It happened again when I opened Instagram a couple of days ago. Yet another platformed Christian woman was telling the rest of us off for not looking polished – we don’t have to be homely to be holy! Here was someone boldly declaring to me that I should imitate her as she imitates Christ –by acting like Quinn Morgendorffer. She was having her hair dyed and nails done. I glanced at her photo, prayed for her, and unfollowed. I’m done with being told that washing my face or applying my makeup or updating my wardrobe is the key to happiness or my salvation.
If you’re a woman, you’ve probably been bombarded with some variety of this lie: You don’t have to look frumpy in order to be a good person. Well, yes, often, you do. That’s because our true beauty lies in our actions. Love in action is not great for hair, makeup, nails, or fine clothing.
Can you look put together? Sure. Sometimes for a photo or for a very short period of time. You can even strive to be tidy and neat. Will you usually look great? No, not if you’re actually living a good life.
The good life is a life of virtue, of humble and loving service on the behalf of your neighbors, your family, your fellow members of Christ’s Body the Church.
You will probably have frizzy or frazzled hair and splattered clothes and reminders of cooking and baking clinging to you, and worn shoes and chipped nails a lot of the time. At the place where your hands hang by your sides, you will have crumpled skirts or wrinkled jeans from using your clothes as a handtowel when you get really busy. If you’re caring for an ill relative or a young or an aging one, you might go for a day or three without washing your face or getting a proper shower. You won’t have a closet stacked with designer clothing and shoes, because you don’t have time and money to fuss over those things when there are people who need food and kind words and someone to notice them. You won’t have $700 or more worth of cosmetics to slather on your face each day, and you won’t miss them. You’ll look at a holy icon instead of a mirror, and you’ll try to be like what you see there: someone who brings peace and acts kind and true until your character grows firm in mercy and humility.
What makes us beautiful is doing good works. Our bodies are never more beautiful than when acting kindly toward someone else. If you want to be beautiful, do something beautiful. It can be small, like mailing a card or sliding a cup of tea across the table or touching a child’s head in blessing, or big like caring for someone every day who cannot thank you. It can be inexpensive, like passing extra tomatoes along to your neighbor, or elaborate like sponsoring a family in need. What matters is that it be humble, loving, truthful, and self-giving. Actions like that are virtuous. Actions like that are the kind of beautiful that rubs off on us and makes us beautiful.
When the woman poured out the jar of expensive ointment on Jesus, he said she had done a beautiful thing to him. Imagine her for a moment. Was she ugly? Could she have been ugly? It’s a ridiculous question, because she did a beautiful thing. All we know about her is beautiful. That’s how we’re all remembered, if we’re remembered – as having done a beautiful thing, once or every day.
Enough with comparing our grooming habits as though they could be anything but shallow! Do a beautiful thing.
Beautify your hands with giving and your feet by stepping humbly alongside someone who needs you there. Beautify your face by weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice, with speaking words in season with the weary, by finding something kind to say even if it’s only, “I’m glad you’re here.”
God made your face and likes the way you look. Turn toward His love and let the light of mercy turn you beautiful. Prayer is just a turning, of the face, of the shoulder, of the feet, of the heart, towards the light. You can look how you look and still look like God. In fact, that’s kind of the point.
Wash the laundry, again, and wash the counters, again, and wash your hands after gardening, feeding, diapering, averting domestic disasters. Wash the dishes for a friend who’s overwhelmed. Wash the lure of glamour from your eyes with tears of compassion and repentance. Wash your soul.