A little girl walks through the middle of the mall holding her aunt’s hand. Two women gawk at her, first in small glances and short whispers before they halt the maneuvering of shopping bags to steady their gaze. She turns abruptly, releasing her aunt’s hold. She looks both women squarely in the eyes and shouts emphatically, “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to stare!”
As someone who has overcome nearly 40 procedures in twenty-seven years for a rare birth defect called Artereovenous Malformation, this is just one example of how challenging it has been to find my place in a society where beauty is so closely connected to worth, particularly for women. Among other complications, during puberty, the abnormally connected arteries and veins throughout the inside of my right jaw, tongue, and chin caused my face to grow and become distorted. I have had to redefine what the word “beauty” means to me in order to increasingly see myself as God sees me and to demand to be valued for who I truly am (the beloved daughter of a King).
I’d like to examine a commonly referenced scriptural example that has grounded me in developing a healthier, more God-centered view of beauty in order to uncover some possibly hidden gems.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)
The verse above is within a passage about the prophet Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem to anoint the next King of Israel after God had rejected Saul for his disobedience (among other character flaws, 1 Sam 16:1). Samuel obeyed God and went to meet the group of sons from whom God would be choosing. Despite the fact that Samuel was a respected messenger of God and the fact that the last King had turned completely wicked (and was now trying to kill him!), Samuel’s first instinct was still to be pulled toward the person whose appearance most fit the idea of a King he already had in his head. His actions allow us some insight into an attitude even the most well-meaning can foster when they do not few others through spiritual lens. Here are a few takeaways:
Accept the futile superficiality of the human mind and remember even you or I can be guilty if we don’t make a conscience effort to see in others what God sees.
Remember that God will never allow anyone else’s concept of you to define what you will be able to be or do for his glory.
Remember that what makes us attractive to God, and thus what is most beautiful about us, will always be our hearts so this “feature” deserves the most grooming.
Now, back to God setting Samuel straight about his fleshly perspective on looks. Even though our key verse is often quoted, some may not realize God was actually giving Samuel what I like to call a “light read” or reprimand. God was essentially correcting Samuel’s way of thinking and redirecting him to an improved way of understanding appearance, more nuance, more spiritual, more productive.
After seeing each son Jesse presented, Samuel questioned Jesse about any other sons he may have. Jesse finally thought to drag his youngest son David in from tending the sheep. David was probably sweaty, dusty, and smelling like “outside.” Yet, the Bible says, David was “glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features” (1 Sam. 16:12). David did not fit the stereotypical appearance of one fit for royalty. Yet, in his own way, David was indeed attractive. This should encourage us as we develop our sense of what beauty is really all about.
True beauty is in the eye of no greater beholder than God.
Your outward beauty can only hide inner “ugly” for so long, but inward beauty, when given the chance to flourish, will always show itself outwardly.
Some may never be able to recognize your brand of beautiful (or the calling God has on your life), but those fashioning themselves in the image of God will, even if it takes time.
Considering what we know about God’s view of beauty as based on the heart, and God’s revelation that David had a heart like his (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22), we can reasonably conclude that, while his brothers may have fit some image of attractiveness, David’s beauty came from his resemblance to God himself.
So, how do we start to make practical application that can improve our beauty from the inside in a way that becomes noticeable and also nourishes the beauty in others? Let’s go back to David. He had some key qualities that allowed his character to shine through.
Unashamed: David’s own brother called him “conceited” and said his heart was “wicked” when he came forward to stand up against the giant, Goliath. But every obstacle David had already faced, every scar he had from every lion and tiger (maybe even bear) he had to kill as the shepherd of his beloved sheep, made him unable to yield to the perception others had of him.
Unreasonably confident: David was not the most experienced warrior when he first started on the path God had for him. But David knew that as flawed as he was, he served a perfect God who had created him with a plan in mind (Psalms 139:13). His confidence came from serving a God whose competence covered, fortified and stayed him. He was valuable and beautiful simply because God said he was.
Unusually forgiving: At one point, David’s own son Absalom tried to kill him leading to David fleeing in apparent shame. Yet, David proudly proclaims, “But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head (Psalms 3: 3).” Although some hated him and hated on him, David made a conscious effort to think and operate on a spiritual level (trusting, obedient, patient, etc.) allowing that hate to roll right off his back.
If we prayerfully pursue a heart like David – courageous, sure, and modeled after God – our concept of beauty will continue to evolve. As crazy at it may be, I used to pray for God to give me a “normal” face. It took me years to realize how shortsighted I was. I know I’m not the only person who has been driven to this sort of narrow-mindedness. I used to hide behind my deformations – with make up, long hair thrown awkwardly over the right side of my face, and other tricks I relied on over the years. But not only was this approach exhausting, it was simply me underestimating who I am in Christ. Maybe you can relate.
To every young woman with acne, with stretch marks, with scars. If your eyes are too small, if your thighs are too big, if your teeth are crooked, if your hair is damaged … No matter your physical “flaws” or human weaknesses, remember you are made in the image of God himself. I heard an old saying once, “God don’t like ugly, and he’s not too fond of pretty.” It’s true. We are so much more than the superficial. Be unashamed, unreasonably confident and unusually forgiving. With hearts like God’s, we are, and always will be, beautiful!