This morning after yoga class, as I sat down with my breakfast to get some painting in, these words came to me. They are a summation of a verse from 1 Peter:
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment... Rather, 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."
I think of how easy it is, so seamless and natural, for us to conform to worldly standards of 'beauty' and 'approval:' messages everywhere, from culture by-and-large to individual people (too often those closest to us or with the most immediate influence over us), that tell us that our ultimate worth is something we have to earn rather than believe in and live.
I think that's one of the biggest changes in my life since coming to faith: no longer looking to please others, answer to others, be something for others, and to seek approval from nowhere or no one other than God. This means a constant strengthening of character and conviction for what's right, what's noble, what's good for all, what is selfless; and not what's convenient, self-gratifying, or self-promoting.
The real and drastic shift that happens when we move away from trying to please others is that we actually become truly, fully, and really better able to help them: help them grow, heal, enjoy life, find beauty, and meaning. Constantly seeking approval or validation is tiring and draining, and it ultimately bears no fruit: it creates just a sort of fleeting feeling that we're 'good enough,' until we have to prove ourselves again. Working for approval may stimulate, but it doesn't satisfy.
Our energy is always better spent developing our more altruistic senses (in the Christian sense, serving the God that inspires them), so that we not try, not strive, not tire ourselves on what we think are our own valiant efforts, but that we allow ourselves to be transformed.
Applied to real and daily life, it means very actively, obediently, and passionately seeking that means of transformation, handing ourselves over to it, and eventually (maybe after much resistance or struggle) finding the consequences so beautiful and satisfying that we begin to actually desire the change and renewal of our innermost being, rather than fearing it as a loss of our control over our lives. There's a submissiveness that takes the place of possessiveness: we give our life up to truly have it, and only then does it become full of unfading light.