Applying God’s Truth to Our Insecurities
By JASMIN HOWELL
I’d been working to grow out my hair for the past two years, and just a few short months ago had finally gotten it to a length I was very happy with. I only had a few more inches to go before I reached the ideal length I had in mind. I was so excited!
And then disaster ensued. (Okay, I know that’s a tad dramatic … but what happened next felt like a really big deal.)
One morning, I stood before my mirror and I realized the bottom four or five inches of my hair had somehow become burnt (I’m blaming a flat iron on the fritz). It was a frazzled mess. Panic rose up in me as I stood before the bathroom mirror in horror and gingerly touched my bristle-brush hair — which just the previous evening had been soft and supple. I washed it with moisturizing shampoo and applied various treatments, but nothing helped. The realization set in that I was going to have to chop off a significant portion of my hair, bringing it up above my shoulders, maybe even shorter. To put it mildly … I was mortified.
An appointment with my hair dresser (who is also a dear, sympathetic friend) confirmed that I would indeed need to “chop-chop.” Being told I had to cut off most of my hair — even though it was accompanied by great compassion and grace — was a devastating blow.
A few short minutes into our appointment, my long-hair dreams lay in a pile on the floor while I was left to observe the new, short, angled bob. I turned this way and that, taking it in and trying to accept my drastically different style.
It took me a few weeks to get used to. And then one morning I noticed that there was still damage rearing its ugly head, and even more of my hair needed to be cut. As my dear hairdresser gave me a second cut in the same number of weeks, I tried to keep a brave face. This haircut was even shorter, barely longer than my earlobes. It was “cute.” Modern. Stylish. She had done an amazing job of making the best out of this bad situation. But inside I was beyond devastated.
In the weeks that followed my second, shorter cut, I battled with the question “Why?”. Why did something as small and insignificant as a haircut disrupt my life so significantly? Why did I shed so many tears over it in the weeks that followed? Why did I feel so terrible about myself? I had cut my hair short before … so that wasn’t it.
Let’s just say, the crisis over my haircut was really about something else…
Scissors: Voice of the flesh
Romans 8:6 says that “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (NIV). I have struggled throughout my life to have a mind governed by the Spirit in the way I think of my physical traits. Most often it is an area ruled by my flesh — my sense of confidence in my physical appearance can quickly turn into insecurity at a moment’s notice.
The fleshly mind can be like a pair of scissors — sharp and cutting — attacking even the smallest of imperfections. In the weeks following my haircut, I began to realize that every time I passed a mirror and caught a glance of myself, the accusation, “you are so ugly!” filled my mind. As I believed the harsh words the voice of the flesh spoke to me, I began to think far too much about how I looked. My mind was almost entirely centered on the cultivation and preservation of my external beauty, and I was full of self-focused criticism, all of which eventually led me to utter exhaustion.
Over the years, I’d become somewhat of an expert at projecting an appearance I believed would garner the most praise, affirmation, and acceptance from others. (I believe many women are experts at this.) But when I had to cut my hair — a choice that was out of my control — it was as though my ability (and desire) to perform started to slip away. I realized I was physically and emotionally exhausted by it. What I needed was an inner beauty that found its peace and strength in Christ, but what I had was a counterfeit beauty that was shattered in an instant.
I recently came across a quote from Elisabeth Elliot that says “We all want [our] reflected image to match the image we hold in our minds … We glimpse ourselves in a moment of lapse and quickly try to correct the discrepancies.”
Essentially, many of us as women have an image of ourselves that we are trying to project to the world. When we are pleased with this external image we hold ourselves a little higher, walk a bit straighter, feel more enthusiastic. But when something changes that image — we gain weight, our face breaks out, we have a wardrobe malfunction, we get a weird haircut, etc. — we begin to look at ourselves through less-favorable eyes, pull out our “scissors” and start cutting, and as a result we can begin to feel depressed, withdrawn, and so on. We try to correct the “discrepancies,” as Elliot calls them, by making adjustments to our external image. We rigorously work out to lose the weight, we compensate for poor skin by applying more makeup to cover it up, we buy new clothes, or we wear hats to cover our hair until it grows out. (I’m guilty of this!) We can easily become fast and exacting critics of ourselves, speaking harsh words to our own souls about our worth. The words we say to ourselves about ourselves are often terrible things! We are all too ready to beat ourselves up over those few pounds, that weird hairstyle, that bad outfit, those blemishes.
