Ok, true confession. For the first week of my marriage I would sneak out of bed every morning, brush my teeth, fix my hair and put on a little makeup before sneaking back into bed. That way, when Paul woke up he’d believe that I truly did look like an angel while I slept. At that time, the thought of Paul waking up early and seeing the “unmade” me was somewhat paralyzing. After observing my messy hair and morning breath, he’d surely be a little repulsed. Offer me a mint, maybe. Anyway, this self-deprecating trend continued until one day when Paul made an offhand comment about how blurry the world was before he put on his glasses. WHAT!? I wasn’t sure whether to be happy that he’d never truly see “bedhead” Liz or sad that I was just a blurry smudge to him every morning.
Fast forward to now and lets just say, Paul’s seen me in all stages of physical appearance. I mean, hello? Labor and delivery? That’s definitely a “whoa, I never wanted to see that!” moment. But then there are times when I make the effort to whip up some allure by going the extra mile with my appearance, too. Both ends of the appearance spectrum. (Although most days I’m firmly ensconced somewhere between tired and “look!-I-put-on-mascara!”)
My point is that true love should not be swayed by changes in physical appearance. In fact, true love loves you when you’re ugly. This truth was driven home to me by three different things this week. So I thought I’d write about them.
Motherhood Can Make You Ugly
First, I read this post. I pretty much agree with everything this girl wrote. Rounding the corner on seven years of motherhood made it a poignant read. Childbearing has been physically tough. Pregnancy/nursing hormones have not been my friends. Having a collagen disorder means that not only do I have stretch marks, I have some stretch folds. And since I’m writing to a lot of moms, I don’t feel that I really need to mention in print all the other things that can change for the worse. It’s not to say that you can’t reclaim your body at some point when the baby stage is over, but for a little while, babies make you feel all kinds of unattractive. But if you have a man who still shows unflinching love (“unflinching” because you’re pretty sure you’d flinch at the sight of your body) and affectionate joy during those months (years?), then you truly have found real, passionate love. As this blogger writes,
“I am not in love with just another man. I am in love with the father of my babies. The one who called me beautiful through nights of ugly, called me strong through days of weak, called me valuable through days of uncertainty. The one who waited patiently for me.”
I’ve experienced this type of love and I am humbled by and thankful for it.
Age/Illness Can Make You Ugly
Second, I saw love displayed during a point of true physical ugliness. There was an older gentleman admitted to my hospital with an illness that caused all the skin on his body to become dry and flaky. Literally all of his skin was peeling off. It was horrible. While completing a swallowing evaluation (the driness of his skin causing such inflexibility that his ability to eat and drink were affected) I struggled. Just looking at him made me a little sick to my stomach (and I have a pretty strong stomach). But this man’s wife was also in the room and during my 30 minutes with them, I saw her show such tender and genuine love towards this man that I almost became a little teary. It was as if she didn’t even see the wretched state of his body. She just saw him. And I realized again that love doesn’t see a body. It sees a person. And again, I realized how blessed I am in to be in a relationship where love is not in competition with attraction. There is a place for physical attraction, but the longer I live with Paul the less I am physically attracted to him and the more I am just in love with him. Sure, I admire his body (wink, wink) but that isn’t what makes me desire to be with him. And say he doesn’t ever suffer from a debilitating disease, that couple at the hospital were still just old. Even without the assistance of illness, age alone does a pretty good job at altering our appearance. Maybe not to the “ugly” category, but still. But if it were Paul laying in that hospital bed, I’d like to think that my discomfort at the sight of his body would be flattened and demolished by an avalanche of love.
Injuries Can Make You Ugly
Third, I read the book “Eight Twenty Eight” by Ian and Larissa Murphy. If you don’t recognize their name, you may recognize the short video made about them a few years ago. Ian was involved in a devastating car accident in 2006 and suffer severe brain trauma.
As Ian recovered (an amazing story by itself of what the human body is capable of surviving) Larissa had to come to grips with her new reality. The Ian that she fell in love with was forever altered. Both his mind and his body were injured, with parts of each permanently disabled. With brutal honesty Larissa laid out her struggle to re-define “love.” It is a powerful story that reminded me of what amazing things can happen when a weak human asks God for the grace to do what seems inconceivable. In Larissa and Ian’s case, God’s grace (along with the support of many friends and family) gave them strength to forge a union that, though not without its struggles due to Ian’s physical impairments, displays both a strong biblical love but also a deeply affectionate and joyful love.
The Truth About Love
This is the truth, that true love bears the burden of physical ugliness without becoming bitter. Without becoming hopeless. Without forgetting what is waiting for us in heaven (among other things, perfect new bodies). When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die she was acting like most humans would. In our minds, such horribleness is too great a burden to live with. We always think that Job’s wife was being super mean and nasty, but maybe she just became too overwhelmed with sorrow of watching her husband slowly waste away. I don’t know. But I know that we shouldn’t judge her for failing because we might have done the same thing. Loving something ugly and broken is not in our nature. But it is in God’s nature. When our sin blanketed us with moral filth, God loved us (Rom 8:28). When our nature impaired us and made us unable to care for our own souls, God loved us (Eph 2:4-5). When our human understanding lied to us and we raged, doubted and disbelieved him, God loved us.
So when our spouse is fighting with physical ugliness like hormones, illness, trauma, (or even just really bad morning breath) love them. God loved you. Do not give up hope. Do not pretend like this momentary (in light of eternity) change is what defines either of you. Trust God and seek to love like he loves (I John 4:9-11). If you are in relationship where this type of love exists, take the time to thank both God and your spouse. It is a gift. If you are single and searching for a relationship, remember that people are much, much more than bodies. Without a doubt, a body will change. Be the type of person who loves deeply, with little regard for what the outside looks like.
I have a spouse who does this for me and I am truly thankful for him.
(This is a photoshopped picture of Paul and me. The original photo was taken the year we met. My brother thought it would hilarious to age the picture and pass it around at our rehearsal dinner. Thought it was appropriate for the post : )
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