Chasing Beauty

At some point during high school, I claimed Beauty and the Beast as my favorite Disney animated film. I guess my teenage heart identified with the girl who was odd and didn’t quite fit into society’s norm.

But at the same time, I never claimed to be like Belle because she was beautiful, and I never felt beautiful. If she couldn’t fit in, there was no hope for me–at least not that I found in a fairytale.

My life could never be a Disney fairytale anyways. My tragic backstory is hardly tragic comparatively speaking–save one small character flaw–my eyes.

I didn’t realize I needed to be self conscious about my eyes until about third grade when a boy asked me if I was looking at him when in my mind, I clearly was. Kids have a way of being bluntly honest, and growing up with crossed eyes gave me thick skin pretty quickly.

By sixth grade, the innocent “Are you looking at me?” or “Why are you looking over there?” questions turned into actual laughter at my expense.

Patrick Chin made sixth grade particularly miserable for me. Day after day, he taunted me with “I’m over here, Sarah!” or “Why are you looking at the clock? I’m right here!”

He’d point and laugh and get others to join in, “Look at Sarah. Her eyes are crossed! Why are your eyes crossed?”

My little 11-year-old self tried to explain to him one day the medical reason for why my eyes crossed hoping that if he understood the problem then he would also understand that I couldn’t control it and maybe he would relent.

You know when you watch a movie and the character does something she thinks will help the situation, but it only makes it worse. You feel the sting of embarrassment for her and want to hide your face in your hands—thats how I feel looking back on that moment in my life.

The world told me I was unwanted, and I believed it. I stopped talking to people, and when I did interact with people, I stared at the ground and avoided eye contact because I was afraid that if they found out my secret, they wouldn’t want to be my friend.

Eventually I just started automatically assuming no one would ever like me because I had nothing to offer a friendship that was beautiful or worthwhile.

I felt like an outcast.

My parents saw a change in me that year. My mom told me to punch Patrick in the face while my dad told me to ignore him. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to punch him hard enough, and he would start laughing at me for punching like a wimp.

My mom is a fixer, so she found a doctor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore who specialized in my particular eye problem.

I took my first trip on an airplane and had surgery to fix my eyes which I hoped would also secure the acceptance I desperately craved.

But the surgery was a bandaid temporarily treating the symptoms to my real problem–searching for my worth and value and identity in the world’s ever-changing ideal of beauty.

I have never worried about not having enough food or a roof over my head, so I’m well aware this is entirely a first-world problem.

I’m white, middle class, and heterosexual, so I realize I have not dealt with the level of ostracization many feel in our American first-world society.

But this is the life God gave me, and it is the only place from which I can speak.

In a small way, Patrick bullying me felt a lot like Gaston convincing a whole town to become a mob with pitchforks and attack a creature before they learned the full truth. My eleven-year-old heart felt like the Beast with no hope of love and whom the whole of my little world was against–until God stepped in.

Sarah, I’m over here. Are you looking at Me?

When Love calls your name, you listen and you’re transformed.

I don’t follow Jesus because growing up I always heard I’d go to hell if I didn’t.

I follow Jesus because my days without Him are lifeless, dark, and a lot like hell. But in His kindness, He called my name. I know I’m loved, and not by something as fickle as the world, but loved by the source of all beauty.

I don’t follow Jesus because He promised me an easy life.

I follow Jesus because His love gives my life beauty and purpose when the days seem mundane but also comfort and peace when the nights seem too dark.

I don’t follow Jesus because His commands looked like a super fun way to live–without His love motivating my heart and His strength empowering my actions, guilt and fear would rule my efforts at Biblical morality.

I follow Jesus because in the community of believers He’s given me, I find belonging. I am wanted and needed for my unique talents and gifts. We’re not perfect, but we’re able to work out together how to love God more by actively loving and serving the world He came to save.

Do you remember what your life was like before Love called your name?

Do you remember what it was like to be the Beast–well no, here’s where the metaphor falls flat because we all know Gaston is the real beast.

