Beauty is fleeting. Proverbs states it; we feel it. Despite the beauty industry’s promise that enough dye, Botox, exercise, superfoods, nips, and tucks will keep us in our prime, we know the losing battle as we fade, weaken, and wrinkle. The question is not if we will lose our youthful beauty—everyone does, unless they die young. The question is how we will use our youth and health before it is gone.
We tend to think of beauty as a thing to be maintained, not used. But like time, beauty is running out, and we can spend it wisely or foolishly. Prostitutes are a good example. In a church I was part of, there was a brothel next door, and one Sunday morning I met an old prostitute. Once, she must have been young and beautiful. She spent her looks on men who cared nothing for her. She had been beautiful for people whose selfishness stole her youth and health. When her beauty ran out, there was nothing left but isolation and old age. There was nothing attractive about this broken woman.
The point is not how much beauty we have but how we use it. I am always struck by images of women in church history. Comparing portraits from their late teens with portraits from the end of their lives is sobering. There is little difference in looks between them and the old prostitute: beautiful when young, worn and tired when old. The difference is in what the Christian women spent their beauty—their health and strength—on. Instead of working to please wicked men, they brought up children, showed hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, cared for the afflicted, and devoted themselves to every good work. They spent their beauty as surely as the prostitute did, but they spent it on things with eternal value. They spent it in obedience and ended up with wisdom and holiness and other spiritual fruit.
In her novel Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë has a character marry a “filthy beast” for his money. The woman later laments, “It is too bad to feel life, health and beauty wasting away, unfelt and unenjoyed, for such a brute as that!” Our beauty can concretely bless others in God-glorifying ways—utilized, not wasted—as we bear children, support and love husbands, weep with those who weep, bear reproach for the sake of Christ, invest in our local congregations by practically serving other believers, and refuse to eat the bread of idleness. This sort of gospel work will use up our beauty in ways that God created it to be used. The fleetingness of our physical beauty will be invested in ways that bring spiritual returns.
Christians are called to care for our bodies. But we are called to much more than that: stewardship of all resources, including physical beauty, is part of faithful obedience. Maintenance is not the goal. Spiritual fruitfulness is. We budget our money, we schedule our time; how are we using our beauty?