Lying in bed a few nights ago–makeup rinsed off (if I was wearing any), the beginnings of my double chin/jowls showcased by the position of head on pillow–I glimpsed an advertisement in a leading women’s magazine for an aging serum available only at high-end retailers. The model was lovely; perfect for the enticing caption: effortless beauty.
Her makeup was invisible, lashes were long and perfectly separated, skin creamy. She looked like one of those .0001% people who, upon waking, her partner may actually roll over, like in the movies, and say, Man, you’re gorgeous in the mornings. This does not happen at my house, and I consider it an attribution to my husband’s integrity that he does not contrive elaborate fairy tales about this point.
Yet I remember reading (in a quite separate article) that it took teams of makeup and hair artists hours to give Cindy Crawford that “just rolled out of bed” look. And call me cynical, but I’m guessing the graphic artist composing this advertisement for “effortless beauty” may have put in a few hours of effort with his faithful little friend, the airbrush.
As I started to think about it—it was hard to think of any manmade, or woman-made, beauty that was truly effortless.
Children, I started to think. I have seen some beautiful little kids.
But then I thought about my days running after preschoolers. Jerry Seinfeld once likened a two-year-old to having a blender but not having the top for it. Effortless somehow was not the word that came rolling off my tongue. To keep those kids clean, nice-smelling, and smiley (long lashes or no) definitely required all cashiers to the front register. Even sleeping babies only seemed to be effortless when they were in fact sleeping, which is when moms are told they should also snag sleep, because when they wake up (to snag another Seinfeld analogy), no rest for you. Picture day for parents is a nightmare.
So. Scratch kids.
In fact, I bet that most models’ bathrooms are well-stocked with expensive, top-of-the line products that keep smile, eyes, hair, cheeks, and lips looking naturally stunning. I’m thinking their diet and gym routines don’t really feel that carefree. If not, I’d wager their designer wardrobes have meticulously constructed and selected undergarments, shoes, jeans…all that make their bodies look easily, mindlessly graceful. That is, if you don’t find runway styles a little too spacey. Or just plain weird.
But those poor supermodels—they get enough flak. Everyone loves to hate a supermodel.
Still, the point: Beauty, here in Real Life Land, takes effort. Especially true beauty: beauty of character, of the soul.
The next morning, I folded pajamaed legs beneath me on our porch in my own just-rolled-out-of-bed, distinctively effortless lack of beauty. Weighing over me was a very personal project that demanded hours of my time, of my heart. I was seeking to obey God, prayerfully so, on what He’d asked me to do.
But the results, though occasionally encouraging, were overall disheartening. I’d committed to a year. Two months in, I wanted to request early retirement. Its lack of success had translated into my own inadequacy (sound familiar?).
I felt every success, every failure, in my soul.
But I’ve been taking in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work bit by bit in the last few weeks. Keller quotes Lutheran leader and businessman William Diehl:
[Laypeople] need to discover that the very actions of daily life are spiritual, and enable…people to touch God in the world, not away from it. Such a spirituality will say…“Your work is your prayer.”
So—if you will allow me to make the leap from models to prayer—I believe God reminded me of a few things.
For one, the idea—perpetuated by a microwave, real-time, instant-access, airbrushed culture—that good things are also quick things—is almost always a myth, and a dangerous one, still casting its well-manicured shadow over our minds. Beauty is not instant. Not effortless. Perhaps my world is limited, but I struggle (apart from God-created things) to think of one truly, thoroughly beautiful thing that requires little or brief investment.
Secondly, there in the gray mist of morning, I began to write down what is my offering to God—my prayer. Parenting is my offering. Being a wife is my offering. Educating my kids is my offering. Being a faithful friend…a good neighbor…a good employer is my offering. This project is my offering.
Somehow seeing my tasks as an offering, as something sacred—tasks through which God loves the world, through me—detached me from my navel-gazing, and tipped my eyes upward.
As Keller notes,
the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure…
Competent work is a form of love.
Those who grasp this…will not be nearly as driven to overwork or made despondent by poor results.
Maybe you can identify this—with something you are slogging through right now that looks far from lovely, far from the vision in your heart or your head. Perhaps your efforts, or the beauty, have been elusive for much longer than my short-lived endurance levels.
I’m praying God lifts your head today to the deep, sacred value—and Object—of your work.
Beauty may not be effortless in nearly any sphere. But the work, the efforts themselves, are beautiful.
Talk to us. What have you seen lately that’s truly beautiful?