“For the last twenty years of her life, she refused to have a mirror in her house…”
That’s what John Piper tells me in his book, Future Grace.
He writes about Evelyn Harris Brand, the mother of a famous hand surgeon and leprosy specialist, who served as a missionary to India with her husband. When he died, she returned to India, spending one decade after another caring for the malnourished and starving, the neediest among them, the least of these.
What could a mirror matter to her?
Would pearls or fashion help her give?
Would hair-dos and makeup allow her to love?
At 67, she broke her hip, one injury in a long history of sacrificing her body for others. There was the time she broke her arm, the vertebrae in her back that had cracked, the recurrent malaria. Her son begged her to retire and return home for some rest and relaxation.
When she died at 95, still on the mission-field, still getting up each morning, preparing for the day, and heading right on out the door without primping and preening in front of the glass, her son said:
with wrinkles as deep and extensive as any I have ever seen on a human face…she was a beautiful woman (quoted in Future Grace, p. 295).
What is this beauty, I wonder?
I need to know for my daughters, how all the hair brushing and braiding, the outfit matching and shoe styles don’t create this radiance.
All that outward show can temporarily hide soul disfigurement. It can fool strangers from afar and win superficial praise.
But when others step in too close, lean in enough to see what’s beyond all the external costuming, they’ll see the ugly underneath.
And God, after all, sees the motives, the selfishness, the sin, the blemishes of vanity and pride that concealer and foundations can’t cover over no matter how thickly applied.
I need to know for my unborn son, so I can teach him to be a man who sees when beauty is real and when it isn’t.
And I need to know this for myself.
One month of pregnancy left to go….thinking now about the days post-delivery when my eyes ring purple and are rubbed red with fatigue….when none of my clothes fit just right and I’m feeling like a stranger in my very own body…. when physically I have others needing me, needing me all the time…
When giving my body for others becomes a moment-by-moment reality.
And this is the message I hear: Motherhood is beautiful.
Well, Motherhood is hard.
It’s the down-and-dirty of self-sacrifice, when you’re not just giving because it’s convenient or you have a little extra to spare for another.
Even my kids laugh now, how before I’ve even eased myself all the way into the dining room chair, someone else needs more, needs another, needs different…..and I hop up to grab a napkin, or stir the milk, or dish out the seconds.
That’s what they can see.
But how much more they don’t even know yet. How for nine months your heart expands all the while you’re throwing up and not sleeping and carrying more weight than you’ve ever borne on your frame before.
You can hope you aren’t left with stretchmarks after you’ve delivered, but you can’t really tell because your skin is so stretched over this human being. Of course, they are there in the end, permanent markings that you’ve carried the life of another.
And, it’d be nice if the weight was ALL baby, but of course it isn’t, not all of it.
Yet, you’ve traded in physical vanities for this reality: You gave of yourself, your very own body, for the sake of someone else.
And who needs a mirror to see the beauty in that?
Physical motherhood, spiritual mentoring, missions, service: Any time we stop staring at our own reflection critically, vainly, selfishly, obsessively, and start looking out to see the need of those around us and then we stoop down and give—not because it’s easy, but because Christ is in us—that’s when beauty shines.
Nothing compares to the radiant beauty of Christ shining in us, not the flashiest of fashions or the most glamorous hair styles.
This is a mystery.
Paul called it a:
“mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints….which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27 NASB).
Christ in us, the hope of glory, transforms and radiates in a way undefinable, inexplicable, and we can’t comprehend how He could fill us up and shine on out of our too-frail, too-broken, too-imperfect lives.
Yet, He does.
And no mirror accurately reflects the beauty of a woman who lives and loves sacrificially, who lives and loves Jesus.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2013 Heather King