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.