Monday, June 14, 2010

Beautiful Brides

We’ve just returned from a gorgeous beach wedding. The daughter of dear friends was married in the church of her mother’s childhood. The service was extremely meaningful and sentimental… not one of those “let’s-rush-through-the sacrament-so-we-can-get-to-the-party” affairs. It was a time of joy and forgiveness, everyone there united in their loving support of the new couple.

I cried. (Big Surprise!) Forgot the tissue, as always.

We (husband, Middle Child, and I) had arrived at the destination earlier in the week for some R and R before the Big Event. It was sweet to return to a resort we’d visited several times when the children were younger. We have friends who live in the area, and happened to run into some college friends who were there for another wedding, so it was a time of reunion in addition to being a celebration of union. The connection with the place actually goes back even further: my parents, the grandparents of the bride, and the parents of another friend attending the wedding had made yearly trips there together for 22 years.

Special place. Special people. Special time.

Old friends and new ones. I particularly loved being with some young friends who identified themselves as Margery readers. (Hey, y’all! Thanks for reading!) Their words of encouragement were a true blessing.

We all wanted to look our best for this black tie event. Women discussed what they were going to wear. We tried to figure out how to keep our hair from frizzing in the humidity. Tried to get a little sun. Worked out. Did our nails. I don’t have a lot of time these days to spend on personal upkeep. I have to let things go…forget to schedule hair appointments, get pedicures only when my feet are covered in barnacles, rarely work out. So, just for fun, I really wanted to try to fix up and look my personal best. (I didn’t. Hair frizzed, makeup dripped. Oh, well.)

In the days preceding the wedding, there was a lot of time for observation. That is what I do. I suppose that’s one reason why I’ve discovered this latent ability to write: I have always been an observer of people. (I must have inherited it from my mother, who says she could happily sit in an airport for hours just looking at people.) People really are fascinating to watch. I guess I try to figure out what makes them tick. Why do we make the choices we make? (For instance: Young man by the pool, do you really think that rose tattoo around your nipple enhances your appearance in some way?) I have to check myself in the judging-by-appearance category sometimes.

Anyway, there were plenty of interesting people to observe at the resort. I’ve never seen so many who appear to have eating disorders, from young girls in teeny weeny bikinis, to much older ladies. I witnessed several exercise addicts in action at the gym. One in particular fascinated me. Judging from her face and hair, she must have been at least 80. No exaggeration. Ask my husband. But the body looked like it belonged to a severely anorexic eighteen-year-old. She was on the elliptical for an hour; then she hit the weights, lifting like a man. I left the gym, but later came back through. She was still there, fiercely rowing on the machine as if her life depended on it. I couldn’t help but wonder what her motivation was. What force drove her to exercise until there was nothing left but bone covered with sinewy muscle and tissue-thin skin? What fear?

Taking a walk on the beach, my friend and I witnessed cases of implausible (and unfortunate) plastic surgery. Almost self-mutilation. Back by the pool, people baked in the sun for hours and hours, their backs splotched brown and bright red  where skin had already peeled off. One woman applied sunscreen obsessive-compulsively to her face. Over and over again until it was completely white. Dear Lord, I thought, the lengths we go to trying to look good.

Attempting a nap one hot afternoon, I thought about it. Why do we care? Why is the physical covering of our spirits…our true selves…so important? Much, much too important for some of us.

I believe we have an innate desire for beauty. To observe it, to absorb it, but also to be it. To be beautiful.

Humans come with an inborn need for love. Obviously, we think that the prettier the package is, the more affirmation and approval…love…we’ll receive. Scientific studies have proven this out. People who are perceived as more attractive are also perceived as more of everything good…intelligent, trustworthy, etc. (Sorry, but they’ve also proven that blondes do have more fun! Thanks, Clairol.)

In addition to a need for love, we also have an inborn need for beauty in and of itself. A congenital sense of aesthetics. For instance, a baby will reach for a shiny object over a dull one. I don’t think anyone has to be taught that a brilliant sunset over a frothy sea is beautiful. We just know.

As I said, I was dreamily thinking about these things, but also kind of asking God about it. Lord, why do I care so much about looking good? Why do I compare myself to others, and feel lacking? Why do we as a society put so much emphasis on it? Obsess about it?

