More Wonderful Than Being Beautiful

How many women, as we stand before the mirror, stand before women we find displeasing, even ugly? We think our hair thin, our skin splotchy, our shoulders sunken, our arms gangly. Even the smallest of body parts — ears, toes, molars — can chafe with critique. They are too pointy, too crooked, too yellow. Nearly every part of us could use more weight, or less weight, or a different shape or texture or color.

And how many women, as we lament the way we look, are pointed to Psalm 139 for help?

You formed my inward parts;
     you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
     my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13–14)

Maybe you let your mentor in on a battle with body image, or searched for a resource on self-loathing, or lamented your size to a friend in passing. Whatever the situation, most of us know one response by heart: “But remember Psalm 139? You are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image! That makes you beautiful. So stop believing you’re not beautiful, start believing you are beautiful, and those problems you have with yourself will begin to go away.”

Of course, trusted counselors and solid resources will put it more gracefully and offer additional truths from Scripture. But perhaps more often than not, we’re told (and we want to be told) that our body-problems are beauty-problems. If only we could grasp how beautifully God created us and now sees us! Surely then the storm clouds of self-despair would fade before bright skies of self-esteem.

But how many women know they won’t?

Needy for More Than Beauty

It isn’t wrong to point women to Psalm 139:13–14, to declare who made them, and then to assure them how beautiful they are because of it. His glory does flood every atom of creation (Psalm 19:1), and the atoms of mankind distinctly bear his image (Genesis 1:27). Women are beautiful indeed.

Even so, the counsel moves too quickly away from God to be of lasting help. Sometimes we mistakenly believe, as Ed Welch writes, that “God’s job is to make us feel better about ourselves, as if feeling better about ourselves were our deepest need” (When People Are Big and God Is Small, 20). But thinking better of ourselves spreads as thin and short-lived a balm over our weathered souls as concealer over blemishes. The day ends, and with one swipe of a washcloth every blotch and bump and wrinkle reappears. Self-despair rears its self-focused head once more.

Because ultimately, a woman’s problem lies not in small thoughts of herself, but in too little thought of her Creator. And the solution is not to think better of her appearance, but to dwell upon her God. Women were made for everlasting worship, not daily doses of self-worth.

“Women were made for everlasting worship, not daily doses of self-worth.”

And in fact, Psalm 139:13–14 — the very passage to which we may turn for self-esteem — offers a more soul-satisfying solution to our body-struggles. Rather than using King David’s words to navel gaze, let’s contemplate the glory of God saturating these verses. He is creative, he is powerful, he is near — and he is absolutely able to so amaze us with himself that we no longer need to be beautiful. We will be too busy worshiping.

Praise Him for Inward Parts

We often turn to David’s words when we struggle with outward appearance. But have you ever noticed that the verses actually center on the parts of us we cannot see?

You formed my inward parts;
     you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (verse 13)

God did form our faces. He did knit together every strand of hair. But what kind of Maker is this, whose hands have woven “all things . . . in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16)?

If beauty is skin-deep, God’s creative power is not. The human body contains “an unimaginable wealth of detail, every point of it from the mind of God” (Derek Kidner, Psalms: 73–150, 503). The next time we stand before the bathroom vanity pinching our stomachs, what would happen if we closed our eyes, took a deep breath, and praised God for making our kidneys? By God’s grace, humans have created thousands upon thousands of medical technologies. We have yet to make a single kidney.

Psalm 139 reminds us that we serve a God who has made billions — and made them from nothing. Musicians make songs from notes they’ve learned, and woodworkers whittle away at lumber they’ve bought. But there is one Artist who was never an apprentice, and the only materials his creations require is the reality that He Is (Genesis 1:1).

And as Yahweh set about making you and me, he wielded his incomparable power with tenderness. He did not throw us together; he knit us together. He did not leave our formation to mere biological processes; he used our mothers’ wombs to bring us — exactly us — into the world. Before our first cry, he knew its pitch. For it was he who intricately wove our vocal cords into existence over the last forty weeks.

Praise Him for Every Part

With such a Creator in our sights, the need to look or feel a certain way fades. In its place stands outward-and-upward-facing praise:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
     my soul knows it very well. (verse 14)

Note how David doesn’t pick his body apart, only thanking God for the pieces he approves. He doesn’t say, “I praise you for the way I was made — except for my height. It would be a whole lot easier to praise you if it weren’t for my height.” No, he worships God for the way he’s made David’s entire person: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” No feedback. No excuses. Just praise. For David, his whole body is indisputable evidence that God is worthy of worship.

For the God who forms our most invisible and inaccessible parts — knitting us together, cell by cell, organ by organ, in our mothers’ wombs — all his works are nothing short of wonderful. And though female souls may struggle to know it very well when it comes to ourselves, Psalm 139 exists that we might.

Praise Him — and Be Satisfied

As we praise God for his wonderful works, he gets glory, and we get joy. It will not be the fleeting pleasure of being pleased with our appearance (Proverbs 31:30). It will be the everlasting joy of the Christian who knows and loves the reason she was made: to praise her transcendent and immanent Creator God. Only his glory, and not personal beauty, can satisfy this woman.

Mysteriously enough, she will come to believe she is beautiful. She will believe it not because of what she finds in the mirror, but because her soul knows well that the God of the universe made her, loves her, died for her, rose for her, lives within her. So content is she with who he is for her in Christ that her spirit sits still, quiet, and beautiful before his eyes (1 Peter 3:3–4). The battle to believe ourselves beautiful cannot be won unless fought within the Greater War: the fight to find God more satisfying than anything else in creation.

Psalm 139 offers the kind of meditative medicine aching women most need. With its help, we can begin to comprehend the unparalleled creative power and intimacy of our God. And in grasping more of him, we set out on the (lifelong) journey of needing beauty less. There will be far too much of our Creator to see, understand, and enjoy to concern ourselves so much with ourselves.

works from home as a wife, mother, and editor. She and her husband, T.J., live in Denver, Colorado, with their sons.