This article is part of our series on broken wells. In Gretchen’s new book, The Well-Watered Woman, chapter 5 is about “Forsaking Broken Wells.” We long for the living water that Jesus offers (John 4:10) but too often settle for empty wells and broken cisterns (Jer. 2:11-13). Gretchen explains, “We spend a lot of our lives trying to force empty wells to provide for us. Just as you can’t make a broken mug hold coffee, you can’t make an idol yield lasting joy.” This series will follow the four common broken wells that Gretchen shares in her book, digging deeper into the pitfalls of each well and the better hope offered to us in living water. Today we're looking at the broken well of appearance.
Seeking the Approval of Man
My life has been filled with fake faces and false identities. When I was 12, we were dirt poor. So I dyed my hair blond (read: orange) with at-home box color and slathered makeup on my face to draw attention away from my tattered clothes. As a teen with a craving for male attention, I dressed in ways to attract eyes to my body. I even had an emo phase in which I clothed myself in rock band tees and thick eyeliner. In my twenties, I molded myself into whatever my boyfriend at the time asked of me.
And even now, in my thirties and ten years after the Lord saved me, I still occasionally find myself fashioning my appearance to gain approval from others. Many are the faces of those who stretch and bend themselves for the praise of another.
We all struggle to some degree with our appearance before others. Maybe it’s the bridge of our nose or the width of our hips. It might be the incessant acne or the way our teeth look. Perhaps it’s not a physical thing at all.
Many of us struggle with how we look spiritually in the eyes of those around us. We desperately want them to view us as wise and godly, praising us for our knowledge of the Bible and how much we love God. Because we can become so infatuated with the approval of man, we do all we can to cover up our physical and spiritual blemishes, hoping no one notices. But in doing so, we misplace our identity as we kneel down to drink from the broken well—the idol—of appearance (Jer. 2:13).
The Fleeting Reality of Man’s Praise
Hidden underneath the idol of appearance, we find a deeper-rooted issue: fear of man. Simply put, to fear man is to elevate the approval and praise of humans above our Creator. Fearing others can emerge from our hearts in many ways, including caring so much about what people think of us that we allow their opinions to rule us. In other words, they become the source of our worship.
We want others to see us as beautiful, sexy, funny, wise, holy, perfect. So we want to be the whole package. But we aren’t perfect, are we? You and I, we’re filled with flaws—worse than that, we’re filled with sin. People are fickle and man’s praise is fleeting. We may gain it for a short while, but idols will always fail us.
The truth is, no matter how we toil, we’ll never measure up to the ever-changing standards of others or even our own standards. Or, more importantly, God’s standards (Rom. 3:11-12). In and of ourselves, we’re faulty, fraudulent people. But fixing our eyes on our appearance and grasping at man’s praise will only lead to despair. We must instead turn our eyes upon Jesus.
We weren’t created to gaze at ourselves in the mirror constantly. Instead, we were created to gaze upon the glory of Christ.
"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple." (Ps. 27:4)
Knowing the Lord through reading his Word, prayer, fellowship with other saints, and hearing the preached Word equips us to take our eyes off ourselves and behold his beauty instead. We’re primed to gaze upon his perfection instead of trying to convince others of ours. Then we’ll stand astounded by his beauty, finding our worth in him alone and remembering he has already accepted us. And by beholding his glory, we'll be less and less focused on the way we look to others.
Hidden in Him
The Father has adopted us (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:15). We’re children of God through Jesus’ sacrifice. When Christ died to sin, we died to sin with him (Rom. 6). And at his resurrection, we were made alive in him. So our identity is in Christ.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)
In recognizing that our identity and worth are fixed in Christ alone, we find the freedom to take our eyes off ourselves and turn them upon Jesus. We can sing along with one of my favorite hymns by Keith and Kristyn Getty:
“Two wonders here that I confess / My worth and my unworthiness / My value fixed, my ransom paid / At the cross”
(My Worth is Not in What I Own, Keith and Kristyn Getty)
Our worth is not found in the way we look, in anything we do, or in what other people think of us. Instead, our worth is fixed in Christ alone. We are hidden in him.
The Wellspring of My Soul
When God opened my heart to the gospel at the age of 21, I was immersed in the idolatry of male attention. I quickly learned that idolizing the attention of men would always leave me wanting. But in Christ, there are pleasures evermore (Ps. 16:11). The search for perfection, whether physically or spiritually, is an endless quest on this earth. We’ll never find satisfaction in our appearance or in the acceptance of fellow humans. But we can drink and be satisfied in Christ, the fountain of living water, the wellspring of our soul. He is the source of life that never runs dry (John 4:13-14).
Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus offers himself to us that we might be satisfied in him alone. Will you leave your broken well and come and drink?