Ever prayed more for someone just because they’re hot?
Come on, I’ve done that too. Let’s not act like we’re above judging looks here. We give more cred to someone based on their defined jawline and thinner waist than their less tangible patience and hospitality and compassion.
A very fleshy part of our human nature presumes that good-looking people are also just good, or that less good-looking people don’t really count somehow.
In church it’s easy to ask for prayer requests from the well-off, well-dressed, clean-cut, easily approachable mid-twenties demographic. Not the weird cat lady off the street, not the dude with the one rotten tooth who talks up a storm, not the pale socially awkward kid who says dorky things.
Most Christian books have the same problem: they’re geared to that same easygoing group of believers who attend the same megachurch in a crimeless suburban gated neighborhood with the sparkling 2.5 kids and Hollywood acceptable appearance, but they have nothing to say for the sick struggling screwed-up former addict who can’t find a job because he just “looks wrong.”
Wired into all our unaware brains is the deception that appearance means more than it should: but if I could give you a pair of X-ray goggles, you’ll see a bunch of skeletons with the same hopes, dreams, ambitions, anxieties, and worries that everyone else has too.
That seventeen year old pimply kid who loves Call of Duty is the same bag of meat and bones as the athletic football captain with the perfect hair; that girl who everyone hates because of her so-called overweight body could just as easily have been the same girl with the slightly higher cheekbones who runs the gang of cheerleaders. You can honk your car horn at the punk teenager on his skateboard crossing the street, but wave at the old lady on her walker: when both are just people who run deeper than what you see.
Take a Spiritual X-Ray and we all have the same vacuum of eternity within our souls with the same desperate longing inside. You and I could do way better than our visual addiction to all things sight, and instead see by vision.
I’ve mentioned this one before: in a famous psychology experiment, a group of men were given pictures of women they would call over the phone and strike up a friendship. The pictures were not really of the women. In the cases where the woman pictured was less physically attractive (at least by worldly standards), the men would treat her less favorably on the phone. The woman in turn would respond sharply, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of circular expectations. In the case where the pictured woman was “attractive,” the man went all-out in getting to know her. The response was just as eager.
That experiment always makes me a little sick to my stomach because I’m sure I’ve frequently done the same thing. It’s so easy, and even understandable. The world culture hasn’t helped in all this: the global market has made a market out of people, instilling an instant reflex of “hot or not” that rips the the human out of human beings. There’s a lot of money to be made in it.
I grew up most of my school years being called ugly or “rated a zero,” and there was always a crushing sense of being treated as a subhuman second-class citizen like you are worth less than other people. When people spoke to me, I could see it in their eyes too: people would talk to me but not really talk to me, their eyes darting for someone else more important in the room. There was always a hesitant rush, like people had better places to be than being caught with one of “those” guys.
As stereotypical as it is, I’ve found that people who never grow out of the “appearance” phase end up in the garbage dump of history because they relied on their looks to carry them through life, when by the time they’re forty, they get the same face as everyone else: wrinkled, worn, and done. It’s just age, but many of us don’t know how to grow up with dignity. You can only post so many half-naked pictures of yourself on Facebook before it becomes a very sad endeavor. Some of us never catch on that God cares less about what we do or how we look, but about the kind of people we are becoming.
Rather than feel guilty about this whole thing, we can only be empowered to really get to know each other. To see beyond physicality and to dive into the fullness of human friendship, to fight the reflex of facial evaluation, to opt for humility instead of sizing-up superiority. None of that is easy because our default mode is judgment: but that little extra work to pull from the gravity of appearance will go a long way to a deeper fulfilled joy in our relationships. I don’t want to rob myself of getting to know you simply because of some idiotic postmodern notion that image counts above all. Image never matters where life actually matters.
I imagine Jesus going to the blind, beggars, lepers, sick, demon-possessed, and little children: and I bet he fit right in. Maybe no one could tell it was Jesus from afar, because they expected someone cleaner. I wonder if Jesus bent down on one knee to the girl with the cleft lip, touched her face, and called her beautiful. I wonder if he prayed for her right on the spot, hugged her, pulled back her hair and told her to smile. I wish I could’ve seen her light up, throw off all insecurity, and do something worthy with her life. That’s what Jesus is about. I want to be about that too.
The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds him liking more and more people as he goes on — including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.
— C.S. Lewis
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
— 1 Samuel 16:7b
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
— 1 Peter 3:3-4