Friday, June 25, 2010

Five Ways to Create Lasting Inner Beauty

In my previous two posts, I talked about the futility of depending on physical perfection lasting forever. However, inner beauty really does add to physical beauty, and even an old woman with great inner beauty usually has an outward radiance to match it. There is something about inner beauty -- true inner beauty -- that often preserves the face and body and enhances outer beauty to a degree that might not be expected. I can think of godly senior citizens who are lovely!

Likewise, inner sin and distress mars our face and body and can often rob us of our beauty at an early age. Bitterness, worry, hedonism and over-indulgence in food or drink are just a few of the sins that write themselves across our faces and bodies.

Were it not true that inner beauty does enhance our physical beauty even into old age, it would still be worth pursuing because it pleases God. In fact, true inner beauty happens when we pursue it not out of selfishness, but because we do love God and want to please Him and we love the other people in our lives well enough to be good stewards of our appearance and health.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. 5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. I Peter 3

This is a quaint cliche, but there is a grain of truth to it: At twenty, you have the face that God gave you. At forty, you are developing your face to be what it will be. At sixty, you have the face you deserve.

Thank the Lord for grace and mercy!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

When beauty fades -- beauty without idolatry Part II

Yesterday, I mentioned reading two articles about personal style. While researching a totally different topic, I came across this article by Ellen Wurtzel entitled, "When Beauty Fades." In the article, 41-year-old Wurtzel writes of her attempts to reconcile herself to her fading beauty. She also is open about the fact that she indulged in many relationships with men, yet, so far, has failed to establish a lasting, committed relationship. Now, she feels that her days of choice are behind her.

This is her conclusion: But eventually, at some somber and sobering calendar date, most of us lose our looks and likewise one of our charms—and I will lose mine. At which time, for me at least, there won’t be much point to life anymore at all.

I don’t want to look back at what was, tell stories of once upon a long time ago, of what I used to do, of the men I once knew way back when, of 1,001 rapturous nights that were and are no more—I don’t want my life to be the trashy and tragic remains of a really great party, lipstick traces on a burned-out cigarette at the bottom of a near-empty champagne goblet. Sex and sexuality, at least for me, are not some segment of life; they are the force majeure, the flood and storm and act of God that overtakes the rest. Without that part of me, I’d rather be dead. And I know all I can do right now is hold on tight to the little bit of life that’s left, cling to the edge of the skyscraper I’m slipping off of, feel my fingers slowly giving way, knowing I’m going to free-fall to a sorrowful demise.

Maybe I would not have to hold on with such tough white knuckles if I’d done things right when I was still young.

My heart goes out to Ellen Wurtzel. As the author of Prozac Nation, she discussed her suffering caused by a form of depression that I assume is partly genetic in origin. Such depression is tough to cope with. Genetics aside, however, might her outlook brighten if she traded in the idols of beauty and sex in favor of finding peace in the arms of the true God?

Ellen is not alone in her struggle. At some point, we all look in the mirror and realize that we are, in terms of sheer physical allure, losing ground. It occurs to us that there is not enough botox in the world to halt the process of aging or, more importantly, to cancel our appointment with death. What's more, we sense, even if only dimly, that we will somehow have to give an accounting for how we have lived our life. We take stock ourselves and realize that we have often missed the mark of a life that is loving and true. We wish to have spent our quick trips around the sun on the things that really matter in the end. More than anything, we do not want to wind up with eternal regret.

How we deal with the realization of both our mortality and our fallibility depends on where we place our hope. Do we value youthful beauty for what it is, a treasure to be enjoyed within godly, protective boundaries? Are we willing to let youth pass when its time to move on to the next stages of life? Are we holding on to fleeting idols with tough white knuckles, as Ellen so eloquently put it, or do we eagerly press forward to take hold of that which is eternal? Do we understand what wonderful redemption Christ has brought through the cross?

Sex, beauty, food, nature, and all the good gifts of God were meant to be our servants, and not our masters. Sadly, we often confuse the gifts with the Giver, sometimes to the point of even refusing to believe that the Giver exists. Even those of us who do walk with our Lord sometimes are tempted to take our eyes off of Him for a moment. We are tempted to turn to the things of this world for comfort and direction. At some point, we have all mixed up our priorities and have valued the created over the Creator.

To do so is to invite peril. There are so many things in the world that promise truth and deliver falsehood, that start with pleasure and become a burden, and that pretend to give life but end in death. Sex and beauty are just two of the things in which we might place false confidence. Others are science, intellect, money, politics, food, saving the planet, our families, our homes, career success, being physically fit, any of the many "isms" such as feminism...You name it and souls can make an idol of it. The problem is that many of these things make wonderful servants, but all of them are terrible masters.

