Last week it finally happened. At the age of 43, for the first time in my life, I got to wear makeup. I was doing a video interview, and my oily Italian skin was a bit too shiny for the cameras, so they toned it down to normal human levels.
Things went well, and there is certainly a time for cosmetics, but since then I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of being “made up”. There are times that we, by our own efforts or by the efforts of others, prepare ourselves to face the world.
That’s not a bad thing necessarily. Putting on our “Sunday best” is sometimes important. It’s a good thing that we have soap and shampoo, and you should probably wear deodorant and iron your outfit prior to your next job interview.
But I think that this idea of making ourselves up can become internalized and then subtly transform us into a grotesque mutation of what it means to be human, which then evidences itself as hiding, or worse, pretending. If I feel the need to doctor myself up every time I prepare to be around people, I begin living out of insecurity and for their approval.
I remember when I was a kid in grade school. Everyone, it seemed, had a ‘Members Only’ jacket except me. The craze went on for a few years and somehow one day I finally got the coveted jacket. I remember it clearly, it was burgundy and it was an off-brand. But now I was like everyone else. I proudly put it on and took a bike-ride around the neighborhood to see who might notice me.
I was not expecting what happened next. A particular girl I’d had a crush on for years came riding by. She said, “Jeff! I didn’t know you had a jacket!” That was all; I dared a smile and we soon lost each other. I had finally been recognized and this was all it took. But somehow I felt terribly ashamed. All at once in my 4th grade mind I realized that I had sold out. After years of wanting this girl’s attention, all it took was a stupid jacket. What had I done? I was now part of the system of pretenders and posers. Such a shame came over me that I went home, removed the jacket, and never wore it again.
In the spiritual life, we are always being challenged by these same dynamics. When Adam and Eve walked away from God in order to do their own thing, they immediately became insecure and hid themselves. They were created to be naked and unashamed but substituted this unabashed distinctiveness with their own posturing and unknowingly founded the modern-day art of relational subterfuge.
This manifests itself in many forms. We might talk over everyone else in order to get attention, topping every story with one of our own. We might see ourselves as pretty high up in the pecking order of humanity. We might post our most beautiful pictures online and delete and re-write our comments until they sound wise and witty enough to garner the admiration of others. But real life isn’t edited, nor is it an act.
Why is this relevant? Because no human need pretend to be something that will win the approval of any other. We are loved by God not because we are loveable or beautiful but because he is loving. In Jesus Christ we have been declared forgiven and unashamed once again. We no longer need to attempt to doctor ourselves up or make ourselves good enough for God, much less any other human. There is security in being accepted by the only opinion that really does matter. As Romans 8 says, the only one who has the right to judge decides not to, but instead is actually for us.
When a person encounters the true God of the Bible they realize there is no point in trying to impress God because he already loves us just as we are. We stop trying to work our way to him and rather accept the invitation to forgiveness and grace that he has already offered to us. Then, we live a life out of the pleasure of God rather than one spent trying to attain it.
Coming to terms with this is terrifying but also wonderful. We have to leave behind the scaffold of pretense, which is scary, but we gain an indifference to others’ opinions and a deep sense of the delight that God has for us. I’m still on the journey to take off my jacket and maybe be a little less “made up Jeff” and a little more of a person who is at peace because of the reality of God’s real love for me. May it be so with all of us.