I went through three outfits this morning, not including the clothes I pulled off the hanger, then put back without even trying them on.
No, I wasn't shopping. No, it isn't really a special occasion.
I just couldn't find an outfit I was happy with, despite the fact that my 'closet' is an entire side of a small basement room that is packed full of clothes.
Sometime, late in this process, I had to stop and wonder, just why am I doing this?
It isn't to impress my husband, not entirely. My husband does an AMAZING job of letting me know how lovely he finds me. But, as I was going back and forth between two different necklaces, I can't claim this is to impress my husband....since he really doesn't even like me wearing jewelry. (He says that jewelry is a distraction from my face. How sweet is that?)
And it isn't to impress, or compete with, an old friend from college who's in town for a visit. Really, if I were seriously struggling with my weight or body image, she would be one of the first people I would run to for help. So, I don't feel the need to seem perfect around her.
And it certainly isn't to impress the strangers at the restaurant we'll be going to tonight.
So, what was it?
I don't know for sure. I only knew that I really needed to feel good about how I looked today.
It reminded me of something I had read a few years ago, in a book called Captivating. Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God, therefore, both man and woman have unique characteristics which they reveal about God's nature through their own nature. Among other things....
A woman is created to reveal God's beauty.
It's why the pioneering women lived in little sod houses, yet carefully stitched together scraps of fabric to make pretty curtains for their one tiny window. Why women for centuries scatter a few flower seeds along the edges of their sustenance vegetable gardens. Why a woman can't help but try to catch a glimpse of herself in each reflective surface she happens to pass.
We are created to reflect and reveal God's beauty, and the beauty of His creation.
Yet, we are fallen, and we live in a fallen world. And that can cause us no end of frustration and consternation.
In our hearts, somewhere deep, we carry a yearning for beauty and we desire that for ourselves, and we desire to bring that to the environment around us. But we, and our world, are not only imperfect, but flawed. When that core desire clashes with the limits of reality, we develop all sorts of defense mechanisms to deal with it.
We can become obsessive about it, going on diet after diet or buying clothes and beauty products well beyond reason for our means or our circumstances.
We can become despondent about it, dwell in despair and give up trying...because sometimes its easier not to try than to try and continuously fail.
We can turn to some other outlet, developing all sorts of addictions, in an effort to avoid the stress and uncertainty.
We can be destroyed by it. Eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, out of control addictions---so many of these cancers are germinated and fed by the discrepancy between our desire for beauty and our reality.
And just to be clear, when I say "our desire for beauty", I do not mean a desire to look like a super-model. Fundamentally, our desire for beauty is something good and healthy. The desire for beauty can, and should, take many forms. A desire to be physically attractive, desire to be a beautiful person, a desire to create a lovely environment around ourselves. All these goals are good, and worthy to be pursued. As long as a healthy balance presides over that pursuit.
So, where does this leave us, and how does it impact our marriages?
First, I think we need to confess to ourselves and to our Lord any sin that this conflict has led us into. Bitterness, avoidance, excessiveness. I'm not saying this to heap more guilt on anyone's shoulders. Heaven knows, if we hadn't felt so guilty about 'not being good enough', none of us would have struggled with most of these issues in the first place. So, don't read the word 'confess' and either turn off your computer or start crying, or both. But, it is important to be able to honestly face what we struggle with so that we can be healed, and learn to move beyond it.
Second, I think we sometimes need to get additional help in the healing process. This can be from a prayer circle, a mentor, some quality reading material, a counselor, or a support group. I know personally several women who were genuinely transformed when they allowed themselves to face, get help, and work through an area of struggle. Don't sell yourself short. Don't pretend like a problem isn't really a problem. Do what you need to do to be the strong, beautiful woman God has created you do be.
Third, we really, really need to let go of unrealistic expectations. You know the kind I mean. We create in our minds some fictional super-woman. We take the components of many good role models around us, and roll them all together into this impossible standard we set for ourselves. And then we beat ourselves up when we can't reach this unobtainable mark.
Fourth, we need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It's unreasonable to expect ourselves to let go of unrealistic expectations, if we do not also learn to appreciate what we have. Otherwise, we will always be stuck in a "grass is always greener" mentality. Start keeping a journal, a little notebook. Everyday write down specific things that you are thankful for. But, everyday, make each of those items something different than the day before. How many small things can you start noticing about yourself, your spouse, your life that you are truly blessed by? Can you, over the course of several weeks, come up with 1000 different blessings to thank God for?
Let me take another moment to say, yes, I know this is all easier said than done. I know because I've struggled down this road myself. It is a struggle. It is hard work. It does take effort. It does take determination. Yes, there are days when you'll feel like you've messed it up, again, but those days get fewer and farther between the more you keep at it.
Fifth, we need to let ourselves be the revelation and reflection of beauty that we are intended to be. Think this is contrary to the first four steps? Think again.
Only after we have begun to move past our hangups, to let go of our unrealistic expectations, and to become women who practice true joy and contentment can we comfortably and confidently be free to express the beauty of our inner selves.
Last, we need to recognize that our husbands are naturally drawn to that inner beauty, when we allow it to shine through our outer selves. They are drawn to it, and they crave it, and they are sorely, but silently, crushed when we try to stifle it.
We can show love to ourselves, to our husband, and to our Creator, by carefully nurturing our inclination for beauty.
1. We can take care of our health and appearance. No, this isn't about being a certain size or a certain weight. But it is about making an effort to be healthy, to eat well, to remain active. Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Such a temple deserves some good upkeep. (It also deserves a hot fudge sundae from time to time, I'll agree. I'm not ever going to suggest eating nothing but rice cakes and carrot sticks. But you can't run a temple on junk food, and you can't keep a temple strong without movement.)
2. We can dress well. No, this isn't about buying designer labels, expensive jewelry, or the latest fashion. This is about showing a healthy pride in ourselves and in the calling God has placed us in. For some, that might mean jeans and a cute top. For others that might mean professional attire. Its not the type of clothing or the cost or the size. It's that you feel confident and happy with it. (Notice I didn't say comfortable. My jammies are comfortable and there are days that I just want to and do hang out in my penguin pants, but I try to make those days the exception, not the rule.)
3. We can make time to create. Carve out 30 minutes twice a week. Carve out an hour once a week. If nothing else, carve out 15 minutes. But carve out some time to allow yourself to pursue some creative endeavor, art, craft, or hobby. It doesn't have to be something that the Smithsonian will be displaying, or that Martha Stewart is asking to feature in her next magazine. Whatever it is you enjoy doing or making, even if you don't think you are all that great at it, give yourself permission to do it at least once every week. Don't let interruptions or the things on your to-do list keep you from just a small window of time to allow your soul to indulge and participate in the act of creation.
4. We can beautify our home. Again, this isn't about a right and a wrong style. This isn't about trying to copy a magazine, unless that's what makes you really happy. And this isn't about having the cash to install new kitchen counters or get a new living room set. This is about being able to look at what you have and smile. It's about being happy to walk into your home.
5. We can stop making excuses. No time, no money, no energy. I know, I know as women we are tired, we are busy, we are often overwhelmed. But making a commitment to make some small changes will make such a huge difference in your attitude and your contentment, and those changes will spill over into other areas of your life.
You are worth the effort.