The root of all idolatry is in self, in the mistaken idea that we can create a god for ourselves according to our wishes or even to be our own god. The problem is that self is healthy only when rightly related to self's true Creator. Self, surrendered and disciplined, is a great gift. Self, when bowed down to and worshiped, becomes a monstrous ruler.

The irony is that unredeemed self always bows down to things of lesser place in the order of things, thus diminishing the very thing that self most loves -- which of course is self. If beauty and sex are our gods, for example, we have forgotten that we have souls of infinitely more value than our outward appearance. We do not know that we are created for a purpose that is grander and more satisfying than our fleeting pleasures. Sex and beauty within God's boundaries enrich us. When lifted up as idols, they cease to satisfy us and begin to control us.

This world and the things of it are destined to perish. The man or woman who puts false hope in the things of this world will perish along with it, but the man who does the will of God will live forever. John 3:15-26. Though our bodies are marvelous creations, they remind us of this truth. We all want to have the wisdom of fifty or sixty or seventy in a body that's twenty, but, instead, we must accept some wrinkles and some frailty along with lessons learned.

The good news is that it's never too late to let go of the tense, white-knuckled grip on whatever idols we have formed in life. God can free us from even the most tenacious idol, which is self. When we die to self and look up to worship Him in the beauty of his holiness, we find freedom and life. To worship Him elevates us.

No matter how we spent our pasts, we can come to God for a new birth. He has lifted up our eyes to a hope that does not fade with age or death.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. I Peter 1:18-19

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, I Peter 1:3-4

What greater news could there be?

I say this as much to myself as to anyone: Never spend your life on things that eternity can take away from you. Invest in the treasure that will last beyond wrinkles, beyond failing strength; beyond fading desire; even beyond death. Seek the Lord with all of your heart. He will never fail you. John 14:6 And, when it comes to beauty, go after the inward beauty that never, ever fades. I Peter 3.


When Beauty fades...Beauty without idolatry. (Not for young readers)

Part I

What woman doesn't enjoy tending to a neat and lovely appearance, creating a pretty haven around her, and enjoying the breathtaking beauties that God has painted into nature? Our creator has surrounded us with beauty in such quantities we can scarcely take it all in: sunrises and sunsets, oceans, beaches, mountains, birds, flowers, fruit, smiles, children, the love between a man and wife, the wonders of God's word; hands that evidence a lifetime of productive work....the list goes on endlessly. And, that is only in our temporal world. We cannot fathom the beauties that await the faithful in heaven.

I occasionally like to read articles about style, fashion, decorating, crafts, and cooking -- things that will help me to put loveliness and love into the things that I do. (Or, at least these things would if I always put the good advice into practice!) Obviously, I blog about those things as well, for taking care of our and our families' health, appearance, and clothing is part of keeping a home.

Recently, however, I read excerpts from two writings about finding your own personal style that left me feeling cold. I wasn't sure why at first. Then, I realized that the intent of these writings went beyond fashion help. The authors presented style as something by which you can create your entire world as you wish it to be, if only you have enough self-understanding. They intimated that style was the heart of everything we do and the reason for doing it. They also suggested that our self as expressed by our style is our guide to every area of life, including relationships.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that if you make style your platform on which to stand in life, the ever-shifting planks will eventually collapse and you will fall. Learning and expressing our style is fine as far as it goes. However, if we ask style to be more than it is -- if we ask it to be the standard by which we live our lives and the idol for which we live -- it will crumple under the weight of so much false hope. Style means nothing in the face of tragedy and death, and it adds nothing of substance to the greatest of our joys. We do best to let it be what it is -- the glitter, the wrapping paper, and the icing of life.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fashion: What he thinks; what she thinks...It may be two different things

We either dress and groom ourselves as if we care about others, or we don't, and whether we do or not sends a message to the people in our lives. We can also become way too absorbed with how we look, or we can go to the opposite extreme and become sloppy, or we can find a healthy balance between presenting ourselves pleasantly and yet not putting undue emphasis on our looks. Again, which of these choices we make communicates to others where they fit in our priorities.

As women, we dress the way we do for many reasons. We may choose comfort. We may dress appropriately for a career. We may select clothes that are suitable for an occasion. We may dress in a way that our children can be proud of. We may have fun with fashion and dress in a way that makes us feel happy and/or pretty. If we love God, we place first emphasis on dressing according to His standards.

Let's be honest, though. At least part of the way we dress and groom ourselves has to do with the opposite sex. We do want to be pleasing to our spouse (or a potential one). Lest we think that is sexist, don't we also enjoy it when the men in our lives present themselves in a way that is attractive to us?

The funny thing is that men and women often see women's clothing in different ways. Women tend to take their cues from what is currently in fashion and what other women are wearing. Yet, what is in fashion for women doesn't always communicate attractiveness to men.

