Beauty. Just one simple word that affects every day of my life and the lives of all women I know (and if they say otherwise, they’re either lying or in denial).
Why are we so affected by it? There is a reason, and it began a long time ago. The desire for it surfaces on a daily basis…for me, in the way I dress, vocalists I like, how I want to decorate my house, why I’ve taken so many dang photos of flowers like those scattered throughout this blog post, and even why I just had to have a $2.99 Jade plant named Audrey to brighten up my desk.
In these two chapters, the insights kept coming and it’s taken me quite awhile to process it all. So forgive me, please, for taking so long. Since I read them, there isn’t a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about who I am as a woman and how I want to become a more joyous, purposeful one.
First of all, I was reminded that woman was not an afterthought, and quite contrary to popular church teaching, she was not simply created to “help” man. Woman was the finishing touch, the crowning touch of Creation. There is something woman’s presence accomplishes that could not be accomplished by man alone.
There’s a reason God made us this way. As women, we are basically God’s message to the world in feminine form, communicating characteristics of God like His vulnerability, tenderness, mercy, and devotion. Fierce devotion. We communicate an entirely different aspect of the Creator than man does.
I say that, and I feel a little stirring inside. A little bit of extra confidence.
These last few weeks, I’ve evaluated where I am and what I desire. Because whether it’s a new paint color on the walls, a flowy white skirt, or the Blue Ridge Mountains, beauty is something I know I desire to be surrounded by on a daily basis. And if I can't express myself this way, I start to feel really "off."
Beauty was meant to show us something about God and therefore ourselves. In Chapter 2, Stasi asserts that God is relational to His core, and He has a heart for romance (p. 26). I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to think of God this way sometimes. I see Him more as my Father than someone who wants to go on adventures with me, someone who romances me. Yet I know He put things in this world like flowers and mountains and oceans because He could, just for me to enjoy. So isn’t beauty quite important to Him?
“Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Stop for a moment and let that sink in. We’re so used to evaluating everything (and everyone) by their usefulness that this thought will take a minute or two to begin to dawn on us. Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Which is to say, beauty is in and of itself a great and glorious good, something we need in large and daily doses.” (p. 34).
Dangling my legs on the edge of the Grand Canyon or riding along the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, I got this. Some of my favorite places of natural beauty are those of both adventure and rest. What I didn’t realize is that I don’t have to be in the middle of the mountains or at the beach to have a part of God’s beauty, or to feel beautiful.
In Genesis 2:18, when God creates Eve, the phrase used is "ezer kenegdo" (p 31). After I found this out, I pondered it for days! The phrase "ezer" is used 20 other times in the Old Testament, all referring to God in a lifesaving capacity. So the only other time it's used to describe someone besides God, it's describing woman in relation to man.
So “ezer” means “lifesaving,” and "kenegdo" means "alongside” or “counterpart." That means we are literally man's lifesaving counterpart. It is a noble calling. And knowing that changes a lot of things. It gives me confidence. It also encourages me to really be who I am meant to be, because it doesn't only affect ME when I'm not doing so. It affects others and their own beauty. And it affects man and his masculinity.
I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I always pictured Eve at that fated moment with the serpent, standing by the fruit tree, with Adam over in some other area of the Garden doing his thing. But I learned that the original text says that Adam was literally standing there beside Eve "elbow to elbow" (p. 48), yet saying nothing! Completely silent, he stood there while Eve was tempted, and they both succumbed to it. At that moment, Eve controls, man is passive, and they both think they know better than God. And so it goes every day for the rest of our time on this earth. We fall. We sin. And our specific roles are not often clearly defined or celebrated.
Sometimes this definition is extremely clear...like when the TV is on :) My husband's current favorite show is "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel. It's the story of this guy, Mike Rowe, who goes across the country interviewing and participating with people whose daily jobs are really filthy dirty - like a cement truck chipper, compost maker, or termite killer. Ladies, watch out. I’ve seen enough slime, sludge, and poo on this show to last me for the rest of my life! But there’s something really attractive about the fact that it’s his favorite show, ya know?
"Beauty is the essence of a woman. We want to be perfectly clear that we mean both a physical beauty and a soulful/spiritual beauty. The one depends upon and flowers out of the other. Yes, the world cheapens and prostitutes beauty, making it all about a perfect figure few women can attain. But Christians minimize it too, or overspiritualize it, making it all about 'character.'" (p. 36)
Could that be more true? Why is beauty either stifled, or abused? Honestly, I’ve spent much of my life conflicted by the idea of beauty. Either abusing it or just blowing it off altogether, I’ve gone both extremes. And this just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I’m about to be 30, and I’m ready to change. I want to be free to embrace it, knowing that it’s OK to want it without being vain! It’s OK to admire it and express it… God’s way.
It’s so rare to find it being expressed, well,…beautifully. I can’t even stand in line at CVS to buy a pack of gum without being bombarded by images of emaciated celebrities…who’s lost their baby belly and who has cellulite, who’s on the newest miracle diet. Beauty tainted.
But then I see the stark contrast when I encounter a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. A woman who knows her calling and lives by it. A mother spoke at one of my recent Bible studies about parenting, and she was absolutely radiant, with love and purpose pouring out of every word. She had smile lines all around her eyes and was barely wearing any makeup. And I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
I also think about the beautiful ladies I met in India. Their faces were weathered, worn. They couldn’t speak a lick of English but I could see their fierce strong femininity in their eyes and their intense grasp of my hand.
Finally, the part of chapter 3 that absolutely disarmed me was the quote: “Beauty says ‘All shall be well.’” (p. 38) “This is what it’s like to be with a woman at rest, a woman comfortable in her feminine beauty. She is enjoyable to be with. She is lovely. In her presence your heart stops holding its breath. You relax and believe once again that all will be well. And this is also why a woman who is striving is so disturbing, for a woman who is not at rest in her heart says to the world, ‘All is not well. Things are not going to turn out all right.’”
How desperately I want to be a woman who creates an environment of peace. After all, what does it say about the God I follow when I am anxious and doubting and harried all the time?
My husband reminded me last night that it’s impossible to worry and have peace at the same time. One of the ways I listen to lies is by believing that I have no beauty to offer, either physically or relationally. I start to spiral in a sea of negative thoughts rather than reminding myself that I do possess beauty and have much to offer. I have purpose and things are going to be OK. As it says in chapter two, there are "unique essential, strong, and breathtaking ways that women bear the image of God."
Today, I'm going to concentrate on how I bear His image in a unique way. I'm going to look forward to taking modern dance and the fun photo shoot I'm doing tonight with my photographer friend. I'm going to take breaks from work and go outside to look at my flowers. I'm going to be excited about today and hopeful about the future, knowing, really knowing...
"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
~ St. Julian of Norwich
~ St. Julian of Norwich
View Chapter 1 thoughts here.
All excerpts from Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul by John & Stasi Eldredge.