We’re Gaston–incapable of loving anything outside of ourselves. But God loves us first, so we can see what real beauty looks like, and in turn learn to love Him and others.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7, ESV, emphasis mine)

One of the details of the new Beauty and the Beast film I appreciated was that the last petal did fall and there was complete defeat before love stepped in to change everything–beautifully illustrating God transforming our dead hearts and making us alive together with Christ.

But when we forget the depth of God’s kindness towards us, we tend to look more like Gaston to a world desperately needing to see Jesus.

I’m not sure Jesus calls us to pick up our pitchforks and attack a secular company for making films that don’t line up exactly to our Biblical view of morality.

Jesus does call us to wage war against the sin in our own hearts that keeps us from loving Him and others completely. He even promises to give us strength to fight those battles, so maybe your entertainment choices are more a matter of your personal pursuit of holiness.

Boycotts look at lot more like an angry mob of small-minded townspeople than love. The townspeople never took the time to get to know the Beast’s story maybe because it seemed too different from their own. Instead, they immediately accused him of being a threat to their ideal version of society.

But Jesus stands between the accuser and the condemned. When Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus, he sent the accusers away with His words, not the woman, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

His kindness and mercy led her to repentance.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from no on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11, ESV)

Even though Love has changed our hearts, we still struggle with the beast of sin inside us. Judgement and condemnation are easy because they make us feel better about our own shortcomings.

Loving people who are different than us by stepping into their brokenness in the same way God stepped into ours is difficult.

It’s God’s kindness that leads people to repentance, but how can they see His kindness if they’re being distracted by Christians yelling at the world for acting just like the world is supposed to act apart from God.

Patrick Chin made my sixth grade life hell. His accusations, though true, did not make me want to be his friend or know his story–they made me want to run as far away from him as possible and find people who would be kinder and accept me.

I found that in God first and then the church–but finding acceptance in the church was probably a lot easier for me because my life and struggles looked very similar to all the others in my church.

I love Jesus. I wish I had words to express how grateful I am for His love.

I’m not ashamed of Jesus or embarrassed to share why He means so much to me.

Remember we talked about that sting of embarrassment you get when you watch a movie and the character does something they think will make a situation better and ends up making it worse? That’s how I feel when I see the church judge the world when God has called us to love our neighbor as ourself. But I can’t look away this time.

I’m not writing from a place of having figured out how to make everyone feel loved and accepted all the time. I have so much to learn–and unfortunately, I usually learn more from my mistakes than my successes.

I’m writing from a place of brokenness. I never want anyone feel the way Patrick made me feel–worthless and unwanted. But I know many individuals and groups of people have felt marginalized by the church in ways that make my experience in sixth grade look like a walk in the park. My heart breaks because the church seems to judge without question and love with an agenda.

But if we remember the depths from which God saved us, our hearts and arms should be open wide to a world desperately searching for belonging and meaning and peace and love–all the things Christ offers anyone who believes.

Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12, ESV)

We’re not going to change the world by yelling or boycotting.

We’re not going to change the world by claiming the moral high ground.

We must fight sin though–but let’s start with the sin in our own lives that keeps God from having our undivided hearts. He wants our hearts so He can continually transform our lives to reflect His beauty to the world. What a wonderful privilege!

We forfeit that privilege when we let sin entice our hearts. We get distracted from the battle with our own sin when we’re worried about the sin in others who don’t even claim to know God–you know, the ones for whom God wants us to be a reflection of His love and kindness.

But we might change the world by doing what Jesus did to change our worlds–becoming a servant. Humbling himself by chasing beauty through sacrifice. Loving those the religious leaders called outcasts and sinners.

We might change the world if we fix our eyes on the cross reminding us of both the depth of our depravity and the greatness of our Savior. You straight-eyed people don’t have the need to be constantly wondering where the gaze of your eyes has drifted like I sometimes do, but we must train ourselves to be always aware of where the gaze of our hearts has drifted.

When our hearts are focused on chasing the beauty found in Jesus, we’re humbled and freed to be servants showing our neighbors God’s kindness and trusting God to handle how the world responds to His beauty.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)