Saturday, April 23, 2011

Inner and Outer Beauty -- Appreciating our Spiritual and Physical Blessings

In her book, "A Woman's Path to Inner Beauty," Ginger Garret tells of time when an older woman said to her, "How you catch a man is how you have to keep him." Garret drew from this the fact that if, as a single woman, she focused all of her attention on her outer beauty and drew a man to her solely through that, she would create in a man the unrealistic expectation of always looking beautiful and young. If she drew a man to her whose main concern was outer beauty, she could face unhappiness as outer beauty began to be affected by age. However, if she focused on inner beauty and drew a man to her on that basis, her marriage would only grow through the years as a woman who follows the Lord continues to grow in inner beauty. If she married a man whose primary concern is godliness, the marriage would be built on firmer ground.

If we are single, it is wise to pay attention to how we present our outer selves. Let's be honest. As women, are we drawn to choose a mate who is slovenly, negligent, prone to avoidable health problems by unhealthy habits, unkempt, and the like? Likewise, men, who are hard-wired to appreciate the beauty of a healthy and well-kept woman, are drawn to women who do keep their appearance neat. This is being good stewards of the body God has given to us, not being in the dumps because we cannot meet the unrealistic beauty standards of a materialistic culture.

In the same way, once we are married, it is not fair to our spouse to indulge in neglect -- to become unkempt or negligent in our appearance. We do invest in marital happiness by paying a little attention to our looks and health. This signals to our husbands that we do care about them. It is one way of showing love. Again, we are to be good stewards of the bodies God has given us, rather than to bemoan the extra challenges that come with aging.

I've learned the hard way that neglecting your health and beauty in the vital decades of your thirties and forties makes it all the harder to get back health and a neat appearance when you are in your fifties. Not only that, but the woman who sets herself up to enter her middle years and beyond with the best possible health will be more productive than someone, like myself, who is struggling with chronic health issues. In my case, there is nothing I could have done to stop the health issues from developing, but much that I could have done to work with my health to keep them from being as ravaging as they are. The good news is that it's never too late to start where you are and improve.

Having said all of that, I find Ms. Garret's premise to be absolutely true. If you build the early years of your marriage on superficial things, time will erode the connections you have unless you start where you are and build deeper connections. If, however, your marriage is based on eternal things, your marriage will only grow deeper and sweeter over time. I'm so thankful that my husband has been a good example in this. He sees beyond my surface appearance to my heart and my soul and my mind. The spiritual values we share grow deeper through the years.

The illustration above is a word cloud that I was playing around with listing buzz words from a few Bible verses, including Phil. 4:4-8. In this wonderful verse, we are presented with qualities that make good food for mediation. A mind that dwells on these things will emanate a loveliness that cannot be defined in purely physical terms.

Because our society exaggerates the natural attraction of physical beauty and places a level of importance on it that it simply cannot bear, we are all tempted at one stage or another of our lives to become insecure about outward looks. Keeping in mind that eternal, inner beauty is the only truly lasting beauty helps us to be secure. We can be secure when we are preteens and just learning how to live in maturing bodies. We can be secure when we are in the prime of our years. We can be secure when we start seeing time march across our faces and bodies, leaving its footprints. If we are secure inside, making our outsides as modestly lovely as we can becomes a more pleasurable process. We are not desperate to live up to some unattainable standard. We are simply caring for the wonderful bodies God has given to us to dwell in on this side of heaven.

When we are secure in heart, we can appreciate all of the wonderful things our bodies can do. Our hands, for example, can work and serve and love and comfort. Our eyes can see and notice and appreciate and move us to concern. Our ears can hear and love music and take in wise words and provide a way of caring to someone in need of being heard. Our mouths can speak words that encourage, enjoy foods, sing praises, and recite poetry. The list of good things our bodies can do is long and lovely.

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