This article is the second of a 2-part series on beauty, originally posted at Sturdy Answers(check out part 1 here).
I have often struggled with feeling like my body is my enemy.
My college track career was riddled with inconvenient injuries that interfered with my athletic ambitions. My post-college body rarely looked as lean and sleek as I wanted it to. And, as I wrote last month, I spent much of early adulthood lamenting the ugliness in my soul as much as, if not more than, I lamented the inadequacy of my body. Then, after years of trying to make my body and soul beautiful, I got sick, and was bedridden for the better part of two years. It was during those years of suffering that the Holy Sprit changed the way I understood beauty.
When I was sickest, I’d spend every day in the Gospels, reading and re-reading the stories of Jesus healing the lame and the sick.
“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus tells him when he sees him.
The teachers of the law are appalled. Who is Jesus to forgive what only God can forgive?
And Jesus, knowing what they are thinking, says, “’Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’”
And the man gets up, picks up his mat, and walks.
Jesus proves the sufficiency of his power to make the man’s soul beautiful by demonstrating his power to restore the man’s body.
Grace is what makes us beautiful; and, as I discovered in Matthew 18, humility, or a right understanding of who we are in relation to God, is what opens us to grace.
Last month I shared my realization that we cannot make ourselves humble — only God can clothe us in humility. So how do we open ourselves to the power of the Spirit of God, who can make us humble and grow us in grace and beauty? How do we let him teach us to see ourselves the way he does?
Throughout my illness, I discovered several practices, in addition to reading and meditating on God’s Word, which have helped me to grow in humility, grace, and ultimately beauty. Today I’ll share seven of them with you.
1. Pray honestly; Invite the Holy Spirit’spower into your weakness.
When I was sickest, I’d often lie in bed weeping and talking to Jesus. In the early stages of my illness I’d ask Jesus to come and be with me. But with time, my prayers became more raw and honest.
I’d tell him I hated lying in bed. I’d tell him that, on top of feeling angry and depressed about my illness, I was insecure about my flabby triceps and pants that were too tight. I’d tell him I was anxious about the way I’d recently hurt my loved one’s feelings. I’d tell him I felt utterly unlovable.
And then I’d ask him: “Please come into this place with me, Jesus, and give me humility so that I embrace your Truth, rather than my feelings of inadequacy and failure. Help me to walk in obedience to you, in your power.”
Sometimes, though, I didn’t care to have the Spirit of God change me, so I’d pray, “I feel resistant to the work of your Spirit because I feel angry. Come into this, Jesus, and change me.”
This daily practice of praying honestly can help us open and reorient our hearts. Instead of fixating on our inadequacy and trying to make ourselves beautiful in our own power, we turn again and again to the power of God.
This turns into praying without ceasing.
And prayer makes us humble because it reminds us of our utter dependence on God to do for us what we cannot for ourselves.
3. Notice the God-given beauty in your inner person.
My sister has an extraordinary ability to express herself with wildly creative and poetic imagery. One of my friends can add up a list of long figures in his head, and another can walk into a room and envision how it could be decorated.
When my friends’ minds conjure up creativity and quick calculating, I hope they notice the ways God wired their minds so beautifully.
What are you naturally good at? Can you nurse people in a way that makes them feel cared for? Can you build new things and fix old things?
Begin to observe yourself, asking God to help you notice the goodness and beauty he has put in your soul. You will begin to see yourself the way God does.
4. Notice the God-given beauty in your body.
When you’re tempted to think of the things you could be, should be, aren’t, and don’t have, notice how your body opens you up to pleasure and grace.
One afternoon, when I still was quite sick, I managed to crawl out of bed long enough to pick an orange from our tree. As I walked, I noticed how my feet carried me across the grass, and my skin soaked up the sun’s warmth. I noticed how my nimble fingers peeled the orange’s fleshy skin, and my nose inhaled the sharp smell of citrus. I noticed how my tongue tasted the burst of sweet orange juice in my mouth, and my chin felt the cool dribble of runaway juice.
The joy in this woman’s soul has etched beauty across her face
Our bodies, even when they are weak and disfigured, enable us to experience the world’s goodness and beauty. If only we would notice.
Miraculously, our bodies can also act as a canvas displaying the beauty God is growing in our souls. Do your eyes reveal joy? Do your dimples convey mirth? Are you inclined to use your vocal cords to express praise to our Creator? Notice how your body reflects your soul’s beauty.
5. Practice gratitude.
Ingratitude fosters pride. We see this in the Garden of Eden: “I could have a better life than the one I live,” thought ungrateful Eve.
And within minutes she was acting as if she knew better than God — in prideful rebellion.
Gratitude is an antidote to pride and the poison of idolatry — of valuing culture’s definition of beauty over God’s.
Practicing gratitude for the goodness in our bodies and souls reminds us we are indebted to God. It reminds us of our utter dependence on him for all good things. It helps us to have a right understanding of who we are in relation to God.
Gratitude fosters humility; humility opens us to grace; and grace makes us beautiful.
When I was in fifth grade a friend looked me in the eyes while we chatted in the church bathroom. “You are ugly,” she said. Her words pierced deep, and sent the poison of self-doubt and self-deprecation coursing through me.
In subsequent years other people occasionally echoed my fifth grade friend. These friends acted as distorted mirrors, like the mirrors in carnival funhouses. They convinced me I was strange and unlovely. I became ashamed of my imperfections and idiosyncrasies, and as I entered adulthood, my self-talk about my body and soul began to mimic the talk of these unkind people.
But there have been other people who have held up mirrors — mirrors that reflect back to me the ways my body and soul uniquely reflect our Creator. These friends have identified my God-given beauty, and have celebrated the gracious work of God in me.