“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Psalm. 119:37
I just spent fifteen minutes on a website where I get the vast majority of my news.
I trust it the most, where news outlets are concerned. If I want to know the latest, I find it there: news. Politics. Weather. Health. Technology. When I’m done with my morning visit to “thisparticularsite.com“, I should be up to date on the news.
Armed with an umbrella or sunglasses. Aware of the nutritional dangers lurking in my lunch box, and up to date on the newest cell phone or laptop. A well-rounded, modern woman.
Actually, this morning I was distracted by a teaser title in the sidebar of the website. It was “must-see” stuff, believe me. So I ignored the international crises and indulged in a 90-frame smug-fest: “Stars Without Makeup”. The longer I “browsed”, the lovelier I felt. It turns out that up close and personal, caught off-guard by paparazzi, the starlets that light up the big screen (and the smaller ones in our living rooms) are pretty average-looking. Granted, they have more time (and flexibility!) for yoga than I have, but unless they go for “surgical enhancement”, time deals them the same wear and tear, the same susceptibility to gravity, that it deals to the rest of us. Their followers run the gamut from admirers who idolize their drop-dead beauty, to those who can’t wait to catch them without the makeup and the hair extensions and the spandex shapers. And then there’s everyone in between.
I had to sit back and ask myself, at the end of the “Stars Without Makeup” slide show, why I felt a flicker (okay, a comfortable campfire) of smug satisfaction at seeing all those women au natural. “They’re not so perfect,” I was thinking, noting their bad hair and crow’s feet. In my spirit I was reminded immediately that, as women, we are dangerously prone to being competitive. Unwilling to be seen as less smart, less organized, less shapely, less creative – well, less anything – than the women around us. I realized that I had allowed my standards to be influenced in the most
superficial areas to the point where they became added, daily stresses in my life.
It really starts in our childhoods, doesn’t it? By the time we entered kindergarten, we’d picked out the little girls who we wanted to be like, based on their pretty dresses, or their pretty moms, or their cool toys. Even as small children, we began to lose sight of our specialness, our uniqueness, our value to others. With the passing of time, our self-judging became more complex, more harsh, but still mostly based on how we (or our parents, or our friends) felt we stacked up against other girls our age. Grades. Achievements. Talents. Popularity. Athletics. And, of course, appearance.
I was the proverbial little fat girl. If I wanted the beautiful dress in the Sears catalog, it had to be ordered in a size with a “1/2” after it. I was picked last for the relay races, but first for the tug-of-war. I laughed when the kids teased me, but I cried when I got to my room. My sister Debi was kind to me, but she couldn’t understand that I was measuring myself against all the other little girls in the world and declared myself fallen short. I was determined to fight for my place, and that determination just stuck.
In high school, and on into my job, my marriage and motherhood, I continued the fight to measure up to others: to meet expectations which had little to do with what God expected of me. I didn’t know Him yet, not in a personal way, and so His opinion was not a motivator for me. I wanted to be the best in all my school pursuits, everyone’s friend, the most involved mom, the best bank teller, the best wife. Even after I met Christ, in my spiritual immaturity I sought to be the best preschool teacher, the best Sunday School social organizer, the best participant in Bible discussions.
In every instance, I found out that there was someone who was better than me. I didn’t care to know that, until God had a talk with me and (finally) I listened as He told me that His standard is the One that matters, the one that should frame my life in every area . It’s been a hard lesson for me to grasp completely. Clearly, I haven’t mastered it yet, considering the perverse satisfaction I got when I looked at all those bare-faced starlets with their dark roots showing. When I submit to God’s standards, and I operate from them, I have even lost “friends” who found it uncomfortable to be my friends any longer. The idea that I would find their standards less important than God’s was too insulting for them to accept. The sorrow of losing a friend is tempered, though, by God’s pleasure in my obedience (Prov. 31:30). Even as I take consolation in His grace, I pray for those departed friends to someday own It too.
I’m comforted in the knowledge that Jesus Himself understands the frustration of unrealistic and misguided expectations (Hebrews 4:15). Two thousand years ago, the Hebrew people were watching and waiting for their Messiah, the promised King who would lift them out of their bondage and persecution. When He came, He was laid in a splintered trough, not a silk-draped cradle. He wasn’t raised in a gilded palace, but in a carpenter’s house with a dirt floor. His calloused hands wrapped around a hammer, not a scepter. And from His lips came eternal truths that cut to the core and exposed the sinful hearts of every man. Not exactly the King they had expected. Not exactly the reception He deserved. They had expectations based on their own standards, not God’s. And therein always, always lies the problem.
I am most at peace with myself when I am resting in the knowledge that God’s standard, although unattainable by imperfect me, is the only One He holds me responsible for. His standards are simple: conduct myself as Jesus would. It’s a different kind of beauty, a different kind of intelligence, a quest for a different perfection. The world doesn’t necessarily care for God’s standards, but that is where the peace is. Only in the shadow of the Father can we find, and gather up, the strength that we need to withstand the tremendous pressure of the world’s (and our own) expectations of how we are to look, act and live. What a relief to have unlimited access to strength like that! Because I am, after all, His favorite daughter (and so are you...and you...and you...)
In my Father’s eyes, I, too, am a “star without makeup”…but in a good way.