She sat staring at me, wondering if I still found her attractive. She sat with her pajamas on, hair undone, and with what appeared to be two tennis balls stuffed in her cheeks — the aftermath of oral surgery. My eyes became her mirror: Was she still beautiful? Without waiting for an answer, my wife asked me not to look at her.
The request stayed with me for hours. Where had I heard this before?
Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. (Song of Solomon 1:6)
She was a shepherd girl made to work the fields by domineering brothers as a Hebrew Cinderella. She worked with her hands. She sweated. She had dirt underneath her fingernails. She didn’t sit around in embroidered dresses. Evidence of her social class was stained upon her skin. She kept to the vineyards, but her own vineyard of beauty was less tended (Song of Solomon 1:6). Eventually, when her Prince Charming found her, she requested, “Don’t look at me.”
Daughters of ‘Don’t Look at Me’
We live in a pornified culture, where beauty is digitally, and professionally, enhanced. The new standard is beyond reach for those unwilling to starve, inject, photoshop, and undress. The world has set up its beauty pageant, banishing those unwilling to participate, like Queen Vashti of old (Esther 1:10–19). We rarely have a commercial for candy without exploiting some woman’s looks.
We’ve created a culture that expects unwilting beauty. Girls are pressured to become (and remain) Barbie. Women can’t grow old. They can’t gain weight. Can’t have health complications. Can’t have too many children. Can’t work in the fields. Can’t be seen recovering from surgery. Can’t wear gray as a crown of glory (Proverbs 16:31). Their beauty must be undiminished, unwavering, plastic.
And the devil has done his damage in the church as well. God’s daughters — our queens and princesses — are tempted to ask God why he made them this way. Too many inwardly cry to Adam’s sons, Don’t look at me. Such shatters the heart of God and all righteous fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons.
As Christian men, we not only lament this tragedy; we challenge it. We rebuke a society which gives worth to women not based on the imago Dei but the imago Victoria Secret. We resolve, with God’s help, to be men after his own heart, detoxed from the drug of pornography and women-debasing lust. And we do what the husband does in the Song of Solomon: delight in the very place she fears is undelightable.
Love Quiets Insecurity
He addresses her, “O most beautiful among women” (Song of Solomon 1:8). He lifts her sunken chin, surveys her weathered skin, and tells her emphatically, “Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song of Solomon 2:14).
He delights in what she fears will be undelightable. While heathen men may be so bold as to blaspheme God’s breathing portrait, the son of God looks at his beloved and sees such loveliness and beauty that he must exclaim, “My beautiful one!” Not just once but again (1:15). And again (2:10). And again (2:13). And again (4:1). And again (7:6).
With every new imperfection that the mirror shows her; with every new sag, scar, and wrinkle; for every stammer of “Do not gaze upon me because . . . ,” her husband corrects her in earnest, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes . . . Your hair . . . Your smile . . . Your lips . . . Your breasts . . . You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Solomon 4:1–7). He is a connoisseur of fine art, and, in the glorious confines of lifelong covenant, God has given him a masterpiece to enjoy.
Such is not just a husband on his wedding day, but on the day he wheels his wife down the hallway towards chemotherapy. A man staring at his aged, nearly-deaf dove will say, “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart” (Song of Solomon 4:9) His captivated heart makes for captivated eyes. His speech teaches others to cherish her as he does (Song of Solomon 5:9; 6:1).
Fighting Back Roots
The Christian husband is not called to flatter, but to be the world’s greatest lover. A kind of “lover” whose affection reaches beyond the bedroom into the hospital wing, the pew, the small group gathering, the car rides, the kid’s soccer games, and into — and through — the funeral home. A lover who speaks for God when his words quiet her insecurities. A lover who is an inebriated man, drunk off of her love, always (Proverbs 5:19).
A man like 90-year-old Roy. Traveling recently to the UK, my wife and I visited the resting place of C.S. Lewis. There we found Roy tending the grave of his wife, fifteen years deceased. He came every morning to fight back the roots of the tree neighboring her grave. He was there so often that the church asked him to be the groundskeeper and give the Lewis tours. When we inquired about his wife, his face lit up, and story after story told us the same from a new angle: “She was the most beautiful among women.”
Lift Her Chin with Love
Brothers, your wife may never be the “most attractive” to lustful men in a KFC world of breasts and thighs. But they cannot see what we see. We behold her as God does: as a creature with imperishable beauty (1 Peter 3:4). An untainted, untouchable, unfailing beauty, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. A beauty that is renewed day by day — though the outer frame wastes away. A beauty that survives longer than a century. A beauty that grows more effervescent the nearer it gets to bursting through its earthly cocoon. An eternal beauty that her God adorns her with even now.
Our Groom sees his church in such beauty. The world’s dead eyes find little beyond a despised and ignored group of unremarkable people — but she is God’s delight. The apple of his eye. She is his “beautiful one.” His lily amongst brambles (Song of Solomon 2:2), his wheat among tares. She is unique, transcendent, superlative. His love has made her so. She bears the beauty of being his. Forever.
And he says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Delight in her beauty. Speak tenderly to her insecurities. Lift her chin with your love.