Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What Face Do We Show to the World?

 By Patricia Raybon

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, pasting Kiss® press-on nails on each fingertip. My husband and I are going to a wedding and I want to look better than my everyday self. I work at home, that is, and when I leave the house for a nice occasion, I want to look as if I care. About the event. About other people. About myself.

But also about God. We’re each His image-bearers. That’s what I’ve come to understand. Therefore, I want to look “nice.” But also grateful. But also glad. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. (Psalm 122:1 KJV)

Indeed, do we walk so closely with Christ that we’re starting to look like Him? With or without a manicure? 

Jesus doesn’t care about my manicure, of course. Fumbling with my press-on nails, I stop, therefore, to ask myself a nagging question: why am I going to all of this trouble? If God only looks at my heart—yes, on the inside—why am I fussing with how I look on the outside? The question won’t go away, so I reflect on it for several reasons.

First, I am female. I indulge the “girly” part of being me. Indeed, I enjoy being a girl, as that 1960s show tune from Broadway’s “Flower Drum Song” declared. (I also can’t overlook that show’s brave exploration of immigration issues—still so hotly debated today.)

But first, can we talk about manicures? Because while being female—or attractive—doesn’t equate with wearing tricked out fingernails, appearance still affects how we get on in life, say scholars.

“Physical appearance serves as a channel through which personality is manifested," said authors of a 2009 study, “Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance,” published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Or in layperson’s terms, explains a Forbes Magazine article, “like it or not,” we’re being judged by how we look.

Thus, going on a date? We spiff up. Meeting a friend? We clean up. Going to a job interview? We wear “appropriate” clothes, even in today’s gig economy.
For me, however, there’s another reason appearance has always played a significant role in my life.

I am African American. Growing up in the U.S. during Jim Crow discrimination, the pressure to look better than expected was enormous. I can still hear my no-nonsense mother: “You’re not leaving the house wearing that.” (Or did everybody’s mother say such words?)

Looking my best mattered to my mother because she knew I couldn’t change the one thing that impacted me most. Yep, my skin color. I won’t belabor the point here, but the scourge of bigotry—and the injustice of color-struck hate, especially regarding race (which scientists have proven is genetically irrelevant)—remains one of the world’s worst nemesis.

And yet? For better or worse, how we look to others still matters. We each have to get out of bed every morning, get dressed and face the world. But what do we show to the world? Just a great manicure? Or something much deeper?

The remarkable movie “Wonder” offered an appealing answer. That story, about a little boy with a severe facial deformity—struggling to fit in at his new school—taught one empowering way to show up in the world: be kind.

Kindness is godly, indeed. Here’s Jeremiah 9:24: “This is what the Lord says…I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (NIV). That’s important to remember in a world that often isn’t kind—especially regarding other people’s looks.

As little Auggie’s mother in “Wonder” said to him—“You are not ugly.”
He protested. “You’re supposed to say that. You’re my mom!”
Her answer: “Because I’m your mom it counts the most—because I know you the most.”
As she wisely assured him: “We all have marks on our face. This is the map that shows where we’ve been and it’s never, ever ugly.”

So, what about followers of Christ? What face do we show to the world?

Open-hearted? Trusting? Inclusive? Fearless? Do we believe in our God, and in ourselves, so much that we know there’s enough room on God’s Earth for everyone—including ourselves?

In a divided world, this isn’t an idle question. If people know Jesus based on how we look to them—and how we “live, move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)—is our appearance close enough to Christ, and to his character, that others get the right impression of Him? Fully seeing His total essence?

I pose these questions not for others but first to myself.

Does my love look like Christ? Do my words sound like Christ? When people think of Jesus do they think also of me?

I pray the answer is yes. Otherwise, I’m just a well-groomed female with a nice manicure. God help me—and all of us who love Him—to be far more.

Patricia Raybon, a former Sunday Magazine editor at The Denver Post and former associate professor of journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is an award-winning author of books, essays and devotionals on faith, grace and race. Connect with her on TwitterFacebook and her Faith Journey blog at

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