Revelation dawned slowly. God created us to be beautiful; He created Beauty itself. All of His creation is beautiful. (What we’ve done with it is another thing.) Perhaps we are just trying to get the outside of the package, which is heir to the imperfections of a sullied creation, to match the inside: the essential self, created in the beautiful image of God.

I remembered a time when I found myself over my head in a prayer situation. Healing prayer is an integral part of our church in Athens, Georgia. A wise and wonderful member (who happens to be a therapist) has introduced the teachings of Dr. Francis McNutt to our congregation, and classes on healing prayer are taught. I had taken Level One. That means first grade. Still, here I was praying with a young woman who was going through a nightmarish time of betrayal. Emergency prayer. (Like, I don’t know how else to help you, so let’s pray. Gotta do something about this pain.) Following the precepts from the prayer class, I asked her to describe how she was feeling. She said one word: Insufficient.  She felt utterly negated in every way. Then I took one of those terrifying leaps of faith. I asked God to tell her how He felt about her. As soon as those words were out of my mouth, a word clearly formed in my mind.


I was expecting “Loved” or something like that. But the word was Beautiful. It came with a particular type of chill that I have come to associate with confirmation. There was no way I was gonna tell her, though. She wouldn’t have believed me. Outloud, I said, “Please tell her, Lord. Speak to her inmost spirit. You tell her.” We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I kept praying silently, sweating bullets. Tell her, tell her, oh please tell her very clearly, Daddy. Minutes passed. Now, “beautiful” was the last thing in the whole world that young woman felt at the time. She had been absolutely decimated. Completely stripped of self-esteem. So I asked her, “Is there a word that has popped into your mind, but you are afraid or embarrassed to say?” She nodded imperceptibly. “Tell me,” I begged.

More minutes passed. Then she tearfully whispered a word. I leaned down to make sure I heard right. I asked her to repeat it. She cleared her throat.

Beautiful, she whispered.

For some reason, the description of the lady in heaven from Lewis’ The Great Divorce has come to mind:

"I cannot remember now whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my mind the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.

But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face." (The Great Divorce, chapter 12.)

Something occurred to me, during this sweet and sentimental wedding of a gracefully beautiful bride:

In God’s eyes, we are all* beautiful brides, coming down the narrow aisle of life straight into His waiting arms.

You are beautiful.


“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes…” (Song of Songs 4:9)

“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)


*Note: I don’t mean to imply by the next to the last sentence in the post that I am a universalist. I’m referring to His desire for us. We are still given the gift of free choice in deciding whether or not to put on the ring.


 So that this may become a conversation: Why do you think appearance is so important that people are willing to go to extreme measures in order to “improve” it? I’m interested in your thoughts. Just hit “comment” and tell me what you think. (Please.)


Laurel said...

The inclination to enjoy beautiful things definitely has a spiritual aspect but regarding appearance I think it's just plain old earth-bound hormones. Many of the things that give us the most pleasure here on Earth are things we won't need or even miss in Heaven. A good meal, a nap, first kisses with impossible crushes.

Humans aren't the only animals who strive to look more appealing to a potential mate through personal appearance or prime territory. More attractive packaging allows for more choice options in the mating dance.

I think even past the prime "family" stage it's important to us because we don't want our perceived value to our mate to go down. I've been married for ten years and am thoroughly DONE having babies but I still want my husband to think I'm pretty.

My personal feeling is that we put too much store on both sides of the issue. We are programmed to value appearance.

As long as we don't allow it to be the most important thing, the thing that defines us or others, so what? Beauty offers pleasure to others. If it does become the most important thing then we've no choice but to live in fear of losing that which we value the most. Nobody gets to stay in the full bloom of youthful beauty forever.

With any luck, I'll be old and wrinkly one day. That boy I married will still love me. He might even still think I'm pretty.

Unknown said...

I think quite simply that our outer appearance is so important to us because we know that it is someone's first impression of us. We live in a society that is quick to judge on outer appearance. Although we know that it isn't right to judge or be judge that way, it is a fact of life.

elizabeth said...

It really makes me sad to see women starving themselves and working out until they look like skeletons. And to see people who have so altered their appearances by plastic surgery that they no longer look anything like themselves. It kind of seems like a type of self-hatred.

I'm not judging, just saying it's sad. I care about the way I look as much as anyone else.

Thanks for bringing up the topic, though.

Something to think about.

Mary Ruth Spencer said...