I know this after being married for nearly 30 years and having had some discussions on the subject. Yet, I've been amused and even a little surprised lately after reading several current lists of men's dislikes and likes.

Keep in mind that your man is an individual, and if you want to know which items of clothing that you wear appeal to him, you'll have to communicate with him. Also, keep in mind that certain things are generational, and younger men and older men do not always think the same way about certain fashions. Finally, keep in mind that both your and your spouse's tastes will change through the years. (That gives rise to a side thought: Be wary -- very wary -- of following a fashion trend that requires a permanent alteration to your body. You will live to regret it!)

Though men are individuals, here are some items that have been cropping up in general lists of women's fashions that men don't like. These lists are based on interviews with young and youngish men.

1) Crocs and Uggs. I think most of us could have figured out that these are not the most attractive or feminine foot gear. Perhaps, they can serve a utilitarian function now and again, but we probably should save the crocs for gardening or working in a hospital and the Uggs for the days when we are coming down with the flu and don't care what we look like.
2) Designer shoes. On the other hand, while men do appreciate a feminine shoe, they are unlikely to know if you are wearing Manolo Blahniks or not. They simply don't see what the designer fuss is all about. Enjoy wearing lovely shoes, but save your pennies and skip the exclusive labels. Just buy ones that are cute and well-made and that fit in your budget.
3) The ballet flat. I love ballet flats and don't intend on giving them up. However, we should be aware that to some men, these shoes look as if we just threw them on without giving any thought to how they look.
4) Huge sunglasses. I didn't see this one coming, though I should have. We all feel glamorous in the right pair of sunglasses. The problem is that some recent fashion cycles have tended toward the over-sized look. Yet many men are uncomfortable when they cannot see your face or expression because they are covered by large, dark shades. We can still enjoy great sunglasses. We just need to make sure that they fit our faces correctly and that we take them off once in a while so that our men can see the lovely smile in our eyes.
5) Heavy makeup, "costumey" makeup, overdone makeup. This is no surprise. We have long known that many, if not most, men prefer a more natural makeup look. A little makeup can go a long way to make our faces look more radiant; just be sure that you wear colod ors that are right for you and apply them with a light hand. Note that some men specifically singleut red lipstick as a turn-off, particularly if the woman does not have the coloring to carry it off well. Others also mentioned disliking purple shades of lipstick.
6) Some lists include capris as a style that men dislike. I personally think that this might be because capris have become associated with women who are middle-aged and older, as we post-thirty-fives tend to find capris an easy style to wear. Also, some capri looks are both sloppy and dowdy, not to mention the fact that some capri lengths are flattering to the leg and some are not. However, there's no doubt that a sharp pair of capris can be a great summer staple. Keep them neat and crisp and pair them with great tops and accessories so that you don't look outdated in them. Also, be sure the length of the capris suits your leg. Men also mentioned a dislike of the very long shorts that are so popular right now. These, like capris, are flattering to some women and not to others.
7) Fashions that are too overtly sexy. Of course, we know that men who are trying to stay pure according to God's standards appreciate it when women attend to modesty. However, it may surprise you to know that I found this on a list of men who are not necessarily trying to remain pure in their relationships with women. Some of the reasons men gave for their dislike of things that are too revealing should give us some insight into why modesty is so important: 1) Showing too much takes away any mystery about the woman and dampens any interest in pursuing a relationship with her. 2) It takes attention off the woman as a person and puts the attention solely on her body parts. 3) It takes away from that classy quality that so many men admire. 4) It makes a woman appear as if she's insecure and trying too hard.
8) Trying too hard to emulate a celebrity, a fashion trend, or to impress other women that you are a fashionista. It's fine to take fashion inspiration from these things. Men do appreciate it when we don't look too old-fashioned, dowdy, or out of touch. However, they don't feel comfortable if we turn ourselves into "fashion clones", either.
9) Menswear items used as women's wear. That's not hard to understand, is it?
10) Neon colors.
11) Here's one that surprised me: Fringe on clothing and accessories.
12) Here's the one that surprised me the most: pink. Many men do not like the color pink. As this is both my favorite color and the color that is most flattering to me, that causes me to sigh. My husband is fine with pink, however, so it won't be disappearing from my wardrobe.

As I said in the beginning, clothing serves many purposes, not the least of which is to wear something that we personally enjoy. The goal of this article is not to encourage women to dress solely for what men think. However, if we do care about our spouses, we will want to give great consideration to presenting ourselves in a manner that conveys how much we care about them. We will want to dress in manner that they find to be pleasant and attractive manner. It's only considerate to learn something about our husbands' taste in clothing. This will not only help us when we plan our wardrobes, but will also deepen our understanding of how our mates thinks.