February 13, 2011 / Praxis
An interview between TOJ Editor-in-Chief Chris Keller and the author of GENERATION EX-CHRISTIAN, Drew Dyck.
June 3, 2009
Not long after I got started, the doorbell rang. I peeked out the window to confirm that it wasn’t some time-stealing salesperson and saw a delivery guy in need of a signature. Opening the door, I greeted him with a smile. He looked at me and seemed thrown off a bit and then replied, “Oh, you’re home. I sure hope I didn’t wake you.”
Hmm—it didn’t take me that long to get to the door. Why does he think that he disturbed my sleep? It’s past 10:00 a.m. and he knows from past deliveries that we have school age kids.
On my way back to the computer, I glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I stopped. And I knew. My face, which is normally covered with beauty treatments and products, was completely bare. My imperfections were clearly visible. My eyes seemed smaller, my nose looked bigger, and my hair was nappier. I looked like a woman who was fresh out of bed, not fresh for the day. I then began obsessing over my lack of “natural” beauty.
What Is Beauty, Anyway?
Why did my reflection have such a negative effect on me? I wasn’t dirty or unkempt, just not made-up. I have some lines on my face and gray in my hair, but doesn’t the Bible say this is a sign of wisdom? When did the definition of beauty and wisdom change?
I have a love/hate relationship with beauty. It’s something I want and strive to attain, but it owns me. I work out to look fit. I spend money on products to keep my skin looking young. My hair—I don’t even remember its natural color, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it if I ever saw it again.
And it doesn’t stop with my personal appearance. I stress over the weeds in my yard (which then adds to the lines on my face). I purchase products to enhance the grass and import flowers from other regions of the country. I watch television shows that tell me how to make my house beautiful. Months later the “in” color palate has changed, and I am no longer content with the beauty of my house. Is a house a home if there is no peace?
The old saying is that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but if that is so, why do I feel so enslaved to it? Why has beauty become a destructive force in my life?
Perhaps the problem is our culture’s misconstrued definition of beauty. Dictionaries define beauty as something that brings great pleasure to the senses or blesses the mind. This definition of beauty is quite nice—this beauty can be found in basically anything. But why then can I see beauty on the TV but not in the mirror? Why is there beauty in someone else’s possessions but my possessions generally strike me as lacking in beauty?
Our neighbor has this shirt that he wears every spring, and all spring. I really do mean that he wears it every spring and all spring. Last spring he wore this particular shirt every day. It was as if this tattered shirt, so well-worn that it seemed about to dissolve, were his spring uniform.
Winter was long and wet this year. Spring seemed to be hiding. Then all of a sudden, the other day the temps were nice and warm. Out came Neighbor Ned (name changed to protect the guilty) wearing the same shirt with the same hat from last year. It was a wonderful moment for me because when I saw that shirt I had a peaceful feeling. It was as if God were sending me a message: spring has arrived. Somehow that ratty, stained shirt and hat had a new meaning to me.
Now, I don’t ever expect to see Neighbor Ned’s “uniform” on the runways in Paris. However, it provided an epiphany for me and helped me to better understand the definition of beauty. The shirt itself is old, but it is beautiful, as it brought pleasure to my hibernating soul. Being able to see beauty in this way was liberating.
I did an informal word search on the words “beauty” and “beautiful” in a Bible program. In my research, I noticed two things—with the exception of the books of Esther and Song of Solomon, these words were generally used to describe God or part of his creation and to warn us of the dangers of depending upon our own or man-made beauty.
God knew that our obsession for beauty would take our eyes off of him and what he has given us. We often want what the other person has instead of our own gifts. I see this almost daily with our two lab pups. I’ll give them each a chew stick, and they will eagerly sit down and chew away—until they see that the other puppy also has a chew stick. It never fails—the puppies go back and forth stealing each other’s stick, and in the process, one of the sticks gets misplaced, and then they battle over the remaining stick. It drives me crazy, but it’s a lot like human nature, in a dog sort of way.
God’s perfect garden was beautiful. It was void of destruction until sin entered in. Beauty’s original design was to bring pleasure to the mind and the senses. Instead, in today’s artificial world it brings anxiety and destruction. Many young women, and men, starve their bodies in order to become what our culture considers the perfect size. We spend too much time in the sun to be darker or too little to become lighter. And we thereby risk getting skin cancer or being depleted of vitamin D. We choose to work overtime in order to have the money to design and decorate the perfect house. And so we come home exhausted, with little time, energy, or love to give to our family and friends. This is not the way God meant it to be.
Not only does this pattern of life deplete us, but in many ways it causes us to harm the earth. For example, my family and I live in a high desert climate. I’m originally from the southeast where we had long spring rains and summer thunderstorms. In my eyes, beauty in a yard is a green lawn, bright flowers, verdant shrubs, and budding trees. When we first moved here, I found a lot of the area in the summer time to be, um . . . ugly. When we first moved into our home I spent lots of time, money, and water in an attempt to re-create my yard according to my previous understanding of beauty.
But this past year, God has opened my eyes to our area and the beauty he gave it. The kids get a kick out of seeing tumbleweeds blow across the street. The natural grass of the area has a new appeal. The lava rocks and boulders in the yards have a neat organic flair to them. It’s as if God has shown me of my need to redefine what I consider beautiful. I have become aware of the need to conserve the natural resources God has given me, and I’m able to enjoy the beauty of the area instead of artificially trying to reproduce my interpretation of beauty.
I guess you could say that my definition of beauty is evolving. I’m beginning to realize that perhaps it is our manipulation of God’s creation that causes it to lose its appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I may always wear make up and I may never again know the true color of my hair. But I now strive to avoid letting these concerns consume me. I now see that everyone and everything that God made has its own beauty and that if we look at creation through his eyes, even old shirts and tumbleweeds have the power to liberate.
Laurie D. Russell
Laurie D. Russell is Stewardship Coordinator for A Rocha USA in Boise, Idaho. She lives there with her husband, Mark, and their two wonderful children.