This week was our last meeting for the summer Bible study in the book of Esther. I think this is the first Bible study with a group of women that I have actually finished. I did a cover to cover Bible class with Village Schools of the Bible when my friend Pastor Max Frazier taught it in the city where I live. That wasn’t a study, though. That was a school format–Max was teacher and we were students learning from his wisdom and years of his own Bible study. I’ve attempted other Bible studies with women, but for whatever reason, they just didn’t work out for me. This one, though, I am already sad that it is over. One theme discussed in the book of Esther was beauty. Beauty in Biblical times was quite opposite of what modern day America considers beauty.
Beauty, in Esther’s day, was something you did, not something you possessed. When the king gathered all the girls of the kingdom in order to find a new queen, each girl was given a year of beauty treatments. They were also given choice food because a woman who was thin was not considered beautiful. That is a huge contrast to how beauty is portrayed in our days. As someone who is probably one of the most insecure people on the face of the earth, much of what was contained in this study struck a painful nerve. More times than I can count I was told I was ugly, that I didn’t measure up to someone’s standards, and that I would probably never find someone who would marry me. Words spoken, especially at impressionable ages, sink deep into the heart of a person and shape their ideas about themselves. The old cliché, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a lie.
Where is all this going?
Upon finishing the last video from Beth Moore, the five women present began to discuss some of what was said. Our conversation went in the direction of beauty and how it is focused on in today’s world. All of us have daughters and we discussed what our daughters’ views of beauty might be. In the early years, if you ask a child who he or she thinks is beautiful, most will say mommy or grandma or someone else that they feel close to. At some point in the beginning of the teenage years, that answer would most likely change. Why? Girls are under so much pressure to look a certain way. It seems the age of wearing makeup has gotten much earlier than when I was a young girl. Girls as young as eleven or twelve are coloring their hair, perhaps because someone made a comment about their hair and in desperation a girl feels the need to change what someone else perceived as a flaw. For many, these ideas don’t seem to go away after high school. Commercials tell us that we deserve to be happy and we won’t be happy unless we weigh a certain amount or cover the grey in our hair or get rid of the wrinkles on our face. We see celebrities on television who spend enormous amounts of money in order to keep from looking old. We desperately try to cover up the fact that we are getting old. It is inevitable of course–everyone ages.
Here’s the interesting thing, though.
One woman in our group said when she thinks of beauty, she thinks of a very old lady from her hometown. She is ninety-five years old and legally blind. She has lost a husband and a son, yet, when she talks to you, she radiates beauty and joy. Her faith is solid and her joy shows in everything she does and says. It does seem as we get older, for many, our idea of beauty changes. No longer do we feel the most beautiful person on earth is someone famous who has spent the money needed to keep her age from showing. For many, instead, we see beauty as something much more than outward appearance. God tells us that man looks at the outward appearance but He looks at the heart. God doesn’t care if a person has the perfect hair and a wrinkle free face and fits into the same size jeans as their teenage daughter. God cares about what is on the inside. The ninety-five year old lady, one that many would look on and dismiss as not needed, is someone beautiful to my friend and to God. Her beauty comes from what is inside. Time has taken her smooth complexion, her perfectly colored hair and her youthful figure, but time cannot take away her joy, her love for others and her faith.
On the drive home that day, I thought hard about the conversation that took place. I’ve never considered myself beautiful. The mirror has never been my best friend. Makeup didn’t really change much and there is grey in my hair now even though on the inside I don’t always feel like I should be this old. It seems like just last week I was running up and down a soccer field. Now, because of age and a sometimes debilitating disease, my days of running with a soccer ball are done. I can’t get back my youth no matter how hard I try. I can color my hair to hide the grey and, if I had tons of money, I could get plastic surgery and injections to improve the way I look. But in the end, God doesn’t look at those things. God looks at my heart. And, I know my heart is not any more beautiful than my outside appearance. How I long to be a person who has the faith to encourage others. How I long to be a person of joy. I so want to be remembered by others as a beautiful woman because of the presence of God in her life. I know I am not anywhere near close to that right now.
God promised, though, to complete the work that He began. I am a work in progress. It may be a slower process than most, but it is a process God promised not to abandon.