One Direction's catchy debut single a few years ago What Makes You Beautiful talks about a girl who's insecure, wears makeup to cover up, and generally has no idea of the effect she has on people when she walks into a room. I wouldn't generally reference a pop boy-band single in a spiritually-based blog, but the lyrics include a couple of lines that are spot-on Gospel! (Plus, I'm a big believer that God can and does use anything, anywhere to teach anyone.)
Early in the first verse, the writer says, "Being the way that you are is enough." On so many levels and in so many ways, we just simply refuse to believe that. But, it wasn't only pop songwriter Savan Kotecha who said we are enough. God did too...a long time ago and every day since. Mr. Kotecha, by the way, wrote the song after his wife told him one day that she felt so ugly to which he replied, "No, you look beautiful. You don’t know how beautiful you look." Instantly, he also said, "Oh, that's a great song. Hold on!"
Our focus on physical beauty in our culture is off the charts. We've been bombarded for years with airbrushed legs and fake tans and Photoshopped faces gracing magazine covers and television and social media posts. We see everyone else's impossibly best and compare it to our average, or even our worst. Well, of course, we feel inferior, not good enough, not beautiful. Friends, I have a news flash for you: what you see on magazine covers and social media and even television is NOT REAL. In addition to fancy and sophisticated software used by magazine publishers and television producers (not to mention the high-end camera equipment), your smartphone comes loaded with dozens of built-in filters. And, there are dozens more apps to "touch up" or filter with a creativity that is unfathomable. Who you are, the REAL you, is enough to anybody that truly cares about you, not least of all your Creator.
I have some strong memories from my college days but some go back even further than that. Did you have some of these same experiences? A new person walks into your classroom. You are immediately impressed with how physically attractive they are. You'd like to get to know them, but you are a little intimidated. You hang back and observe them for a while. Before long, you notice their behavior, how they speak, maybe they never smile or it's fake. Maybe they're sarcastic or rude or disrespectful or just plain mean. Maybe they're arrogant or trying too hard to be the center of attention. Any number of things suddenly make them seem a little (or a lot) less attractive. Conversely, I've also experienced the opposite. Someone seems average and doesn't make a meaningful impression on you one way or the other -- they're just there. Then you notice how kind they are, or how funny, or how their eyes sparkle and they truly listen when you talk to them. Suddenly, they become more attractive. Then occasionally, you meet someone who's just as beautiful inside as they are outside. In fact, I met someone in person recently whom I had only worked with via email. She is a smart, beautiful person with a beautiful, wise spirit.
Inner beauty, or the lack thereof, eventually makes its way to the surface. Taking care of ourselves and being presentable is important, of course. But, the day will come, (no matter how much we spend on anti-aging products!) when the surface beauty will start to fade. Developing a beautiful heart that lives in fellowship with Christ and is guided by His Spirit is something that will never diminish. Months before my mom knew anything about this He Says I Am project, she bought me a hanger that says, "She talks to God every day and that makes her beautiful." She had no idea that was exactly what I wanted to hear. That's the kind of beauty I crave.
Theologians and Biblical scholars aren't in agreement about the precise meaning of Ecclesiastes 3:11. "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time." Different translations say "for his own time" or "for their own time" or "in its season." Those all mean quite different things to me. The Amplified Bible a few other translations use the word "appropriate" instead of beautiful. "Appropriate for its season" sheds some light on the meaning for me.
That concept brought to mind a phrase, fullness of time, from Galatians 4:4. "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law," (NKJV). When everything was perfectly right, God sent Christ. Just so, God gives us just what we need and leads us just where we need to be at the right time. We cannot be everything to everyone all the time, or all at the same time. But, in this particular moment, we are called to do something to be something. For this moment, for this task, we've been equipped, we are appropriate, and we've been made beautiful. We can flourish with grace and peace. Maybe it's a season of never-ending laundry and dishes. Maybe it's a season of caring for a sick child or loved one. Maybe it's a season of professional limelight. Maybe it's a season of study and learning. Maybe it's a season of waiting (I prefer to call it character development.) It may not appear or feel very glamourous, and it may be hard to see past it, but if we live obediently in every moment, we'll shine. Better yet, He'll shine through us. That's what makes us beautiful!