A Reflection on Holiness…
I once met a lady (Let’s call her Naomi) who had been burned severely over the top half of her body. She had leaned in to light a stubborn gas stove and it ignited with her bent over inside. The flesh of her scalp, face, arms, hands and upper torso was literally melted off in a second. In a flash of heat, she was no longer beautiful, at least not in any way that society defines beauty.
You might be thinking that you know people who are not beautiful, but I disagree. Perhaps not every feature is aesthetically pleasing, but most of us have what we consider to be our best feature that we rely on to charm our way into other people’s affections. Maybe it’s dark, soulful eyes with sculpted brows, or full pouty lips. Maybe it’s chiseled muscular runner’s legs, or velvety skin the color of warm honey. Maybe it’s a thick, flowing mane of hair, or dimples that beg for attention.
These features become tools of the trade, if you will, to express ourselves, to glean attention, and I dare say to manipulate others into doing, thinking or feeling the way we want them to. Depending on whether we are an extrovert or an introvert, our features enable us to shine in the spotlight or blend into the crowd.
For most of us, our features dictate how we feel about ourselves and how we project ourselves to others. Someone with pearly white teeth is likely to smile more, thereby projecting confidence, while someone having a bad hair day might not make eye contact, and thereby seem withdrawn or standoffish.
Beyond our physical attributes, we use all manner of extras to embellish ourselves. After all, presentation is everything, right? We often feel like we can’t face the world without our makeup mask, a trendy cut, colored and permed hairdo, the latest clothing fashions and lots of bling to top it all off. These exaggerations leave very little room for the Holy Ghost to shine through.
Naomi visited our church with a mutual friend, who had prepared me ahead of time that she would be covered in bandages. I knew she would feel out of place, and expected her to be the epitome of social awkwardness. Was I ever surprised?! On the contrary, she was the embodiment of grace and contentment. It turns out, I was the one who felt uncomfortable, while she projected perfect peace.
She calmly held my eyes as I tried not to show my distress at her physical condition. She spoke genuine and kind words as I reined in my emotions. Naomi knew that she was a curiosity, but she wasn’t embarrassed or offended by it.
Through the openings in the bandages I could tell that she had no defined lips to apply lipstick to. No eyelashes to coat with mascara. No ear lobes to hang jewels from. All of the trappings that we rely on to face the world with confidence had been burned away from Naomi. Still, she was calm and reassuring, not seeking attention, neither shrinking from it.
Oh, I’m very sure she didn’t arrive at this place right away or even voluntarily. My mind flinches to think of the physical and emotional pain she had endured. By the time I met Naomi, she had gone through months of treatments and therapy. It’s not uncommon for someone who has gone through severe trauma to end up bitter toward God and to turn to every form of pseudo peace and synthetic beauty. Not Naomi; she was barely there.
So many people, both churched and unchurched, think of holiness as a list of rules and regulations. Many have called it legalism, and so it is if you are only trying to appear holy. However, if you are seeking for true holiness, you will eventually come to the realization, as Naomi did, that the only adornment the soul needs is the light of God’s pure Spirit.
“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
-Name an embellishment that you rely on to feel confident.
-How do you feel when you think about being in public without it?
-Do you act differently with it than without it?