Beauty and emptiness


A friend of mine recently filled out one of those survey things on her blog. You know, all sorts of questions about life. One of the questions was, “When was the last time you felt beautiful?”

It hit me like a cannon ball in the chest: I cannot recall the last time I felt beautiful. I honestly cannot recollect when that might have been.

Please hear me when I say that I write this not for sympathy, or for compliments, or for any kind of validation. I write this because I have been struck anew with this awful truth, one that continues to crop up in my life: time and time again, I look to the world for confirmation, for acceptance, for value. And it is never, ever enough.

This is important. It is never enough.

In whatever situation in life – whether it be physical beauty, success, popularity, acceptance, intelligence, humor, power, possessions – whatever positive validation I seek, and whatever positive validation I receive, it always falls short.

Right now, Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved is speaking powerfully to me. He writes:

Don’t you often hope: “May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.” But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run.

There’s a tiny (huge) part of me that has had the unspoken expectation that if I just followed my dreams, if I just moved to Nashville, if I just pursued the things that have been placed on my heart since an early age (beauty in all forms, music, creativity, knowledge, a good man, kids of my own), then I would be happy. And here I am, running after these things… and feeling so empty and discouraged and alone.

I have spent the past several weeks thinking, “I just need to get a job, then I’ll feel better. I just need to find a place to live, and then things will be great. I just need to spend some time convincing people that I’m great and they should be friends with me, and then I’ll be happy. I just need to get back on a workout routine to lose a few pounds, and then I’ll seriously be able to do anything in the world. I just need to feel pretty. I just need to find a desk. I just need to write a good song. I just need to make some money. I just need to figure it out.”

My very wise and compassionate friend Greta recently told me, “Annie, you seem to be looking for a quick fix to make you feel better – and maybe this time, God just isn’t going to let you have a quick fix.” What a scary thought: the possibility that nothing that I can do will make me feel better.

But maybe it’s the best, most liberating truth that there is. I don’t have to do anything. I can stop spiraling and running and toiling for acceptance. The God of the universe calls me “beloved.” Maybe that is enough.

It’s worth a shot. Because so far, nothing else has worked.


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  1. MJ on January 21, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    mmmm.. Henri Nouwen.
    Love him.

    Also: HER (non)advice = good.

  2. Anonymous on January 21, 2008 at 3:03 PM

    Please know that you are WAY more than ‘enough’ Annie! You are SPECTACULAR, AMBITIOUS, BRAVE, and a TRUE FRIEND! I don’t know much, but what I do know is that there aren’t many people who are able to say that… you are EXTRAORDINARY!
    (oh yeah, and LOVED {smiles})

  3. Lindsey on January 21, 2008 at 4:37 PM

    I remember those thoughts, I remember lonliness, and i remember thinking that if any one of these things: getting a more perfect job, a homier place to call home, a boyfriend to really be a boyfriend, a dream– to become reality I could rid lonliness from my life, I could call myself beautiful–
    I used to think that lonliness was the opposite of romantic love. but now i think that it is not.I think that loneliness is an opposite of love, but not the opposite. There are other things I now crave when I am lonely, like community, like friendship, like family. and I know how hard it is to establish these things in a new place. I think people put too much pressure on romantic love and that is why so many romances fail.
    Alone, lonely and loneliness are three of the most powerful words in the English language. They compete with Hunger and thirst—words that say we are only human.
    and we are only human, Annie. but know that people need people and a I am a “people” for you. to use and to vent, or to just call and chat about nothing or something(you chose).

  4. Sarah on January 21, 2008 at 10:10 PM

    hallelujah that it is enough. so good.

  5. luke on January 21, 2008 at 11:59 PM

    yes it’s enough. but why can’t i seem to live that way? i think we have been created to need things in life–we need community (to share life), we need a spouse (‘it’s not good man is alone’), we need a job (a sense of value).

    i think ‘God is enough’ is sometimes maybe too easy of an answer. of course God can fulfill all those things–he can call us to single life and be enough. he can send us out alone and be enough. he can be enough for anything. but does he want to be enough for everything? he’s created us to need and give to each other. otherwise we should all go to convents and monasteries right?

    of course it’s not the fulfilling of our deepest desire, that must be God. and all else that we do and seek after must stem from that, be rooted in that truth of being the beloved–not as replacements.

    and i’m sure you know this and it’s not really outside the point of your post, which is beautiful. but don’t feel bad for desiring those other things.

    for some reason that feels slightly heretical. am i off the rocker here?

    ah, and i love nouwen so much. have you read “in the name of Jesus”? a must, especially for anyone in ministry.

  6. Anonymous on January 25, 2008 at 5:39 AM

    Psalm 149

  7. RJTrue on January 30, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    I’ve read your blog here and there but after reading this, I feel like you are my kindred spirit … I am right where you are – with the beautiful thing, the Nashville thing – so much of it! Thanks for the blog. It’s nice to hear what you have to say and know I have a “friend”
    Be well.

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