My fair skin has been ravaged by sun damage: I’m wrinkled beyond my years and scarred from removing multiple Basal Cell cancer lesions. My brown mop has enough gray hairs in it that nobody can mistake them for ‘highlights’ anymore. My teeth are anything but brilliant white. I’m over 40 and overweight.
And sometimes all of that undermines my confidence, when surrounded by the features of my slender, tanned or blond female peers. Our society values those physical attributes more than the ones God gave me genetically. In today’s American culture, the ones I posses are not regarded as beautiful.
I recently crowded with throngs of other tourists for a brief, and oppressively hot, viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. This painting, now more than 500 years old, is one of the most well-known in the world: a masterpiece.We made our way to the front of a disorderly mob after about 15 minutes and were greeted by her proverbially enigmatic smile.
As I took in the painting, I reflected on the care given to this heralded work of art. She now sits in a humidity controlled environment, her frame braced from behind to prevent warping. A coat of varnish preserves the color, and on several occasions the painting has been cleaned. Otherwise, she remains exactly as Leonardo depicted her. The efforts of conservationists have been to preserve not improve.
Because they recognize the artist’s work as a masterpiece.
However, this woman wouldn’t grace the runway in a fashion show or a magazine cover. By our societal norms, she wouldn’t even be considered pretty.
Imagine, for a moment, if someone tried to throw some foils in Mona Lisa’s hair, rendering her brown hair blond. Or if her smile was amended to contain teeth so white they clashed with her ivory-toned skin? Maybe her face should be less pale, and more brown. After all, she’d look prettier if she were tan, right? Heck, she might even look skinnier after a few hours of sun.
Then she’d really be a masterpiece.
Preposterous, isn’t it? And yet, is it so different than what many women today do? Aren’t the dollars and hours spent in hair salons, dental chairs and tanning booths all aimed at altering our looks to align with the cultural (or marital) edicts of beauty?
I’m thankful for a husband who makes frequent expression of his love for me and affirmation of my physical appearance. He has been a mainstay of security over the course of our 17 year marriage, despite the wrinkles, sags, pounds and grays. And yet even his opinion of me shouldn’t be the last word on how I feel about myself.
It’s God’s opinion that matters.
And He describes you and me as His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). We are the only created beings that bear His image (Genesis 1). Each of us was fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We are His masterpiece.
Can the clay possibly improve upon the Potter’s work? Should the earthen vessel determine the color or size of its form? Should it complain of the stains from being used for His purpose?
The French name for this famous masterpiece is ‘La Joconde’, which is a pun on the subject’s name (Lisa del Giocondo), referring to the word ‘jocund’ which means ‘happy’ or ‘jovial.’
I wonder if we all might bear a greater internal likeness to this contended woman if we knew ourselves to be God’s masterpieces. Would we smile with the same mysterious peace if we ceased to enslave ourselves to the cultural standards? Would husbands be drawn to the inner confidence of a woman that stepped gracefully off the gerbil wheel of hair dye, tooth bleach and sunless tanner, and instead wore her graying crown of splendor (Proverbs 16:31) with her head held high? Would the unbelieving world be entreated to a God who is praised by His creations for making them a masterpiece, instead of perpetually trying to ‘improve’ upon His work?
Shall we give it a try?
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
— Psalm 139:14 ESV