I live in a world of shiny surfaces -- where the quickest way to get attention is to shout the loudest and work the hardest. I used to climb ladders of success and figured I'd get a terminal degree (a PhD in literature) because surely then, I figured, I'd finally be seen. I'd finally be somebody. I'd be recognized, and published and loved by students. I'd make a name for myself.
We're walking in a world of invisible men and women. Women who work harder, try to balance careers and children, and find time to get their abs ready for spring break. Men decompress with video games and sports because relationships are hard and work is harder. We're stuck on a treadmill of busy and it's slowly killing us.
It doesn't have to be that way. We think the only way to chase meaning is to work hard, be successful and spend our time however we choose. We think that ease will save us. We think that work will save us. We think that if we could make it to the next rung of the ladder, then the blessings would flow down like flower petals in a silly rom-com.
That is not the answer. You know what is? It's something we lost a long time ago and a few wise poets and prophets still chase. It's beauty.
It's not the rom-com beauty. It's a beauty born of pain and dirt. It's finding the beauty in the pain, in the shattered or slowly dying dreams. It's finding beauty in being vulnerable, even when you gently open your heart up for hurt. Because, friends, I believe that there is a beauty that is always deeper still.
I belive in the power of story. I believe in the power of beauty to warm hard hearts and draw us into life. It creeps up on you, this beauty. It moves slowly and warms your heart. It's in the smile and shaking arms of my daughter as she flings her body down the grassy hill. It's in the hilarity of "potty humor" that cracks up my older boys. It's in the glory of a fine sentence that breaks my heart right open. It's in the shared bottle of wine. And it's in the nodding around the table -- it's someone that really sees you. And we'll miss it if we're always ready to move on to the next thing.
This is the beauty I crave. It's hard-won, like a long, hard work out, where the endorphins fly and you're just so glad you made it through. This is the beauty I chase as I type out sentences. This is beauty as I write my own story, again and again. It's not that my story is unique at all, but that in sharing stories, we know more of each other, we know more of ourselves.
Self-knowledge, of course, can paralyze. We can get stuck looking inward so that we sit dumb-struck, awe-struck or full of shame (depending on our temperament). But beauty always moves us towards
Beauty does not leave us in a navel-gazing, selfish state, like Narcissus at the edge of the lake. No, beauty is only complete when it is shared.
That's why I'm here. To seek out beauty-- ruthlessly even amidst the busyness of raising little children, of writing and church-planting. Ultimately, the source of beauty (I'm convinced) is in the eyes of Jesus. The God-Man who does not shame or condemn us, but the savior who heals, who touches lepers and bleeding women. He sits among the unholy. He sits among those too proud to bow their head, the ones that think they've got it all figured out. And he mercifully meets them, right in our poverty of ladder-climbing, right in our thinking that if we could just do x, y, z, that then we'd have arrived. He smiles at us.
Instead of sitting alongside this man of beauty, we scream out our importance or we stay silent. We back ourselves into corners or work out until we're exhausted. We indulge our bodies with wine and sugar and caffeine, or we starve them, because we are desperate for our flesh to say either that we exist or that we do not. We want to use our flesh to say boldly that "We take up space!" or we hide away in too-big sweatshirts and leggings.
We are so scared to be simply human.
Our bodies betray our souls. Because they are not separate entities.
But our bodies (and our whole selves) are more than efficient machines, they are more than ways to get out the underlying soul. They are beautiful sacraments of being. Our limbs proclaim a glory that we cannot know. Our sinews, muscles and minds make us move not only through space, but allow us to connect with others. Our bodies, our words, usher in empathy. They offer us connection.
There is more than success. There is more than comfort. Security will not save you. Your 401(k) will not help you sleep at night if your soul is tied up in knots and you are making your body into a product of invisibility. It's time to break free.
It's time to reclaim beauty.
Right here, right now. It's time to slow down, take a breath, and treat our minds, hearts, and souls with the respect they deserve. It's time to be gloriously human. It's time to sit in the uncertainty, to gather your safe people around you, and chase beauty together.
Let's chase beauty together, even though it feels a bit like a fool's errand. It feels like childhood all over again and so we label beauty-chasing with words like childish, juvenile, naive. But it is right where we belong. We never grow old of "fairy stories" to bring us back to beauty and there -- there, we will find evangelium
, the "good news,"* that there is redemption. That out of my own sorry, sad, story of twists and turns and the very death of dreams -- out of struggle -- that there is always, forever the hope of redemption.
May we hope to spend our whole lives chasing a beauty that we only see fully on the other side.
*Tolkein, "On Fairy Stories"
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