Meticulously manicured lawns, flawless makeup, perfect Instagram pictures… not bad things in themselves. What do they all have in common? They are all things we use to create an attractive image of ourselves. They are attractively-wrapped packages for the product that is “me.” In today’s world, pervaded by the internet and social media, we utilize external and visual means to draw others to ourselves to try and create meaning and meaningful relationships. We’ve become obsessed with aesthetics, and we’ve gotten so good at it, that it’s often our main criteria for judging other people, places, and things. Of course, it’s okay to have a nice house and yard, to look pretty and to post cute pictures, and there is nothing wrong with makeup. (Mother Angelica once quipped that for some, wearing makeup is an act of charity!) However, when we neglect taking care of the inside of ourselves – nourishing our spirit – in favor of constantly focusing on the external aspects of our personhood, we are in danger of becoming a shell of a person and forfeiting genuine relationship with others and with God, who is not concerned with our appearances, but our souls.
I went to Pet Smart the other day to buy dog food for our puppy. I had difficult finding our brand because the packaging had changed and I didn’t recognize the new design on the bag. The contents were the same – puppy food for small and toy breeds – but the outside had been altered. I’m assuming the marketing department thought the new design would seem more attractive to shoppers and boost sales. Honestly, though, I wasn’t concerned at all with the outer packaging. I know what’s inside and that is what is important to me. We like our brand, our puppy likes it, and this is all that matters to us. The lesson? It’s what’s inside that truly counts. Or at least it should be.
Don’t we alter and embellish our packaging sometimes, and for the wrong reasons? We spend inordinate amounts of time and money improving our image and appearance so others will like us or give us respect or attention. Instead of letting others see what is on the inside and allowing our personality and character speak for itself, we depend on externals and gauge our self worth on how others react to them.
How does God judge us? When the Lord is sending Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem to choose a new king from among his sons, Samuel feels sure it will be Eliab based on optics and image. However, the Lord corrects him: “But the LORD said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7) We all know how the story ends. Surprisingly, David, the youngest, is chosen from among all the other sons.
Shakespeare, in the Merchant of Venice, 1596, introduced the proverbial quip, “all that glisters (glitters) is not gold.” It is so easy to be enticed and swayed by external beauty and minimize or ignore completely whether a person possesses beauty of character. It’s important to be reminded in today’s society to look past the glitz and glitter and search for treasure in the heart and character of a person and not in outward adornment.
One way to do this is for us to put down the cell phones and have meaningful conversations; to get to know one another on a deeper level, instead of reading about each other on a Facebook feed. Spending quality time with family and friends is becoming a lost art. Having actual interpersonal experiences is integral to truly knowing another person and discovering who they really are.
Our spiritual journey is all about inner transformation or striving to become more like Christ every day. We use all of the tools that the Church has given us to become conformed to him and to grow in faith, hope, and charity. This action is what will make us truly beautiful where it counts – on the inside.
We all strive to keep up appearances; to present our best selves to the world. We package ourselves in pretty homes, clothes, and pictures. What would the world be like if we shifted the focus from these externals and let our true selves show? What if we dropped the facade and let others see what we are really like, warts and all? Maybe others would be encouraged to let down their guard too, and we would all grow in love, understanding, and acceptance of one another and our relationships would be more honest, genuine, and satisfying.