), He tells his darling (that’s you and I) this: “Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels” (Song of Sg. 1:10, emphasis mine).
I laughed out loud with delight. He knew! He knew my childhood nicknames. He knew the wounds that needed tending. He knew the flaws I perceived. He knew!
In the course of the story, the Lover goes on to praise Beloved’s eyes, hair, teeth, lips, mouth, temples, breasts, face, feet, legs, navel, waist, nose, head, stature, and breath. Good grief! There’s nothing about our physical appearance that He doesn’t like!
Just in case we have any remaining doubt, He reminds us over and over how beautiful we are:
“How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!” (Song of Sg. 1:15, 4:1).
“All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (4: 7).
“How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!” (7:6).
Through the repetition of the message, I began to accept it as truth.
Further acceptance came with the help of nature. My heart responds to–leaps at–the sight of natural beauty. Like most of you, I marvel at a waterfall, rainbow, flower, sunrise. But check out a banana slug, jellyfish, duck-billed platypus, or shelf fungus on a decaying tree. Aren’t they, too, fascinatingly beautiful?
This beauty revealed through God’s creation–both the marvelous and the fascinating–is uncontainable, unexpected, awe-inspiring, evocative, powerful, breathtaking, original, diverse, simple and complex all at the same time.
As part of His creation, we possess that kind of beauty.
How different it is from the airbrushed, teeth-whitened, botoxed, implanted, high-cheekboned, liposuctioned, gaunt impossibility fabricated and mass-produced by media!
I refuse to measure myself by that poor substitute. I accept God’s beauty.
I am beautiful!
You are beautiful, too!
God, may we all see your beauty in ourselves and each other.
So glad for part 2 as it provides a perspective which is a perfect follow to the previous post. I was asked to drive a friend to a pedicure. She asked if I would like to get one as well. Initially I said no. I said no because my beat up callous feet with toes growing crooked by arthritis were perhaps too ugly and dirty. I said no because deep down I did not believe I was deserving of such extravagance. My feet are aching and worn from moving, climbing up and down stairs while unpacking.
I am reminded of Jesus washing the dirty feet of His disciples, then gently toweling them dry. He knew the beauty of the feet that traveled miles to follow him and honored them. He was preparing for His death and this is what He chose to do. He intentionally left them with a moment to recall of His deep love toward them in a simple gesture.
Eventually, I decided why not share a moment with my friend and chat while someone washed my feet and massaged them. I allowed my feet to be beautified by someone who knows how to take care of feet. I chose a color for my nails which is not one I have ever chosen. I wanted to breakout and be bold. When my daughter saw them her comment was “I love that color, you wild thing you!” This brought a smile to my face. The rewards of inner and outer beauty are very different but nonetheless have intrinsic and extrinsic value to be appreciated and tended to.
Thank you for your inspired and inspiring thoughts on beauty,
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Beth, thank you for sharing your story! While tending our beauty can easily devolve into self-absorption, some of us–me included–struggle to believe that we have a beauty that deserves tending. But I don’t think He minds if we choose to adorn that beauty with a little polish. Or not. Either way, we’re beautiful to Him!