Beauty and the Bible – Part 1

unnamedEarly on in parenting, it became clear that my daughter wanted feedback on her looks. Simply put, she wanted to be pretty. At age 2, she would pick out beads, hair bows, and fluffy-ruffly skirts, and then prance through the kitchen and ask, “Me pretty, Mommy?” As she has gotten older her tastes have improved and she can now put together a pretty awesome outfit and a very articulate sentence, “Do I look pretty, Mom?”

I pause before answering, hearing my own voice and insecurities in her question. What is the question behind the question? Is she really asking, “Do you like me? Will others accept me? Will I fit in?” I don’t know. She is only six. But I do know I don’t want to miss the opportunity to answer her with advice that I want to fill her mind when she is sixteen and asking the same question (and that I want to fill my mind when I ask the same questions still at 38).

How do we talk to our little girls (and boys) about beauty? Emily’s excellent blog post last week rightfully encouraged us to think hard about what we teach our kids about what’s valuable. She critiqued a popular blog post which had discouraged talking about physical beauty in favor of building up the importance of being smart. Emily argued that pushing us away from physical beauty only to aim for intellectual beauty, just exchanges one fleeting idol for another. I couldn’t agree more. And it’s worth stopping and thinking more carefully about beauty itself so that we cultivate the right persepctive and not make it an idol.

Beauty is a very good thing, but like any good thing, it can be a bad thing if used in the wrong way or with the wrong priority. So as we aim to point our children to a right understanding of beauty, what are some things we can do, think, or say?

Let’s look at a few things the Bible says about physical appearance and then see what we can take away.

1. Heart above outward beauty

Bible Verse: But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Take Away: The Lord looks at the heart when valuing a person. When Samuel is tasked with picking Israel’s next king, he has the older, stronger sons of Jesse in mind. The Lord instead has young, unimpressive (at the time) David in mind. Let’s learn from this and make sure that we aren’t incorrectly telling ourselves, or our kids, that appearance is what is most important. Questions to wrestle with:

  • Do you have friends that aren’t attractive by human standards?
  • Do you only gravitate towards people who dress or live like you?

2. Inner beauty is valued in God’s sight

Bible Verse: Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Take Away: For a letter written to Christians 2,000 years ago, this advice hits squarely home today. The temptation to get attention or self-worth through outward appearance was present even back in first century Asia Minor. Peter tells the early Christians to give more attention to their spirit/conduct than to their physical appearance.

I for sure want my daughter to keep braiding her hair. Yet, at the same time, I want to remind her that the way she treats people is more important than how well her hair is braided. One small way that I have tried to teach her (and remind myself of) this idea is simply to use the word ‘pretty’ very carefully. So when she walks in and asks me if she looks pretty, I reassure her that her hair and her outfit look nice, but I then prompt her with a simple question, “Remind me what makes you pretty?”

She answers with the simple phrase, “My heart.” Sometimes it just feels like we are going through some emotionless responsive reading, but I pray that isn’t true. Instead I want to remind her that true beauty comes from the inside. I want her to braid her hair well, and put together good matching outfits, but when her braid falls out and her leggings get a hole, I want her to know that none of that has done anything to mar her beauty.

3. Jesus commends actions as beautiful

Bible Verse: She has done a beautiful thing to me. (Mark 14:6)

Take Away: Jesus spoke these words after a woman poured perfume over him. Some questioned her “wasting” this perfume. Jesus rebukes them, teaching them that she rightfully had identified him, as the savior, as worthy of this perfume. He calls her actions beautiful.

Again, this simple statement by Jesus points to the fact that our true beauty comes from the way we act, the way we treat people, which flows from the condition of our heart. I have tried to be intentional with how I use not just the word pretty, but also the word “ugly.” Ugly is not a word for physical appearance. Instead it’s for describing selfish, mean-spirited behavior. I am comfortable saying, “Not sharing and only looking out for yourself is ugly behavior.” Trying to use the words pretty and ugly in contexts where we are discussing the condition of the heart is a small way to teach our children, and remind ourselves, that the inside is where true beauty is found.

These first three principles help us see that God treasures beauty, the beauty of a heart that is for him, expressed in how we honor him and others. Next time we’ll look at what priority to put on physical beauty and how Jesus models for us an approach.

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