It is easier (and less painful?) to deal with outward beauty rather than inward beauty.

Mary Ruth said...

My previous comment is not meant to offend or judge anyone. I have followed your posts since Katherine's stroke, but have never responded. (I attended FBC ALexandria with Jay as pastor.) You all amaze me with your faith and it has helped me restore some of my faith. Your love for God and inward beauty is inspiring. Your outward beauty matches your heart! The same is true with Katherine and Jay.

Continue to post, please. Your words of wisdom and your musings touch my heart.

Michelle said...

great post Kim!

so "coincidental" to read this post today. i'm in texas visiting my family. today i went to my parents' gym to workout which is in a middle class part of town. when they come to see me in la, my parents come to my gym. on their last visit, my mom commented that so many people in my gym look incredible! many do -- they have to look that way for a living. (some sadly, look awful because they have cut up their faces so much with plastic surgery and other "enhancements".)

i took a minute to today to notice who was exercising around me. there wasn't anyone drop dead gorgeous. but you know what? no one looked stressed out. they seemed happy to be exercising and enjoying their time watching tv and listening to their ipods. everyone in this middle class gym looked at comfortable, like they were doing something good for themselves. they also didn't wear make up or wear designer perfectly matched work out clothes. why should they? they are just going to sweat, not to impress anyone.

people at my expensive la gym look and act stressed and obsessed -- even though they have perfect clothes and are by worldly standards are very very attractive.

sad sad sad. Lord let me not get caught up in that madness!

candy said...

" A thing of Beauty is a joy forever." Can't remember who said this, but Judge Judy said, "Beauty fades, Dumb is forever."

Possibly some women know what people will remember most about them are their looks, not their intellectual abilities. You have both and I know you still turn heads.

I agree about first impressions AND hormones. Even though we'd like to think we are appreciated for our inner beauty, no one can see that initiallly. True physical beauty attracts; then we(hopefully) get the added blessing of getting to know one's inner beauty. Even Bill ?Gaither? said something like, "If you have a physical "flaw" that keeps you from reaching out to others in love, get it fixed."

All Creation reflects God's love of Beauty- flowers, sunsets, mountains, lakes, babies, chocolate, (okay, a beautiful person put God's ingrediants together)- name your own delight.

He refers to each of us as His Bride and we all think brides should be beautiful on their special day.

We are each beautiful in our own ways-at least those of us who love Jesus. I have grave doubts about some non-believers, but we still need to reach out, regardless of physical appearance. I know I prefer being around nice, funny people; if they are physically beautiful, so much the better.

Anita Renfroe has the funniest video called, "All the Wrinkled Ladies." It's on Women of Faith website and Utube. Dare you not to laugh!

Anonymous said...

They are "afraid of winter". God's love and acceptance isn't enough. Also, too much about me me me.

Anonymous said...

We continue to forget (or ignore) that we have an enemy who was actually created in full beauty to reflect God's glory. But then he wanted glory for himself and he fell from heaven and became the ultimate deceiver. And so many (including those of us who claim Christ) fall victim to his deception. Deception to strive for that which is not holy.

To be our best in Christ, which includes taking care of ourselves even our appearance, is a holy thing if done with right perspective - reflecting His glory not taking it for ourselves.

A question keeps rising up as I write this - "whose definition of beauty do I seek to attain - the world's or God's"? The answer to that question will determine our choices.

Kelly said...

Beautiful story about the prayer.

I am interested in knowing more about "healing prayer." Hope you will consider writing about it someday.

Anonymous said...

i struggled with an eating disorder through high school and college.. it overtook my life, and like elizabeth said was driven by an intense self-hatred. the desire to be beautiful is more from within even if people are doing everything possible to alter what's on the outside.
even though it's only been a couple of years {and i still have a really long way to go } when i look back on that really dark point in my life i see how all of it was wrapped up in self-worth.. all i really wanted was to be known and loved for me.. my drive for perfection on the outside was all in hopes it would make me adequate enough for someone to make it to the inside..
i hope that made sense, but either way-
thank you for your writings.. i have read your blog for over a year and when I started I was really struggling with my faith. God has used your words to teach me more of who He truly is..


Anonymous said...

Kim, wonderful post about outward beauty vs inward and the kind of beauty God sees. I love the Lewis quote! The Great Divorce was the first Lewis book I read and it still my favorite.

