Everyday, we are bombarded with messages about beauty and what it means to be beautiful. Some of the messages hold true, while many twist reality.
Look this way, wear these clothes, use this makeup, fix your teeth, lose more weight, style your hair, engage in these activities…
We can often be our own worst critic when it comes to our looks. We look in the mirror and see flaw upon flaw. There is always something that could be better. There is always a way in which we just aren’t enough.
We want to be beautiful, because everyone likes beauty. Beauty brings enjoyment and delight to the beholder. A beautiful sunset. A gorgeous flower. A pretty painting. A lovely song.
We want to be beautiful because we want to know we bring enjoyment and delight into this world. Really, our quest for beauty is a quest for belonging. To know we have a reason to exist, and that our existence does indeed make the world a little brighter.
But so often, we don’t feel beautiful. We don’t feel delightful or pleasing. We don’t feel we belong.
Besides physical flaws, there’s much else that can make us feel ugly: past mistakes, present struggles, fears and worries, shame and guilt. We feel we are too broken to be beautiful. And we search for things to fill the cracks and mend the breaks, so that maybe, just maybe, we can attain beauty and belonging. But the cracks are too big. The breaks are too wide. Nothing fills them completely.
We’ve heard the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So in our quest for beauty, we need to ask ourselves: Who is our beholder?
Who are we trying to delight and please? Who do we want to name us beautiful? Who do we want to belong to?
Because our search for beauty is the same as our search for satisfaction and worth: that which we are seeking can only be found in one place. In one Person. In Jesus.
Beauty that is based on others’ opinions, on looking a certain way, on how we feel, will always leave us lacking. We’ll always find one more flaw, one more fault, one more failing that needs to be fixed. And that constant state of brokenness leaves us feeling so estranged others, so alone in our pains and struggles, hiding in shame of our ugly cracks and breaks.
We can’t fix our brokenness. Try as we might, we can’t fix our brokenness.
But the thing is, we aren’t meant to fix our brokenness. And realizing that is where true beauty is found. Realizing there is only One who mends all breaks. One who was broken for us, so He restore us. One who took our place on the cross, so we could have a place with Him forever.
Beauty that is found in Jesus, in how He sees us, in what He names us, in who He created us to be, that is true beauty. That is beauty even in the brokenness. That is turning the broken to beautiful. And in this beauty, there is belonging.
We see a picture of this beauty in the worshipful act of a woman who loved Jesus, and from her act of worship, we can learn to find beauty in Jesus, and live as ones who belong to Him:
As Jesus reclined at the table, partaking of the dinner, as Martha served, as Lazarus and the disciples ate, Mary does something unexpected and rather shocking; improper even. She disturbs Jesus as He eats by pouring perfume over Him, and then wiping His feet with her hair.
In this passage, we see Judas’ disapproval. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, we find that many others present joined in the disapproval of Mary’s actions.
But Mary only saw her great need for Jesus and His great love for her. In devotion, she worshiped Him. Forsaking all else - others’ opinions, outwardly appearance, even her own possessions and comfort - Mary’s only focus was Jesus. Mary’s only aim was to worship devout herself to Him. It was as if it was just Him and her.
Mary gave her most valuable possession: a pint of pure nard, which was an expensive perfume. It was kept in an alabaster jar, which Mary broke open to pour the fragrance over Jesus. (Mark 14:3)
Mary also wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Attending to someone’s feet was a job for menial slaves. It was a job of humbleness and submission. And a woman’s hair was considered by Jews to be her glory. It was that which gave her beauty; her crown of womanhood.
And here Mary is, laying down her glory at the feet of Jesus. She gave what was seen as her mark of beauty, and surrendered it in service to Jesus. Jesus was Mary’s beholder.
Those who watched this extravagant worship only saw extravagant waste and impropriety. Why waste the perfume? It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the pour!
Others saw Mary’s actions as not good enough. She should have done something different. She should have done something better. She was scolded and criticized.
But Jesus was delighted in Mary. He spoke of His pleasure in her, saying, “She has done a beautiful thing to Me.” (Matthew 26:10, NIV)
Unbeknownst to Mary, this pouring of perfume was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice. The breaking of the jar like the breaking of His body. The fragrance filling the room like Jesus, who “offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, NLT)
In order for Mary to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair, her hair would have been down, unbound and uncovered. In that time, women were not to be seen in public with their hair in this state. Only a father or a husband would see a woman’s hair loose.
But Mary unbound her hair for Jesus, devoting her life to Him, choosing to live as a daughter of God and the bride of Christ.
And that is who we are in Jesus. Daughters of God. The bride of Christ. We are beautiful. We are His.
The breaking of the jar was declared beautiful. The laying down of her glory, her beauty, her heart, however broken and bruised and “not good enough” it might be, was declared beautiful.
When we, broken and humbled, overcome by the pouring out of Jesus’ love, fall at His feet in worship of Him as we fall in love with Him, choose Him as our beholder, to behold our brokenness and hold our broken hearts, we find we are beautiful in His eyes.
The broken is transformed to beautiful, for the broken belongs to the One who makes all things new. And in the breaking, in the laying down of ourselves at the feet of Jesus, the fragrance of Him in us fills the air around us; a pleasing aroma to God.