Not only does entertaining the voice of the flesh harm our soul, it also leaves a door open for the enemy to bring further destruction to our lives by tearing down the value we have as image-bearers of God, one element at a time.
It may start with a haircut, for example, but where does it end?
Salve: Voice of the Spirit
Despite my own insecurities, I received so many sweet compliments on my new haircut. But no compliment could touch the depth of the need in my soul to find my security and confidence in Christ. That was where my ache was rooted.
I recently went back to my hairdresser for a trim. All of my dead hair was finally gone and she applied a special healing salve on the ends of my hair to promote health and growth. My hair has never been softer. Style-wise it doesn’t look much different, but its true quality is much better. It doesn’t just look healthy, it is healthy.
Real beauty is like this too because it is governed by the Spirit of God and cultivated in the soul of a woman. It doesn’t mean physical imperfections won’t raise their heads or cause insecurity, but they won’t cause the Spirit-led woman to spiral into depression because she has to cut her hair, her pants don’t fit, or she has a blemish the size of Kilimanjaro on her face. When a woman accepts the love and acceptance offered to her by Christ, her need for affirmation from elsewhere will lessen greatly.
We know verses like these ones:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … it should be that of your inner self…” (1 Pet. 3:3-4, NIV).
“Though outwardly we are wasting away … inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16 NIV).
So why as women do we primarily try to achieve external beauty for most of our lives?
Elisabeth Elliot goes on to say “usually in things that do not matter, we set [standards] impossibly high and thus guarantee for ourselves a life of discontent. In things that matter we set them too low and are easily pleased with ourselves.”
Our world praises, glorifies, and admires standards of physical beauty that are not God’s standards, and so it is very easy to get caught up projecting our best physical qualities to the world around us to gain approval. The compliments and praise we receive for our physical beauty can feel so … reassuring. We can choose to pursue this worldly standard of beauty, and may even achieve it. It can even temporarily satisfy us. But may we never settle for less than God’s truth — the healing salve that our hearts need.
Where matters of the soul are concerned, nothing can be more satisfying than applying that healing balm of truth to the areas of our lives where we have been allowing our flesh to rule, taunt, and cut our hearts with lies and accusations. Real health, strength, and beauty of the inner life are so much more important than the shiny, perfectly manicured outward appearance of these things.
Cultivating a soul-level beauty is less celebrated or encouraged by the world, but it is something very precious in God’s sight. Surrendering to the voice of the Spirit in our lives is where true beauty is cultivated — in the soul of each woman. My fleshly body will one day be dust, but my eternal soul will live forever.
The Lord used a haircut to show me that I placed an inordinate amount of my value in my external beauty, and that He saw more in me and designed so much more for me. My identity was already defined by Christ as a beloved daughter. Could I see myself as He did? As one in whom no amount of beauty, excellence, performance, perfection, and physical attractiveness could ever attain more love than what was already given by my Savior? Because in His work on the Cross He stated my value — and the value of every person — once and for all.
Let’s ask the Lord to help us cultivate an inner beauty that finds its worth in Him, and learn to truly and deeply rest in the finished work of Christ. Let’s cease from looking for our worth reflected in the eyes of others and settle our hearts in Jesus.
These days when I walk past a mirror, I am still tempted to let the fleshly voice cut and criticize, but I remind myself of the truth and apply it as a healing salve to the lies I’ve believed about my worth. Do you know what I tell myself?
1.) No amount of external beauty can bring me internal peace. (See Philippians 4:7.)
2.) No amount of external affirmation can confirm my worth. (See Luke 12:7.)
3.) Nobody can settle my identity except Christ Himself. (See 1 Peter 2:9.)
If you are struggling in this area, would you pray this beautiful prayer with me?
“…all fullness I lack in myself is in Him … it is my duty, out of a sense of emptiness, to go to Christ, possess, enjoy His fullness as mine …To this end, O God, do thou establish me in Christ, settle me, give me a being there, assure me with certainty that all this is mine, for this only will fill my heart with joy and peace.”