Choose Beauty and Joy

woman-with-hijab-courtesy-of-islam-ruA hijab covered her hair completely, but I could see she was beautiful. Big hazel eyes surrounded by long lashes that curved up naturally without the help of mascara. Zahra was in one of my classes, and when prompted to write about what she would do if she could do anything in the world, here’s what she wrote: “I would like to be a model or a designer of wedding dresses if money and religion were not factors.”

I could relate to Zahra as at one time my church culture did not permit women to wear make-up. For some, the issue of make-up is unimportant, and some suggest that it is society’s message to women that they don’t look acceptable without some modifications to their natural appearance. However, make-up has always been a form of art to me, wearable art, and I love dabbling in it. During the period of time when make-up was considered vain in the church culture I was a part of, I felt sad and judged, as if part of me were wrong, lacking in good character and displeasing to God.

Since that time, my church’s culture has changed dramatically, but I haven’t forgotten the important lesson I learned from feeling as if something that I found beautiful, fun, and joyful was displeasing to God. When we feel as if parts of ourselves are unacceptable to God or that what brings us joy does not bring joy to God, it breeds insecurity. We find it hard to trust a God who might not like us as we are. In our struggle to make ourselves conform to a false standard, we lose some of the beauty and joy that God intended us to have in this life.

One of my favorite stories from author and theologian C. Baxter Kruger is the story he tells comparing the gift of life given to us with the gift of a bicycle given to a young boy. He makes the point that the father who gifted the bike to the boy doesn’t expect him to go around thinking about his father as he rides, trying to make the father proud. Instead, the father wants the boy to enjoy the thrill of the ride and the fullness of the experience. Similarly, God doesn’t gift us with life and a variety of creative desires and then deny us the expression of that joy and beauty. God wants us to “ride,” and this includes enjoying the expression of beauty and creativity as it has been placed in our unique hearts.

I hope that Zahra knows that her God loves beauty and wedding dresses, and that her desire to create beauty is an expression of Divine creativity placed in her heart. I still enjoy make-up, and looking at my colored nail polish gives me great pleasure, regardless of any societal pressures. I’m sure that God is pleased that I know I’m loved and accepted, celebrating the distinctive expression of beauty and creativity that has been placed in my heart.

~by Nan Kuhlman

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