Just a quick point and this is not meant to be derogatory, so if it comes across that way feel free to delete. It's important to be careful when discussing the power of prayer not to fall into bad doctrine. Dr MacNutt and his ministry do not reflect Reformed theology especially concerning so called second baptism or fillings of the holy spirit. The Holy Spirit comes only once at the moment you receive Christ as your savior. Any teaching other than that has no basis in scripture. I have great fondness and love for our brothers who lean more towards the charismatic side of the spectrum, but one must balance those beliefs with Biblical truth lest we lead the little ones astray. To that end I would be very cautious to recommend the teachings of Francis MacNutt to believers who do not already have a firm grasp of scripture and correct doctrine.

Anonymous said...

It's a need to feel sufficient. Good enough. Accepted. Loveable.

I have so many insecurities about myself throughout my entire life. Struggles with my weight. Struggles with my height (not like 5'10" is that tall, but it felt like it to me for years). Struggles with my build and how unfeminine it made me feel (broad shoulders and wider frame, thanks to my dad).

I have equated my weight issues to my looks and my overall look to how deserving of love and attention I am. For years, I felt unloveable because I'm overweight and because I let my being overweight make me feel stupid, ugly, worthless, and inadequate.

Then a friend recommended Angela Thomas's book, "Do You Think I'm Beautiful?" I still struggle (a lot), but it helped me see that God gave me this body for a reason, and when I love it and accept it with the love and grace in which he created me, I find myself feeling more beautiful even if I still don't fit into society's standards (and probably never will).

We're all trying to keep up with what's "acceptable" in the world's eye but neglecting to see that we've always been acceptable in God's eyes. He values His creation. He sent His only Son to die for His creation (us). Though the standards of society will always change, His love for us is unconditional and unwavering.

And that's what counts most of all.

Amy C. said...

I loved the story about the prayer.

Don't worry about people who are more concerned with "correct doctrine" than they are with the real message...that God loves us, and wants us to be whole.

Keep speaking your truth.

It is liberating.

JRT said...

I agree with the previous comment.

Why does the "anonymous" writer assume what your theology is? Why is it her (or his) job to tell you what is "correct?"

It's your blog.

I appreciate your transparency and honesty.

Please don't let one chastising comment derail you.

Brenda See said...

Healing prayer is real. The information you received from the Lord when you were praying with the young girl is a true and valid and scriptural experience. God has the power of revelation in any way he wants to do it. Too bad--really too bad--that some followers of Christ will never know the beauty of such revelation because they build a wall by which they prohibit him from imparting his thoughts.

I have not read about McNutt, but I will check him (or her?) out. I have read Leanne Payne's books and they were very instructive and very scriptural. Trust God to guide us rightly. It is His province.

Who would quench the Holy Spirit? It is His time. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come to us all and heal our spirits and our land.

Laurel said...

I'm not sure I read the "bad doctrine" comment right or that I understood the author's intent.

I do believe, though, that the Bible teaches prayer is conversation with God. We praise Him, He hears. We ask for things, He answers (sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes not yet, and sometimes yes but not the way you think).

It's not a one way conversation. We won't hear Him if we convince ourselves that He only speaks to us at the moment of salvation.

Trish said...

love your blog. gives me food for thought. love EVERYTHING about it. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi again- I am sorry if my post came across the wrong way. (I am the one who shared about having an eating disorder). I am sorry if it wasn't appropriate or if it came across as defensive- I still don't know how to talk about it I guess. Anyway, just wanted to apologize if I offended you or anyone else by what I contributed.

Laurel said...

Sorry, but I feel the need to chime in YET AGAIN.

Nobody on this thread has shared anything that was not in their experience or their heart. I love what Kim is doing here and the dialogue is fantastic. Thoughtful, sincere, ever-expanding.

Let's all agree not to hurt each other's feelings on purpose. If an accidental misstep was taken in the blog or the comment thread, well, the intent was not ill. But open dialogue can't happen if we aren't all down with honesty.

Let's trust each other that the conversation here is always from the best intentions so we can all be free to share what's on our hearts.

Scott and Emily Koenig said...

Thank you...for sharing your thoughts. I love reading your posts, I am a young mom of two (I went to Samford and was one year ahead of Katherine) and I just don't always have time to THINK. Your posts inspire me to think, they focus me on a topic and guide me in thought. Thank you so much!