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.


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