Well it’s almost mid-May in Chicago which, I am learning, means that Spring is finally starting to peek out from under the frozen tundra. It’s not in full bloom, mind you, but there are some flowers here and there and I finally put away my down coat until next winter.
In case you were wondering, I really miss North Carolina.
As Ike and I mark our first successful survival of an Illinois winter, we have both concluded that we don’t like the winter at all, but for two very different reasons. For me, it’s the length that’s a killer. I was fine back in January when it was 4 degrees outside, but when it’s late April and still in the 30′s? That’s not right at all. Ike, on the other hand, doesn’t mind the cold. In fact, he prefers it to the humid summer heat. What he doesn’t like about the winters is that it transforms his wife into a shapeless amoeba of winter wear.
Ok maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but suffice it to say that he likes my figure and was frustrated by the fact that I was bundled up all the time. Indoors or outdoors, I was consistently covered in wool or long underwear. Not exactly every man’s dream.
This seasonal development led to some interesting conversations between the two of us, which then led to some great conversations with my girl friends. While it is generally accepted that women should try to dress and look good for their husbands, we don’t often talk about why that is, and the potential pitfalls in such a blanket statement. So that’s what I want to address today. As a Christian woman, how should I think through dressing, exercising, wearing makeup, etc. for my husband?
There have been a lot of books written on this topic, explaining that men are “visual” and women need to “speak their husband’s love language” and on and on and on. I don’t altogether disagree with those reasons but they’re a bad place to start. Every person’s understanding of beauty is culturally constructed and can, at times, be in conflict with God’s design for creation. Of course it is impossible to extract ourselves entirely from our culture, but there is a better place to begin this conversation than with the moving target of male desires and expectations.
That said, the optimal foundation for this discussion is found in the marriage between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:25). When it comes to the touchy subject of women and appearance, the model of Christ and his Bride is a really beautiful and healthy example. From this relationship we learn two things:
1. Christ’s love for the church is not based on works. Christians do nothing to “earn” God’s acceptance and love. We don’t need to pretty ourselves up or get our lives in order first. We can come just as we are and be loved unconditionally. Similarly, a wife should never use her looks to earn her husband’s love and attention. Appearance should not be a bribe or a hook to hold onto his affection. If you find yourself getting dolled up for fear of losing your husband’s interest, there is a problem. This type of fear has no place in the relationship between Christ and the church, nor should it in marriage.
Before I move to the second point, let me add a final thought here. In addition to adorning ourselves out of insecurity, women sometimes justify vanity under the guise of serving our husbands. I am totally guilty of this! I know my husband likes me to look good so I fully indulge my vanity, going so far as to count it godly since it is done for the sake of my marriage. It is so easy to let sins in the back door of pretended holiness!
2. Christ does not require but inspires good works. Although good works are not necessary for salvation, James 2 reminds us that faith without works is dead. James made that statement with the knowledge that a true follower of Christ, one who has been captured by his love and has committed their lives to him, will show it. Not out of obligation but inspiration.
In the same way, a callous heart towards a husband’s desires speaks volumes about the relationship. On the one hand, it could indicate that her husband is not loving her well. She may have been hardened by neglect or insecurity. However, some fault might also lie in her heart. For instance, I’ll admit there are days when I resent men who want their wives to look good for them. It can feel like an oppressive extension of an already perverted culture. Yet my reaction isn’t altogether fair. Many men have reasonable expectations of their wives. They don’t want their wives to look like Barbie dolls–they simply want to celebrate their wives’ beauty.
In a healthy Christian marriage it is good for your husband to delight in your body. And as a response to his love and commitment, it is good to take care of your body and allow him that delight. This mostly means being healthy, but it can also mean asking your husband about his preferences in what you wear and how you dress. Not because you have to earn his attention, and not because he won’t love you otherwise, but because you love him. It is a decision made with the same freedom we have to serve Christ.
Outward appearance is indeed a sticky issue given the ways in which our culture so heavily distorts beauty. But the solution is not to reject all outward forms of beauty anymore than it is to give into them. What matters is that your body is a means for loving your husband, loving yourself, and most importantly loving God. Christian husbands and wives know they are closest to this goal when their service to one another mirrors the love we see in Christ.