The young woman awakes in a sleep-tossed sea of cotton sheets. Everything about her is white: the blankets, the gown, the socks, the pudding, the walls, the ceiling, the coats. One coat swooshes in approach. Wheels squeegee, and a man sits down beside her bed. She glares at him, unintentionally, for her head will not cooperate with her eyes, whose lashes are hardly friendlier, what with the constant sticking and unsticking.
She has been asleep for a long time.
He tells her so, but he uses a different word: coma. She knows the word but not the experience, neither in her own life nor in the life of anyone she knows — until now. Immediately she regrets the times she curled up in a Thanksgiving ball and complained about her “coma.” That was not this. This is another universe entirely, one in which your head will not cooperate with your eyes. She shudders and thanks God as she shakes. Some of her still works.
He begins to tell her about “an accident,” and she wishes he would call it like it is. It was her accident. She knows she owns it, from the way her left temple keeps knocking her thoughts together to the doctor’s concern over total memory loss.
At this, one thought does hazard the newfound gap from mind to mouth, jumpstarting her motion along with it. She juts her head and peels back her eyes too far as she gasps, “What do I look like?” Elbows and hands pushed into the bed, her torso splits the billows of bedding. She grips the sheen railing with her fingers and the doctor’s gaze with her own.
He laughs. She frowns. He should not be laughing, but he is. His head pitches forward then back as he laughs and laughs, flattening his palm atop his chest. With a grand gulping breath, as if he too has just emerged from minutes underwater, he says, “You may just remember your old life yet.”
The Beauty We Crave
Dear women, I fear we waste precious time asking ourselves this question — What do I look like? — amidst a reality that ought to draw far, far more important questions from us. Questions like, Who am I? How did I get here? Why am I still here?
We are like the patient who, upon waking from one of life’s turning points, wants to go on looking in a tinny mirror while lying in a scratchy hospital bed because she cannot imagine that there are more important matters to attend to. We are far too easily dulled.
Our mornings dwindle away as we dab manmade clay onto our faces. We must “look pretty.” Every sunrise thus engaged, we neglect our Potter — he whose very being defines beauty; who made us in his own likeness; who grants each of us indelible created splendor (Genesis 1:27; Isaiah 64:8).
Our free time sees prayers unsaid, God’s throne unapproached, as we scroll through little kingdoms of self. We lament how little ours grows! We find little cheer in belonging to Christ’s otherworldly and everlasting kingdom (John 18:36), a citizenship that provides righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17).
We agonize over meals. We desire to eat like we are carefree boys yet to look as if we hail from advertisements. We feel full or proud but never both. We do not feast on the Bread that promises to leave us satisfied, humbled, and hungry — all at once (John 6:35).
It’s no wonder that, as we wash our faces and prepare to do it all over again, we do not like ourselves very much at all. Dear women, will we continue from sunup ’til sundown to ask ourselves, What do I look like? Will we endlessly doctor our appearance until pacified, momentarily, with the mirror’s response? In a word, will we waste our lives?
The Beauty We Possess — and Need
A sincere word: The particularly womanly appreciation and pursuit of beauty is God-given and good. Because of his design, women have a knack for using anything from powders to pinstripes to create truly splendid sights, whether for ourselves or others. God gave us makeup, hair, clothing, and even décor to be enjoyed as an especially female talent and hobby.
These things become what they were never meant to be when they turn from gift to necessity, as Jasmine Holmes helpfully notes. For our femininity is still partly flesh. Recalcitrant sin twists the innately human possession of physical beauty into the hollow obsession with physical beauty.
And the Beauty — with a capital B — for which we ought to exert the most energy, the Beauty on which we ought to spend the most time and resources, is one we cannot powder onto our faces. It is a Person we must pursue.
This Person is Jesus. In him we find and from him we receive true Beauty. It is not physical:
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2–3)
Rather, as John Piper says, Jesus’s Beauty is rooted in his perfect moral character and the death he died on our behalf: “The beauty of Christ is the beauty of love, not the beauty of looks. The beauty of Christ is the beauty of sacrifice, not the beauty of skin.”
If we call this Jesus “Savior” and “Lord” (Romans 10:9), we possess this Beauty. For in God’s sight, our lives have been hidden for all time within Christ’s sacrificial love (Galatians 2:20). And what we possess through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we continue to pursue by the Spirit’s power to the praise of God’s name.
This is the Beauty that does not expire upon a wet washcloth: “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4, emphasis mine). Only from Jesus can we attain such a spirit of contented gentleness. Jesus says of himself: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 28:30). In God’s eyes, becoming like-hearted to his Beloved Son never goes out of vogue.
Say the young woman gets her hands on a mirror. She hates what she sees, and she spends the rest of her life trying to reclaim beauty. The thing is, she never had it — the kind that matters, the kind that lasts.