Most mornings I wake up and look in the mirror with the same kind of disparaging resignation as Mia Thermopolis. I sigh and tell myself, “As always, this is as good as it’s going to get!” I have never thought of myself as particularly pretty. My facial features are square and boyish at best, closely resembling a gangly fourteen-year-old in need of some orthodontia. My consolation is that I have a great personality and sense of humor to compensate for what I lack by way of looks.
I was fortunate to have been raised by parents and siblings who valued characteristics like intelligence, independence, and integrity more than appearance. Consequently I never believed my looks were my most valuable contribution to this world. As I said, I have never thought of myself as being particularly pretty but to me this has always been a consequential rather than problematic reality. Unfortunately for a lot of women, it is a problem. Appearance is such a big concern for us that entire industries make a profit from manufacturing beauty and anti-aging products to help us defy whatever natural deficiencies we believe we have.
Now, there is nothing wrong with beauty products or wanting to be beautiful. I appreciate any occasion to dress up and feel pretty. There is nothing wrong in taking care of your body, eating healthy, and exercising. But sometimes I think we make too much of it. We make too much of trying to retain youthful bodies and skin. We make too much of everything we lack instead of appreciating the gifts and abilities God has given us. We spend so much time trying to compensate for our deficiencies instead of realizing what we have to give and contribute to this world. We forget how brief this life is, how quickly it will be over, and how soon forever will be upon us. We forget that this life was meant to be spent not preserved.
These days any sort of self-deprecation, especially among women, is met with an onslaught of validation and reassurance. “You are beautiful! God made you this way for a purpose and you are perfect.” I sincerely believe that God designs each of us for a specific purpose and I try to see His beautiful and good handiwork in all of His creation, but part of me also has to acknowledge that since sin, sickness, and death entered the world (Genesis 3), we have all fallen far from perfection, so far that I am not sure we would recognize perfection if we saw it.
I can look at myself in the mirror and see how not-perfect I am. We can all feel our lack of perfection whether it is in our acne, hangnails, wrinkled aging skin, aching joints or even deeper into our fears, addictions, depression, sin, and sorrow.
The reality of the imperfection in this world can be strikingly painful. I have a little brother who was born with an immune deficiency, the consequence of a genetic mutation. As a result he has contracted various diseases and has been hospitalized multiple times over the years. I have a little sister who was born with ambiguous developmental and cognitive delays. I have relatives and friends who are watching their loved ones battle cancer. And while I believe that all of these circumstances are within God’s perfect purpose I still must recognize that we are not perfect. This life is not perfect.
The whole purpose of the Gospel is to meet an imperfect, broken world full of depraved people with real hope. The Gospel speaks life into death and repentance into sin. But it is fruitless if we refuse to acknowledge our helplessness and insufficiency in the face of sin and death. We only diminish the urgent truth and hope of Jesus Christ’s salvation when we try and downplay how imperfect this world is and how imperfect we are, when we try and reassure ourselves, "I am perfect and beautiful!". When sin entered the world it not only effected our cognitive decisions and spiritual state, it had a drastic effect on our physical condition as well. Suddenly child-bearing became horribly painful and work became exhausting and frustrating (Genesis 3). There was sickness, illness, strife, and decay. And yes, there was acne (though there was no mention of it in Genesis).
When we look in the mirror and feel we are not as beautiful as we ought to be, maybe that is because we are not. We are all never as beautiful or good as we ought to be. We are far from it. But that is not where our story ends. That is not what matters most. Our story does not end here. We can rest easy in our wars against sickness and sin. We can continue to fight with the full assurance that the battle is already won. We don't have to cling desperately to this world and our time as though it is all we have. We can end our desperation and despair over superficial standards when we acknowledge that this life is not all there is. This is not where our identity is secured. What Christ accomplished on our behalf surpasses all of our deficiencies and one day we will be made new. One day He will make all things new.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:15-17).