Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pretty on the Inside

“She’s so beautiful!” 
 From the time my daughter Rachel was tiny, people complimented her whenever they stopped to admire her.  They are right. (I’m not at all biased, of course.)  She is beautiful.  Even so, I felt vaguely uncomfortable responding to that comment over and over again.
It wasn’t long before I found a response that worked in such situations.  I’d say something like this.  “Yes, thank you. But I really hope that she grows pretty on the inside, too.  That’s what is truly important.”
You see, I don’t want Rachel growing up thinking that being pretty is something to be ashamed of.  She is pretty, and I’m glad she is.  She didn’t have to do anything to get her lovely face and her big brown eyes.  She was born with those.  She was blessed with those.
Having a beautiful spirit about her…now THAT is something she needs to develop.  As her mother, part of my job is to nurture in her the character traits that make her heart beautiful.
It would grieve me deeply if she were to grow up into a young lady who spent countless hours and enormous amounts of money cultivating physical beauty while at the same time becoming a snob who looked down on others who are not blessed with beauty as she has been.

Over the years, there have been many opportunities in the course of everyday life to cultivate in her the value of beautiful attitudes.  Scripture, of course, is one main source for this teaching.
We read in 1 Samuel 16:7, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)  We learn about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.  We discover in Philippians 2:3 that God wants us to value others above ourselves.  The list goes on.  God’s Word has much to say about what makes a person’s heart beautiful.
I have had help from a couple other sources outside the Bible as well.  Strawberry Shortcake, of all cartoon characters, gave Rachel a musical handle on the importance of character with a song, “Pretty On the Inside”.  Even Barbie videos show a strong, smart, kind, brave young lady who chooses to do the right thing even when it is hard.  She happens to be beautiful and have pretty clothes, but thankfully that is not the focus of the character. 
That brings me back to Rachel.  How is she doing developing a beautiful character?  Well, she has her ugly days, as do I.  Once in a while, though, something happens to reassure me that my hard work at cultivating character is having an effect.
This afternoon, I drove Rachel to her friend’s house to play.  As we left our house, a neighbor who lives down the alley brought her trash out to the roadside for pickup in the morning.  This woman had a severe deformity of her mouth, most likely a cleft palate that was never attended to when she was young.  Several of her teeth protrude at a strange angle, almost vertical.
Rachel watched her, perhaps staring a bit more than was polite as she mounted the back of our motorbike.  As we drove away, she commented, “Mommy, that lady with the teeth sticking out…we need to respect her, don’t we?”
“Yes, we do, Sweetie.  We need to respect her and love her because God loves her.” 
I took the opportunity to extend the teachable moment.  Because I have dealt with rheumatoid arthritis for twenty-three years, my fingers and toes have become somewhat twisted.  Functional, but not normal-looking.   
“What do you think, Rachel?  Am I less valuable because my fingers and toes aren’t straight?”
“No,” she answered decisively, “not at all.”
“What about that lady?  Is she less valuable because her mouth shaped that way?”
“No, of course not.  What is inside is most important.”  Then she launched into Strawberry Shortcake’s “Pretty On The Inside” song.
It was enough of a lesson.  I drove on with a smile on my face and in my heart.  My little girl is getting it.
We cannot assume that our children, both boys and girls, will automatically develop beautiful, admirable characteristics of the heart.  Such character needs to be cultivated day after day, month after month, year after year.  We have our kids for a few short years that fly past all too quickly. 
Let’s not lose the opportunity to plant the right kind of seeds in their hearts, and then nurture them as they grow.
Let’s make sure we are cultivating the same beautiful heart attitudes in ourselves, because our example will teach them far more than our words ever could.
As for me, each morning as I help my little girl get “pretty on the outside” before going off to school, may I also encourage in her attitudes and actions that make her “pretty on the inside” as

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