If I'm honest, I think I began this quest with the intention of trying to find a way to feel good about myself - mostly because I was sick of the love/hate relationship that I had with my looks. I figured there must be a better way to live life - and with God's help, to feel secure and beautiful no matter what. But what I found, instead, is that the path to understanding true beauty has begun with the realization that I am actually far uglier than I have ever been willing to admit. And truthfully, the ugliest thing about me has nothing to do with the way I look.
Now before you feel the need to frantically rebuild the broken pieces of my self esteem, you should know that this realization has actually been refreshing. I feel like the blinders have been removed from my eyes so that I am starting to see more clearly.
Let me show you what I mean.
Check out how Jesus talks to those who are consumed with the outside while neglecting the inside:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27-28)
Now, Jesus isn't specifically addressing the topic of physical beauty here, but I think there's a lot we can learn from the principles he's addressing.
Since he starts out by saying, "Woe to you," that should get our attention. This is a curse. He is saying that there is great sorrow, grief, and distress in store for those whose lives look like these beautiful tombs - who care only about appearing outwardly righteous -because it is possible to look beautiful on the outside but be inwardly filled with death. In other words, there is something very dangerous about looking good outwardly while there is something far worse going on within.
If you go back a few verses, Jesus explains the motivation of why these people want to look good:
"They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others." (Matthew 23:5-7)
Essentially, Jesus is saying that these Pharisees are only doing good deeds to be seen by others. They don't actually love God or the people around them; they love what they can get from looking good on the outside. And these Pharisees are people that know the Law and had just talked to Jesus about the two most important commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:34-40). Instead, they want others to see how great they are and to recognize them for it. They are putting on a show so that they will receive honor. But not only that, they want to be elevated above others. They want to be the best. They are proud.
And sadly, what I am coming to find is that I am much more like these Pharisees than I ever realized.
Most of the time, I want to look good on the outside, not because I love God or others, but because I want praise. I want to be seen by others. So I put on a show. But not only that. I want to be esteemed more highly than others. I want to be the best. I am proud. And pride is not beautiful.
Let me show you why. (But be warned - it gets really ugly…)
If we have our hearts set on being the best, being pretty will never be enough. Each of us will want to be the prettiest girl in the room. But in order for us to achieve such a status, we must compare ourselves with every other girl we know. And so, in some ways, it's great to be surrounded by girls, who by our assessment, aren't nearly as pretty as we deem ourselves to be, because then in our own hearts, we can still boast in being the fairest of them all.
But then again, if we must be the best, it would be important that those who are of the same caliber of attractiveness stick together. We wouldn't want anyone to think that we could be somehow uncool for spending time with anyone who's less than gorgeous. So then, we would each need to make sure to have a posse of attractive girlfriends to hang out with. But they would also need to be just slightly less attractive than we are, of course. Otherwise, how would we ensure that all the guys would be interested in us, instead of in them?
So then if there are girls in our lives who we feel are prettier than us, we will feel insecure around them. We will despair. We will resent them for it. We will not want them in our lives. We would rather they didn't exist. So every girl would have the potential to become our enemy if she threatens the position we really want - the fairest of them all. Because everyone (and I mean everyone) knows it's a truth universally acknowledged that a girl isn't worth anything unless an attractive guy thinks she's the most beautiful girl in the world and wants to marry her.
But even if we do find such a man, we would really only be using him to feel better about ourselves. Though we would never admit it, we would secretly feel superior to all of our single friends. (Because didn't we feel inferior and unattractive without a man?) So we would not actually be satisfied by the man's praise or his love. He was never really our goal. We just wanted him to help us feel like we were worth something. But it can only work temporary at best. We could try other men, thinking that we simply picked the wrong one, or that we just need more affection and praise, but we would still find ourselves unsatisfied.
And we haven't even begun to think of all the implications of getting older and the fact that our bodies decline with age. That reality will be too devastating to handle. Not to mention the fact that we have only been discussing one realm of the things we need to compete about if we are intent on being the queen of all…
This is what happens when the ugliness of a heart fixed on self-glorification is left to run rampant. Friendships are reduced to no more than a constant competition. And romantic relationships exist merely to boost the ego.
But the truth is, all the praise and all the admiration in the world could not satisfy a heart that is fixed upon being the best. In fact, God makes sure that our pride cannot be satisfied. As we seek to promote ourselves, He opposes us. James 4:6 says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Pride is utterly repulsive to Him and displays the heart of our rebellion; we don't want to worship Him - the One we were created to worship - we want to worship ourselves. And the ugliness of self-obsession cannot be fixed outwardly. It's our souls that need the surgery.
And that's exactly the solution that Jesus gives:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26).
It is not enough to just look good. Our souls are sick. We need to be washed on the inside. And Jesus is the one who can cleanse our hearts (Psalm 51:10). He knows how truly ugly our sin has made us, and yet He still died in our place. He knows that it will never be enough for us to simply feel beautiful. He wants to make us beautiful for real.
But we will never become beautiful for real if we are too busy pretending that we already are. That's why the path to true beauty must begin with the realization of how ugly we are on the inside. Only then will we find that the fairest of them all is able to start to make us like Him.
Loving Him is Red.