Growing up, I knew that pretty was important, not because my parents emphasized it but simply because it was the reality around me. It was important to be pretty and wear pretty and to never “act ugly.” I never thought of myself as a pretty girl, unfortunately. There was always some aspect of my appearance that failed to meet the pretty quota I had set in my head. But I took hope in believing that pretty had a time limit. I believed that once I grew up and functioned in the adult world, pretty’s time would run out and substance would take over as the primary target. I believed that mature adults would consider substance, content, and depth more important than pretty.
You can imagine how disappointed I am.
Because, oddly enough, pretty is still of the utmost importance, and I’m not just talking about “in the world”. Pretty is just as important in the church as it is in worldly contexts, maybe even more so.
Churches now have pretty backgrounds for their PowerPoint slides and flawless transitions between pieces of the order of service. The lighting is designed to create the prettiest ambiance possible. We study ways to make our services smoother, more attractive, prettier. Christian blogs are expected to have professional graphic designers in order to properly convey the message of Jesus, who was prophetically described as “like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him,”(Isaiah 53:3). But we’re still trying to dress Him up and make Him pretty, Lord help us.
Speaking of graphic design, it seems to be increasing in importance when it comes to Bible study material these days. Now, please don’t think that I’m knocking the value of good design. God Himself is a designer, both of the world and His children, and it’s good for us to emulate that, to an extent.
But one day I found myself in a random women’s Bible study. (If you think you know the one to which I’m referring, you’re almost definitely incorrect. It was a truly random experience.) Before the study began, the women discussed the material that we were using. They talked about how pretty it was and how much they loved the graphic designs and layout. Although the quality of material was very high, that wasn’t what impressed them, and it was clearly not what impacted them. In the discussion that followed, the women described the things that stood out to them from the Bible reading, all of which were pretty. They never once mentioned a sin that needed to be repented of or a problem that needed to be solved. None of their gleaned wisdom demanded bravery or strength. They spoke of the Word of God as if it were an art collection to be admired, and then forgotten.
The problem wasn’t the material or the fact that it was designed well and presented beautifully. The problem is that many women, even most of us, haven’t matured enough to look for more than pretty out of our own lives or the God that we serve. We’re still ignoring the refuse of sin and the horrors of a broken world in hopes of finding a new cute top or a home with a better view. We’re looking for pretty when God has designed us for so much more. He has designed us for a heavy kind of glory that takes strength, bravery, and very little concern for pretty. Oh, we will most definitely be more beautiful when we gaze upon Him as He is, but when we do, the last concern on our minds will be “pretty”.
I recently saw Wonder Woman, and I kept finding myself thinking, “That’s what the Kingdom needs! We need Amazons!” Diana was beautiful and nurturing and the very definition of loving, but she was also strong and brave enough to face the ugliness that threatened those she loved. I think Christian women have a decent picture of love and nurturing, the pretty parts of biblical womanhood, but we have a tendency to stumble when it comes to the aspects that demand bravery and strength. Unfortunately, love and nurturing beg that we look into the dark corners of our world and our own hearts. In order to love fully and nurture skillfully, we must bravely face the ugliness of sin and corruption in our world, in our friends, and in ourselves.
The Kingdom we’ve been called to isn’t pretty. It’s intense. It’s scary. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. But it ain’t pretty. The author of Hebrews describes it this way:
For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, for they could not bear what was commanded: If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned. Hebrews 12:18-20
The author was comparing the way that God appeared on Mount Sinai after the Exodus to the Kingdom of God that Christ brought to earth. He’s the same God He was, and no Israelite would ever describe the Lord of Hosts as pretty. Beautiful, sure, but not pretty.
I’m not suggesting that we abandon pretty altogether. I still look in the mirror and do my hair and makeup when I need to. I try to pick out clothes that make me look my best. But I have made the decision that my goal is going to be higher than pretty. My standards are going to require more than good design and attractive presentation.
I was right when I believed that mature adults are more concerned with substance than with pretty. I just didn’t realize how few mature adults there are, and I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to let go of pretty. After all those years, I really started to believe that pretty was important, but it isn’t. It really isn’t.
I’d rather bravely look into the truths of God’s Word that correct my sin and reveal my guilt than to rest in pretty encouragement that doesn’t require change. I’d rather pick up the strength of the Lord and go to battle than daintily fan myself on the Kingdom’s front porch. I’d rather face the dark ugliness of a fallen world than to live in a world of make-believe where outfits and earrings are more important than starving children.
This is my challenge to you: If the Kingdom of God described in Hebrews 12 sounds unfamiliar, you may have been seduced by pretty, my friend. Go deeper into God’s Word. Get more involved in His Kingdom than you have ever been. Roll up your sleeves. Gird your loins. Train your spiritual muscles for battle. Learn how to wield the sword of the Spirit. Know Him better and more deeply than ever before, and that blazing fire will become more beautiful than anything else.