Quiet Beauty

Quiet Beauty

One of my favorite movie lines is from that old Jim Carrey movie Liar Liar. Carrey’s character Fletcher is talking with his son, who says, “My teacher tells me beauty is on the inside,” and Fletcher replies, “That's just something ugly people say.” 

I’m not proud that I laugh hysterically every time, but I do. In our culture, “inner beauty” does kind of sound like the Tooth Fairy of traits—totally made up but leaves you a dollar’s worth of happiness here and there. Of course a dollar doesn’t buy much.

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On Jesus and Slut-Shaming

Are you reading this because the word “slut” is in the title? (Wondering if I should retitle all of the stuff I write? Just kidding.)

What is it about that word that jars us? It’s truly awful—crude, demeaning. The kind of word that makes you forget that someone is an actual person, a soul with skin. I know some people who will not like that I used that word, will not like the way that the black letters affixed on a white screen causes their teeth to clinch. 

But I have something to say about the clinched teeth—that sometimes it’s a little out of whack. Like the way we viscerally react to the word “slut," yet we can treat someone or witness the treatment of someone as the living representation of that word and be pretty unaffected. Or worse, we lean into the conversation a bit: “She wore what?” “She did that?” Or perhaps we aren’t viewing a woman as a slut—perhaps we demean her personhood in other ways. We just think she’s inconsequential. Silly. Overly emotional. Maybe that other jarring word that starts with a “b” and only ever applies to women. 

I’m taking us into some choppy waters, and I’m going to go ahead and admit that I am not qualified to write this. You may want to get out of my boat. I do not have a vast knowledge of women’s issues, just a collection of stories and a heart that longs to protect women, to preach their worth, to invest in their knowledge of and love for God. 

One of the reasons I love to study the Bible: Over and over again I am brought to tears when I see the way that Jesus treats women. When the other men in the scenario are ignoring, judging, or demeaning women, Jesus draws women into meaningful conversation, using words full of gentleness, not condescension, fully acknowledging their person-ness in a society that loves to deny it (John 4). He speaks up for them when others are shaming them (Luke 7). He warns that indulging sexual thoughts about women, as if their bodies are available for mental ownership and degradation, is every bit as destructive and sinful as adultery (Matthew 5:28). 

“Don’t look at her like that,” he seems to warn. “Don’t talk about her like that,” he seems to caution.

He wasn’t supposed to be talking to her—“They marveled that he was talking with a woman” John 4:27.

He wasn’t supposed to let her near him—“If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” Luke 7:39.

And yet he did. The world pushed away what he pulled close, and it did not go unnoticed. His love evoked a strange new strength and dignity from them. In his eyes, they were not silly. In his eyes, they were not sluts. In his eyes, they were not drama queens. They were just loved. And when someone looks at you like that, speaks to you like that, speaks up for you like that, it changes you from the inside out. It makes you brave.

It seems like it’s the curse of women to look for love like that (Genesis 3). Maybe that’s why some of us have been labeled sluts—because we hoped that what we had to offer would inspire a man to love us forever. Maybe that’s why some of us have become angry and hardened—because we have become so weary and cynical of the search, so hurt by the violations. Maybe that’s why some of us have chosen to dive into the superficial—because things of meaning are too painful, too difficult.

But we were looking at the wrong men. There are certainly many wonderful men out there, men that are a lot like Jesus (marry one like that), but none of them are Jesus. He’s the only one who can love us like that. It’s the kind of love that brushes away tears, that tucks flowers into our hair, that clothes us in a white dress, even though we don’t qualify for the color. And yet, we step out, with that special strength and dignity that comes from being totally unqualified yet loved all the more. And we walk forward, to the one who unfailingly loves us, in that white dress and make this promise: I will always follow you. I am always yours.

And so the women—the silly ones, the sluts, the drama queens—they gathered at his feet as he was being crucified (Matthew 27:55). Most of his disciples had fled, but they stayed, faithful through his most painful moments, ministering with nearness despite certain fear and darkness, weeping over the brutality.

They stayed because he spoke up for them when others debated their worth. Because he was gentle when the world was harsh. Because he spoke words of peace when the world spoke words of violation.

Praise God for the woman who stays, who ministers with nearness, who weeps when she sees pain! Let us not speak a word against her. She is not silly. She is not a slut. She is not dramatic. She is His. How beautiful and brave is the woman whose sin the Lord will not count against her! "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." Psalm 34:5

And if she is not His? Surely it goes without saying: Let us not speak a word against her. We must be gentle as he is gentle. We must defend her as he does. Perhaps it’s through us that many hurting, defamed women will be able to finally rest in the love and kindness for which her soul aches. Dear one, “come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me. There’s no need to cover what I already see” (Steffany Gretzinger, “Out of Hiding”).

