“You look nice.” Emerging from the bedroom dressed in my Sunday best, I relished this rare compliment from my husband. It’s not that he’s stingy with his praise. Truth is, lately I’ve done very little to elicit it.
The daily grind of chasing after two young daughters has driven me into a fashion rut, and some days even I don’t like what I see in the mirror. When I’m donning faded yoga pants speckled with crusty jelly smudges, sporting yet another ponytail revealing tufts of post-partum re-growth sticking out at my temples, I can hardly expect my husband to comment. In fact, I’m grateful he doesn’t.
“Thanks,” I gushed. “These are the new pants I ordered online.” The ones I saved in my closet for six weeks, waiting for an outing and a mud-free forecast. My fresh duds were on my body for about three minutes before a sippy cup tipped and splashed Vitamin D milk down the front of my pant leg.
“Seriously?!” I whined. “Can’t I ever dress up?” Desperately, I blotted my pants with a wet cloth, knowing from experience how whole milk leaves stubborn stains. My thoughts slid down a pity tunnel.
All I ever wear are grubby clothes. And this is why. What’s the point in spending money on nice things if the kids are just going to destroy them? I used to wear tailored outfits to work. I used to feel naked without lipstick. What happened to me?
I’m a stay-at-home mom, and my kids are little. I spend my days spreading peanut butter and wiping stinky bottoms. I barely have enough time to get through a shower before the baby loses patience with her bouncy seat, let alone spend an extra half hour primping my hair and makeup.
I do the best I can on fast fix-up mode. Often that means recycling yesterday’s hairstyle, wearing glasses instead of contacts, or tossing on a T-shirt because it requires no ironing. Every once in a while, I like to recapture a glimpse of that old foxy woman—the one who assigned a column in the household budget for J. Crew and Salon Aura. It makes me feel, well, pretty again.
But how does God define “pretty”?
“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).
In Peter’s day, I imagine braided hair was the equivalent of our modern color foils. Gold jewelry and fine clothes—the J. Crew of ancient times. Women throughout history have felt the desire to be beautiful. But our real beauty is not found in fancy clothes, great haircuts, or carefully applied cosmetics.
God says it comes from the inside—a gentle, quiet spirit that our daughters can emulate and our sons can admire. The problem isn’t spilled milk, or the loss of identity and freedom that we often pin on motherhood.
My identity is in Christ. And what is he asking me to do? Be a mom. Guide his little sheep. Train them up right. That involves demonstrating how to respond well to annoyances and disappointments. It means teaching my children what’s really valuable in life. And it’s not the pants.
During our 20-minute drive to church, a silent but lively conversation took place in my head. I progressed from stewing in self-pity, to considering how Jesus would’ve reacted to a volatile sippy cup, to laughing at myself, realizing I flopped once again. The milk thing was a great teachable moment, and I missed it.
“I’m sorry, everybody,” I announced to my family as we reached the parking lot. “Mom shouldn’t have blown her top over some silly new pants. Will you forgive me?”
I glanced at my husband. A grin spread across his stubbled face. He knows me—my heart, my struggles, my best intentions and my special talent for screwing them up.
“You’re beautiful,” he said. And I know he meant it, milk stains included.