I listen to a morning radio show that plays an ad for a local plastic surgeon. After offering facelifts and body enhancements, the ad urges women, “Be the you you remember.” This slogan telling women to reclaim their youthful good looks is catchy, memorable, and reprehensible. No woman who has passed through middle age and beyond is going to look like she did when she graduated from high school or got married, but there’s a great deal of money to be made by suggesting that she can and should.
Ironically, facelifts can leave women expressionless, or worse, with a perpetual look of surprise. This look contrasts with the incredible expressiveness of an old woman whose every smile or grimace is echoed by a myriad of wrinkles, like ripples around a skipping stone.
If you are a woman, I encourage you to give thanks that you don’t look like you did when you were 18, or 24, or 32. If the Holy Spirit has been at work in your life, you are no longer the person you once were, and that is cause for rejoicing.
Signs of Life
Women don’t develop signs of age by sitting in the shade. A morning spent in the sun at the park chasing toddlers, an afternoon at a track meet cheering on a nephew, or a week in El Salvador providing dental care for the poor will eventually show up on your face. A wrinkled face is the sum of many days of living, days full of hard work, tears, and smiles. Would you wish those days away? Would you give all your laughter to be rid of your laugh lines?
Likewise, pregnancy and childbirth take a heavy toll on a woman’s body. Gone is a tight abdomen after it stretches to hold another human. Breastfeeding may leave your chest sagging. Bearing children may have begun a battle with weight that you never quite win. But would you trade the memory of life stirring in your womb, the feeling of that child kicking and squirming, for your once-firm stomach? Would you exchange the hours you spent nursing your infant, bonding with the baby at your breast, for your former bust line?
Not all of us will bear children (I haven’t), but we will all age. Our lives are a sum of hours, and the most significant of those hours were probably not spent at the gym. As writer Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we live our lives.”
Evidence of God’s Faithfulness
If you are walking with God, signs of age are signs of his faithfulness, of every day that he has kept you in the faith. Although you may be acutely aware of sins that you still battle, you are not the same person you were when you were 18 or 25. The Bible tells us that those who have turned to the Lord are being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Would you really want to trade the “you you remember” for the person who is looking more like Jesus every day?
Perhaps your body bears scars that remind you of a time when you were far from Christ. Those scars, healed but visible, can remind you of God’s redeeming grace. If you couldn’t remember being lost, you would not have the same joy in the knowledge that you have been found. The scars on your body can remind you that Jesus, who still bears the marks of the wounds he suffered for you, has bought you with his blood.
If you have lived on this earth for many years, you have faced many trials. Those who have walked through suffering have been refined, just as the impurities in silver or gold are removed when they pass through a furnace. While you may not want to walk through the fire again, would you swap what you have learned through suffering for anything? The you you remember with a more youthful figure would not have the same intimacy with Christ that you have after walking with him through the fire.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not throwing out my sunscreen, and I don’t get excited when a new gray hair shows up. We are stewards of our bodies, and I’m not suggesting that efforts to maintain them are misguided. But when I do notice a new wrinkle, I want to remember the faithfulness of God in my life, saying with Paul, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Not only do we have this assurance, but we have the promise that God will give us new resurrected bodies in the life to come (Phil. 3:20-21). Beauty will be restored—even glorified. When we see our earthly bodies breaking down, we don’t have to grieve as those who have no hope.
This world is passing away, and we need to live in it conscious that we too are passing away. Our time here is brief, and we should spend it actively loving people. I don’t want to be the me I remember; I want to be one transformed into the likeness of Christ. When I am in my dotage and someone looks into my face, I hope she will see the wreckage of many happy days and hard-won battles. I want to be able to smile through my wrinkles and sing, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”