If you’ve seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, then you’ll surely remember it—that scene on the mountain, waiting for the beautiful and mysterious snow leopard to appear. Sean tells Walter, “beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” It’s such a simple statement, and so profoundly true.
I can’t help but think of our internet age, where “selfies” are the norm, (I don’t know why but I can’t stand that word…feels a little creepy to me – anyone else?), and there’s any number of unfortunate fads where tender young girls request feedback from merciless commenters and strangers on the most pressing questions, like: “Am I beautiful or not?”. Oh sweet girls, nothing good comes of that.
When will we understand that beautiful things don’t ask for attention? When will we understand that our need for attention actually takes away from our beauty?
“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Ps. 34:5 (emphasis added)
Is there anything more attractive than radiance? Haven’t you known that person – that person who, if you only saw a picture, you might not think twice about, that if you dissected their features, you would find them not particularly noteworthy or beautiful…but there was a quality, a sparkle, a confidence, a radiance that simply surpassed the sum of the parts and made them stunning? I see it in people all the time.
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but 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.” I Peter 3:3-4 (emphasis added)
Radiance is attractive and stunning –it’s transformative, and like a good snow, it covers over a lot of imperfections. A gentle and quiet spirit however is that thing that gives staying power to the attraction. Those are the qualities of longevity. Lots of people are attractive for a moment, not as many are attractive over time. A gentle and quiet spirit is where real beauty lies, but it’s not something that can be seen in an image; it’s something that must be known and felt. If this is real beauty, the beauty that lasts, then the idea of asking strangers to judge your beauty from an image is utter futility. How can they judge that? They have no sense of your radiance or your character or your spirit from that photo.
Sometimes it’s easier to see a thing when you see it in another context though. Take horses. My dad has about forty of them in TX, and every time I go home, there are new ones in the group. I used to only see the flashy ones. You know, the ones with great manes and tales, lots of cool color, pretty faces, big and impressive builds… but then I would ride them, and my impression of beauty would begin to change. I’d find myself thinking, “This one is pretty, but man, he is hard to handle and wants to run and I’m fighting him the whole ride.” Or, “This one has no confidence and won’t leave the other horses.” Or, “This one looks impressive, but he has no heart.”
Then I’d get on another one, sometimes it was one I hadn’t noticed in the pasture because he wasn’t as impressive on the outside, but then I’d realize, “this horse has heart!”, or “this one really wants to please me and is easy to work with”, or “man, this one is so gentle and caring, he would really take care of any kids or inexperienced riders on his back.” Radiance, a gentle and quiet spirit—when I find those qualities in a horse it’s amazing how much more attractive that horse becomes.
My dad has a little red horse right now that, to just see her in the pasture you wouldn’t notice. She’s small and her head’s too big for her body, and not a pretty shape. Her ears are large—she actually reminds me of a deer, more than a horse. Her color is my absolute least favorite, very plain and she has no markings to distinguish her. But then you watch her ride, and you cannot help but fall in love with her. She has SO much heart and sparkle. She is happy. She moves with a lift and a spring in her step that makes her just come alive. Not only that, but she is so pleasant to work with. She can literally leave any of the other 40 horses we have in her dust – she is unbelievably fast, and she loves to run (it’s so surprising—she’s a little thing, but no one can beat her!). But, then she will just as easily and readily come right back down to a relaxed little walk, no matter what the rest of the herd is doing. Anyone who knows horses will know what a valuable trait that is (and how hard it is to find in a horse).
She’s radiant, and she has a gentle and quiet spirit. Her real beauty is hidden; it isn’t flashy or external. A lot of people may miss it, but I can tell you that there’s not a person who has gotten to know that little horse who hasn’t fallen in love with her. She is a beautiful little thing, but it’s definitely a beauty that has never asked for attention. It just is. Deep within.
I feel like I need to close with some sort of exhortation or question or punchy statement that will stick with you…but I’m not sure what that should be. I don’t know how to change things. I struggle with them enough myself. I only know that my heart breaks for the youth around me—well, it’s not just the youth either. I see it in the adults too. In fact, there’s a place back home that overwhelms me with sadness because it’s overflowing with this desperate parade of middle-aged women going out in their finest “beautiful or not” get-ups. I see the sadness and emptiness as they walk about, hoping the admiration of their fellow man will validate their beauty. It’s the grown up, going out version of the teens and pre-teens on the internet. It’s everywhere; it’s just that some places it’s more obvious than others.
When will we learn? When will I learn? “Those who look to the LORD are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Ps. 34:5 (emphasis added)