Praise God for His kindness to us, for his love for women! Even when the world forgets it, he could not—that he created us to be image bearers, too.

A few years ago I read Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, and I have not doubt that God has used the wisdom in that book to soften my heart towards women's issues and to draw me to a deeper understanding of the beautiful, unique tones of his love for women. Very grateful for writers who challenge me.

For the Women Who Know How to Hate Themselves

Is there anything more insidious than insecurity? It cripples us, it changes us. It makes us hate each other, it makes us hate ourselves. It’s what drives the girl to do the thing she said she’d never do with the guy she only kind of likes. It’s what drives the girl to take the drink she said she’d never take to impress people she doesn’t really know. It’s what draws us to judge both of those girls and draws them to judge us right back.

It’s what teaches us to despise parts of ourselves and then fear when those very qualities show up in our daughters, provoking us to talk to them the way we talk to ourselves: “You’ll never fit into your Homecoming dress if you keep eating like that.”

Dear God, teach us to be gentle!

But, even if we train our mouths to be gentle, this is still true: Insults don’t have to be verbal, and they don’t have to be external. Sometimes your own brain or the fitting room mirror or the unreturned phone call shouts, “You’re unworthy,” as loud as a megaphone. 

And so while God’s Word esteems stillness and “gentle and quiet” beauty, dark, internal roars shake us and shake our daughters with soul-deep tremors. Sometimes the tremors are startling enough to awaken us from the striving to sudden clarity. We realize that all of it—clothes, products, gym visits, relationships, perfectionism, talent, work ethic—is not enough to quiet the internal quake. So we try to talk louder than our noisy insides, affirming ourselves and affirming our daughters, hoping Post-It Note words of worthiness are weapon enough. But here’s the thing: “You’re beautiful” doesn’t stick. “You’re worthy” slides off after a minute, like a slab of butter atop a hot pile of pancakes we’re not supposed to eat.

We arm ourselves with affirmations in hopes that they kill the insecurity, that they pierce deep, but insecurity is bullet proof. We can tell our daughters every day that they are beautiful, worthy, and enough, but ultimately these words are not the solution for which our souls long, because even beautiful girls with kind and intentional parents know how to hate themselves.

A verse often prescribed for insecurity is Psalm 139:14: “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We scribble it on birth announcements and cards of encouragement, and Christian high schoolers are notorious for proclaiming it beneath a carefully edited selfie on Instagram. But, as I learned from Jen Wilkin’s examining of the passage in her book None Like Him, we sometimes favor Twitter-friendly succinctness instead of the full weight of the statement; a statement that begins with three powerhouse words: “I praise you.”

Our “fearfully-and-wonderfully-made”-ness is cause for praise, certainly, but praise for whom exactly? Ourselves? Of course not. We made Bs in high school biology, but God invented the whole thing. We can barely cook without a recipe, and yet God created us from scratch with zero ingredients. When we look in the mirror, our reflection is cause enough for us to hit our knees in genuine, grateful praise to the Creator. An opportunity to shout, “Look what God has done!” Praise that The Great High King who measures the oceans in the hollow of his hand (Isaiah 40:12) would form us with those same careful hands, attentive to every detail. 

How sinister then that our enemy would wage war on our details, and that we in our own selfishness would stare at God’s creation, fixating on body shape and skin tone and hair texture rather than the God who took dust and made it walk and talk and breathe.

We are wonderfully made—created by the Artist who created all other artists. An Artist who certainly only creates masterpieces, and yet how absurd for the Mona Lisa to pat herself on the back for her masterpiece-ness when it was Leonardo da Vinci that wielded the brush and granted life to a blank canvas.

We are fearfully made—created with such intricacy that upon realizing it, we find ourselves captivated with holy fear, in awe of the Creator. An awe we see just a few verses ahead in the very same chapter: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

Or consider God’s response as Moses insecurely worried about his ability to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the enslaved Jews. God didn’t respond with a pep talk, accolades, or affirmations of Moses’ worthiness. He didn’t say, “You can do it!” He said, “I can do it.” As Jen Wilkin so wisely points out in her book Women of the Word, God responded with himself. And that was enough.

“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4:11-12)

Dear mothers and daughters, here is the salve for the soul struggling to find worth:

Our God is the Artist of all artists, and our insides and outsides are evidence of His skilled hand. He is beautiful beyond description, and He loves us beyond explanation. These truths are weapon enough. May our mirrors point us to Him.

“I praise YOU, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are YOUR works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14, emphasis added).

Originally posted as "Insecurity: Our Daughters' Greatest Enemy" at MissionalMotherhood.com in May 2016. Reposted with permission.