“Quit being ugly.” This was a phrase that my mom used regularly when I was a child. Part of this is probably because I was raised in the good ole South, and “ugly” is a term for poor behavior in addition to unattractive physical features. But when I look back on my childhood, I am so grateful that my mom chose this phrase to use whenever I was “showing my butt” (another she regularly employed), because it taught me something great about what is ugly, and, consequently, what is beautiful.
In late elementary and middle school, I was not pretty, and I wanted to be pretty more than anything. Pretty girls had perfect hair and skin and manicures and their eyebrows were done. Pretty girls had Birkenstocks and Abercrombie khakis and actual Ralph Lauren polos (I went to a public school that required us to wear uniforms). I had wonky hair (in 1999 I would have used the term “nappy,” which is not acceptable to be used in regular language where I currently live) and caterpillar eyebrows and Walmart brand clothes (Jordache khakis and White Mountain imitation Birkenstocks, anyone?). I remember once on the bus, one of the popular girls was making a list of everyone’s social standing. I didn’t even have the guts to ask what number I was. I was just eavesdropping, after all. I doubt that girl ever thought of me for a minute or ever thinks of me now. The point is, I was definitely not cool.
Now I’m grown up and it is awesome. I have figured out the hair situation and actually get lots of compliments. I go to get my eyebrows done whenever I can escape my house and the caterpillars have been appropriately reduced. I have come to realize that yoga pants and a t-shirt is the greatest outfit on earth and who cares the brand name (Target all the way, y’all!). I have a blessed life full of meaningful friendships and an amazing husband and two gorgeous kids. Life just really does get so much better.
But there is something that I’ve been thinking of a lot lately, and that is the term “ugly.” I don’t get called ugly anymore (at least to my knowledge!), but there are lots of times when I just am. But, just as when I was a young child, that ugliness doesn’t have anything to do with hair or clothes or eyebrows. When I am ugly, it is 100% related to my character.
When I’m “being ugly,” I’m:
-getting angry at drivers who cut me off and then following way too closely behind them for several miles to show just how mad I am
-snapping at my husband who just wants to help me figure out what’s wrong with the external hard drive
-swelling with jealousy or disappointment that one of my friends is getting something before me that I desperately want
-judging or ridiculing others for their parenting choices that I disagree with
Sometimes, in these ugly moments, I can hear the little voice that is my mom from my childhood saying, “Quit being ugly.” Or maybe that little voice is the Holy Spirit. And then a lot of times, I am immediately filled with an ugly guilt. I see the dirtiness of my heart and I cry out, “I need you, Savior!” Interestingly, in those ugly moments, I feel the shame and guilt and sorrow that regardless of the pretty on the outside, there is broken ugly on the inside.
We know something about God related to this. First, the broken ugly on the inside is way more important to God than the pretty on the outside.
“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
God told Samuel that just because David’s older brother Eliab was super hot and tall and everything, that didn’t mean he was the one God anointed. God looks at the heart, and He was just about the anoint the man who was after His heart. Additionally, David was, like, the biggest screw-up ever. Like whoa. Dude was a murderer and an adulterer and many other dirty-hearted things. But David loved the Lord and always came back to Him from his ugliness. What a gift that God chose David to be an example for the rest of us – David was an ugly-hearted man who was after God’s heart. Oh, to be like that.
Second, our ugly hearts can be pretty-fied! Our ugliness is imminent because we are all sinners. But Someone wasn’t a sinner. Someone’s heart was never ugly. Someone would have graciously slowed down to let in the person who cut Him off. Someone would have always responded (and did!) with gentle, kind words instead of frustrated snaps. Someone would have genuinely congratulated His friends on their blessings. Someone told the Pharisees to cast the first stone and then told the person who sinned to “go, and sin no more.” Someone hung from a cross – pure, perfect blood from a pure, perfect heart dripping down, ugly hearts screaming and shouting and mocking and shaming and spitting in the ugliest moment in history. And in my ugly moments, even the small ones from day to day, I know I am one of those ugly hearts.
Oh purest heart! Oh sacred head! Oh Wounded One. Your grace consumes me.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace which he lavished on us.” Ephesians 1:7-8a
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Romans 5:8-9
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Hebrews 9:14
“But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13
“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
What overwhelming thought – that my ugliness has been covered by perfect purity! So even in these inevitable moments where my sin nature rears its head, or when the pain of this world shows up through ugly things like death and sickness and pain and broken relationships, or when I just ache to be home and whole and filled and full of joy, God sees only Christ’s blood covering me. God sees my love for Him, sure, but way more importantly, He sees His love for me. His love for me purifies my heart and gets rid of that ugly. And I stand before Him the way He sees me – His.
When my mom said, “Quit being ugly,” she certainly wasn’t talking about my outward appearance. She was teaching, albeit rather subtly, that ugliness is on the inside instead of the outside. I can do whatever I can to fix the outside, but “Quit being ugly” isn’t really possible while I’m still on this earth. I am comforted, though, to know that in God’s eyes, I am already renewed. And as Jesus reminds me of this everyday displacement of my own ugly heart for his perfect one, I am shaped and formed to become more like that heart he saw in David – a beautiful one.