When you have black hair, those first strands of gray hair are pretty obvious. They aren’t gray. They scream white.
Yesterday, I found seven strands of white hair, stark and proud against the unforgiving backdrop of my straight black hair. Unfortunately, in my haste to pull out those seven white strands, I inadvertently sacrificed 4 black ones.
I’m not one to fret about styling my hair, let alone coloring it. But this has given me some pause to at least contemplate the changes of time. I am growing older. Even if I still feel like a kid at times. Even if not much seems to change day to day. But I have changed with time. Marriage. Motherhood. Both the challenges and blessings of life embraced. The mistakes made. The forgiveness and grace received. The hopes and the victories. Everyday life transformed by the redeeming work of Christ.
Sometimes it takes a few gray hairs to remind me of the fullness of life, from the moment I wake to my last drifting thoughts.
Earlier this week, I found myself thinking and worrying about my appearance a lot more than I usually do. I think we all have those days when imperfection seems magnified tenfold. Perhaps a hundredfold. When that feeling hits, I am more motivated to wear make-up.
A few days ago, amidst the typical morning rush of a school day, Momo wandered into our bathroom as I was putting on make-up. He was supposed to be getting dressed. I gently reminded him so. But he stood there watching me intently, unfazed by my clear directions.
“Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m putting on make-up.”
“Why are you putting on make-up?”
“Well, today I have work, so I’m just putting on a little make-up.”
“But why do you need make-up for work?”
In my head, my thoughts churn. How do I even begin to tell you, my dear son? Because we hate our imperfections. Especially the physical ones, because those can’t be hidden as easily like the heart ones. Because we are a superficial people. Because we tend to judge by appearances. Because we seek approval from others. Because we easily buy into a prescribed definition of beauty rather than discovering beauty on our own terms. Because outward beauty is a lot easier to mimic than the hard work and humility that inner beauty demands.
I hear myself sigh.
My son is still staring at me. He is waiting for an answer.
“Well buddy, make-up isn’t necessary for work. But make-up is just worn sometimes to look a little nicer.”
He scrunches up his face and smiles at me with that goofy grin I love.
“Mommy, that’s so silly. Make-up is funny.”
Satisfied with our conversation, he walks away. On the other hand, I am left with more questions. I linger in front of the mirror, contemplating his words. Contemplating beauty and our perception of beauty. Contemplating what children see and learn over the years, as they observe the adults around them fretting over image and working hard to maintain it. Regretting, in retrospect, that I just gave my son the message that make-up is needed to look “nicer.”
Like mirrors, children can reflect with brutal honesty the messages and values we are teaching them through what we spend our time, energy, thoughts, and money on. Whether it is what we praise of them, or what we praise and judge of others, they are listening with observant and keen ears. We can say what we believe and value, but ultimately its the daily routine of life that gives greatest witness to where our convictions hold. Over time, we influence their ideas and assumptions regarding what is perceived as beautiful, successful, valuable, and worthwhile.
Momo’s assessment of make-up warmed my heart. It is silly. I am thankful to be reminded of it. I am thankful for the perspective of eyes that have not yet been trained to see beauty the way media and marketing would like. It reminds me that the ability to appreciate beauty is innate, but it is also trained and nurtured.
There’s nothing wrong with make-up. I’ll still wear make-up.
I’ll still pull out whatever gray hairs I find, at least until they outnumber the black ones.
But my son’s words ring loud and clear in my heart, reminding me to shift my gaze to more lovely things. To celebrate all that is truly beautiful, in both the seen and the unseen. To hope and trust, not in fleeting things and vain pursuits, but in what I believe to be eternal and wonderful and true.
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 4:18