Outward Decay, Inward Renewal - Part 1
- Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Each morning, as I asphyxiate myself with my recommended daily allowance of hair spray, I am reminded of Sisyphus. This mythical Greek figure was condemned to exist in the realm of the dead, with the eternal, futile task of rolling a stone up a steep hill, which only tumbles back down when he reaches the top.
Every morning, Sisyphus awaits me in the mirror. Each day, I labor to push that stone uphill to a good hair day, only to wake up in the morning with the stone at the bottom of the hill—and with bed head. No matter how much effort I put into my latest beauty regimen, it’s always a race against decay.
According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was said to be the founder of Corinth. I find amusing irony in that idea, because it was to the fleshly, contentious Corinthians that the apostle Paul writes with these words familiar to every aging Christian: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV).
As we accumulate more birthdays, each of us sees the truth of Paul’s words. Outwardly we are wasting away. A few gray hairs here, a few laugh lines there, an upper arm jiggling as we applaud, an aching back just from sleeping—these are the indignities of aging. And it’s only going to get more undignified. My mother says that she, too, is startled to see the old lady in the mirror, and to observe her grandmother’s hands at the end of her own sleeves.
If you are young and still unlined, you may find this perspective alarming—and not as darkly humorous as the rest of us. If you are not prepared for the inevitability of aging, the day you discover that first gray hair or laugh line can be traumatic. I well remember once speaking with a single woman 10 years younger than I am who was reduced to tears after encountering her first batch of gray hairs. So I hope you will continue reading—as you will one day be there, and faster than you think! I trust the truths in this article will enable you to embrace that day, and not mourn it.
One more consideration: I’ve recently thought that it’s God’s mercy that we fall apart as we get older. How humbling it is to end one’s creaturely life dependent on others, unable to function as we once did, no longer as attractive as we were at our prime. It drives home the point that there is only One whose glory is unalterable. If that lesson didn’t sink in as young adults, it will certainly sink in later. We might rail against it, we might work hard to hide the effects, but we won’t change the immutable fact that “all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).
Beauty in the Balance
Does this mean I need to put down my hair spray can and back away from the mirror? Not necessarily. God made women to be beautiful to men. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking to be attractively feminine. The Bible certainly doesn’t back away from celebrating feminine beauty—one quick read through Song of Solomon confirms this statement. “How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!” (Song of Solomon 7:6). As Carolyn Mahaney writes, women should want to be attractive, especially to their husbands: “We need to discover what makes us attractive to our husbands. What clothing, hairstyles, or makeup do they find most appealing? And we should strive to care for our appearance—not only when we go out, but also at home where only our husbands see us.” But as single women, we need to be mindful of the heart issues surrounding this topic—I think we can be tempted to swing from one extreme to the other when considering physical beauty. We either become a slave to the mirror or else we disdain it. As in most things, wisdom is found in the balance.
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