For my doctoral research at the University of Michigan, I studied the emotion of shame in literature, the most self-conscious and self-obsessed emotion humans can experience. I learned how, when we live in a state of this kind of self-consciousness, we believe that everyone is looking at us and evaluating us. More important, we live in a state of self-evaluation all day long.
Before the rise of social media, we only had the stares of the few people in our immediate surroundings to worry about. But today, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter only compound our agony; we feel like we must be “camera ready” at all times because anyone can take our photo, tag us, and post it online. If you were even a bit nervous about your appearance before, now you’re terrified about it. In other words, our current cultural moment invites shame at all times; we’re gazing at others and ourselves through our phones and computers in a constant stream of photos.
How can we stop thinking about ourselves all the time? How can we stop fixating on our appearance and instead “fix our eyes” on Jesus? As I look back on my journey of healing from self-consciousness that culminated in a fuller understanding of being seated in Christ, I remembered two concepts that slowly delivered me from this obsession with my appearance.
The first seed of truth came to me one summer when I was working at Camp Greystone. I’ll never forget the afternoon I was walking to the camp office from the dining hall. A visiting pastor’s wife grabbed me by the arm and said, “I just wanted to tell you that you have a very loving face.”
A very loving face.
I stood there and thought, “Loving? What about beautiful? I want a beautiful face.” The sweet woman explained that when she saw me interacting with people, she could see God’s love in me. In my face! This face that I didn’t like! Some great shift occurred in my heart that moment, and even now, that compliment on that hot summer day, with sweat coming down my imperfect and blotchy face, is one of the favorites I’ve ever received.
“Your beauty enthralls Jesus. Take a moment and enjoy that sentence.”
I want a loving face that reflects the beauty of Christ.
That intention—to have a loving face instead of a beautiful one—changed me. My face was a mirror that no longer reflected me; people could look at me and see Jesus. I started to think about beauty differently that summer. That summer, I stopped checking the mirror so much, being insecure about my funny legs that turned at strange angles or wishing I looked like anyone else. I had a loving face that could express the heart of Jesus to others. That’s what mattered. That’s what I wanted.
When I’m seated with Christ, I am so secure that I can just love people through my appearance. I can look at people with God’s love beaming through my face. I can use my eyes and my smile to love people. I can, dare I say, use my whole face, even my nose.
The next seed of truth God taught me is found in an often-overlooked Bible verse. It’s from Psalm 34:5 and simply says, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” On three different occasions, I whispered a prayer to Jesus, “Help me be radiant today because I just feel so ugly.” On each of those three days, a different person approached me and said, “Heather, I don’t know what it is about you, but you look absolutely radiant!” It was as if God heard that prayer and used the very words I prayed to Him in the mouths of others so I would know He was listening and cared for me.
Psalm 34:5 had become so important to me that on our wedding day, I had a soloist sing the Twila Paris song “How Beautiful,” because of a line she uses about a radiant bride. I was the radiant bride who once hated her appearance.
These moments between Jesus and me span across my adult life and show me His loving pursuit of me as His radiant bride. I recently read Psalm 45:11 where we’re told, “let the king be enthralled by your beauty.” Enthralled, by the way, means an “overwhelming longing for and fascination with.”
Your beauty enthralls Jesus. Take a moment and enjoy that sentence.
Your beauty enthralls Jesus.
Over the years, I continued to pray that I would be “radiant” because I loved Jesus. The concepts of having a loving face and a radiant face made me embrace my facial characteristics and, in fact, my whole body. I’m enthralling. I’m fascinating. This is so much better than being culturally beautiful. This earthly vessel, after all, was made to love and serve. I could rest in the truth that I was radiant; I believe it by faith and accept it as true, no matter how much weight I have to lose or how many blemishes I’m treating.
by Heather Holleman
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