"How do I know if I am beautiful?" she asked me. "What is beauty?" "What if I am not good enough?"
...and if what I described wasn't true in their lives, my words would sprinkle salt in open wounds.
"What if my mom never tells me I'm beautiful?"
Never might be one of the ugliest words of them all.
I don't dare to pretend to know the right answers to her questions. It's too convenient to sling Christian platitudes and trite cliche. She deserves more.
The many who feel the way she does, deserve more.
I ache for her the way I ache for others who have void in their lives. It comes packaged in so many ways, doesn't it?--materially, physically, spiritually, emotionally.... When you consider the full range and impact of personal void you realize we all have void and loss in our lives.
I don't think it matters if there's not a close approximation; the common human experience of pain or suffering or longing or void or unmet expectation is sufficient.
Over the course of my life, I've been closely acquainted with loss, loneliness, void, unmet expectation; maybe not the same as yours (or the writer of my email), but it's not wasted experience. The Knowing that comes with troubled season allows me empathy, compassion and insight for the plight of another.
If I could, I'd wrap my arms around this precious young woman and hold her long and quiet. Sometimes love and kindness is perfectly expressed in embrace without a single word.
But then I'd sit back and grab her hand and squeeze hard. And I'd offer some things I believe, wisdom gleaned from ancient writers held captive and inspired by the Divine, words breathed from the heart of God--
Babygirl, you are created in the image of God, the image of perfection. This doesn't mean you're perfect because you're skinned in human flesh, but because you bear God's image, He is the one you resemble...perfection beyond our mind's comprehension.
In Ecclesiastes, it says "He has made everything beautiful in its time." God has made you beautiful. The Psalmist declares God made you and me wonderful, too (Psalm 139). These are love notes to doubters like us; God knew there would be many who needed to know these truths, so he preserved them in his Holy word.
What is beauty? True beauty? I think it has little to do with the narrow, cultural, Americanized, 21st century definition we generally accept--shallow, a book's cover, fleeting and temporary.
Because I care about what God thinks and I'm desperate to be more like him, I want to know how he regards beauty. What are the characteristics he esteems?
1 Samuel 16:7 flat out says he doesn't regard beauty the same way humans do, he cares NOTHING about physical appearance; instead, he looks at the heart. Peter, too, talks about the unfading beauty of the inner life; he speaks of a gentle and quiet spirit as beautiful. Matthew records a beautiful account of what Jesus regards as lovely, commonly known as the Beattitudes. The qualities he blesses and calls blessed are a far departure from a physical form of beauty. Desire for righteousness, purity, mercy, peacemakers, the persecuted, those who grieve--he honors those the world would see as losers or less than.
Are you good enough? No...but neither am I. No one is, left to our own devices. We're flawed sinners--even the "best" Christians you know.
So what hope do we have? Is there any such a thing?
The truth is I'm a doubter. But that doesn't seem to concern Christ. Doubting isn't sin; my questions aren't sinful. The astonishing paradox is my questions and doubt drive me to seek God more! He uses my unbelief to draw me closer. Crazy stuff.
Our hope is in Jesus, his love, forgiveness and sacrifice to us and for us. When God looks at us, the beauty he sees in us is Jesus himself. And Jesus IS enough.
Even when it doesn't feel like it. That demands faith.
We're born with this need for affirmation from our parents, from those we love first and most. We long for their approval, their affection, their acknowledgment. We expect that from them.
Parents are just people, too, though...flawed, imperfect creatures. Maybe your mother (and/or father) withholds what she never received herself. Maybe she can't give what she doesn't know. Maybe her heart is so battered and bruised she can't see beyond her own pain to salve yours.
I have no way of knowing but I imagine she has battle scars that handicap her from seeing clearly what you most desire from her. But it's likely she's doing the best she can with what she's got....
...even if that leaves you needing more, wanting so much more.
It's no wonder you struggle, thrashing against the walls of void, sometimes harming yourself just to feel something. Negative attention is better than no attention.
But listen to me, babygirl...listen!
You're the daughter of a King who loves you so much he'd give his life for yours.
He gave his life for yours.
You're an object of his affection and he sees beauty when he looks at you. I wouldn't even try to understand what that means--but I hope you find rest in who God is (meaning it's up to you to get to know him better) and how he sees you.
His love for you is not conditional on what you do for him; it's on what Jesus has already done on your behalf.
All I know to do is to encourage you to be a God chaser. To enter into an intimate relationship with God, which can only happen when you pursue him, will change you.
We become what we behold.
So behold beauty.
p.s. I wish I had remembered to share something on my original post I wrote almost three years ago; it includes a song from Nichole Nordeman that speaks to our longing to be called beautiful. When you read Beautiful/Nerds, you'll find her video. It's a song I'm singing over you now, a prayer whispered in the gap.