I slipped the forest green sweater over my head and sighed happy. It fit perfectly and I loved the color, even under the terrible lighting in the dressing room. Mentally I checked my way through the pros and cons. It was on the spendier side, and hand wash only, but this sweater would carry me through years of falls and winters. I needed it. It made me feel, briefly, content and beautiful.
I didn’t realize that I was falling for the lie again. My mind was too busy thinking of all the places I would wear my purchase. The sweater lasted maybe three wears before it was accidentally sucked into the vortex of my family's laundry pile. It came out the other side shriveled up, and small enough to fit my four-year-old-daughter. She loves wearing it, by the way. And I try not to twitch when she wipes her hands on it after lunch.
In my haste to feed a longing for satisfaction, I ignored my soul and overstuffed my flesh.
It didn't come as a sudden epiphany, that my soul was thin and needed plumping up. Rather, it was a slow revelation. Small moments of light shining on dark places of my heart. It came in moments of frustration, like when I pulled my shrunken sweater out of the dryer. Or in connecting the dots between my heightened pull towards comparison after thirty minutes of scrolling through different social media platforms. And it came while plucking seeds out of my sunflowers to save for the next spring.
Holding the sunflower seeds in the palm of my hand made me think about how we are called seeds, our earthly bodies are just the beginning. How much time and effort do we put into beautifying this outward shell, comparing ourselves to others, or trying to fit into a certain mold defined as beautiful? As I turned the seeds over I wondered if maybe our standard of beauty is as frivolous as if a sunflower seed was jealous of the smooth curve and unblemished outward shell of a pumpkin seed. And yet, once the sunflower is planted and awoken into its new life, it’s an explosion of beauty that no one would have guessed from just looking at its little, striped, wrinkly shell.
What I'm coming to realize is that we have been made to notice, partake and delight in beauty, because we are created in the image of God, and He is the author of all things beautiful. Depriving ourselves in a legalistic way of things fashionable, that catch our eye, or bring us delight is not the solution. It's learning to see the goodness in the fleeting pleasures of say a new pair of shoes, through thanksgiving. But it's also the ability to recognize the frustration when those things don't fulfill as an ache for Home and wholeness with Him who completely satisfies.
So yes, take care of your skin, save up for the dress. Enjoy. But know deep down in your roots it isn't the sum and total of the story. There's more, and it gets better. In this life, wrinkles will come, wool sweaters will shrink, and our favorite jeans will rip. Our hope and satisfaction can't be this small minded. We were made for holidays at the sea, not mud puddles as C.S. Lewis said, and "we are far too easily pleased." Bound up within the walls of our ever ageing bodies is a never dying soul.
Have you seen it? A woman comfortable in her own skin is a wondrous and beautiful thing to behold. As the outward shell begins to wear and thin in places, little cracks of the soul shine through, and a deep rooted hope in the eternal is perceptible. There is no cream or wardrobe that can simulate this beauty. "So we do not lose heart. Though our outward self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16
This renewal of the inward self, and gentle dichotomy of delighting in beauty and yet not letting the world’s standard of it define you, is a lifelong marathon of faithfulness. In my life, that faithfulness looks like making space to sit at the feet of Jesus, and study His word. When I find myself spiraling downward in discontent, regaining ground in thanksgiving. It's feasting on good books and filling the house with beautiful music, lingering my eyes on art or the faces of loved ones. And it's paying attention to the beauty of creation, whether it be sunrises and sunsets, or the first brave tips of tulips breaking through the thawing earth. These small acts are nourishment to the soul, and when combined together create their own song to combat the drumming of the false promise that always leaves us thirsty and dissatisfied.
"But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthly bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him." Philippians 3:21 (MSG)