In the early 1970s, cosmetics powerhouse L’Oreal tapped into the surging feminist movement by pitching their high-quality makeup under the guise of empowerment and gender equality. They even acknowledged the typically higher price of L’Oreal products, but, as their first spokesperson said in a now-iconic television ad, “I don’t mind paying a higher price. Because I’m worth it.”
“Because I’m worth it.” This—and its second-person variation, “Because you’re worth it”—became L’Oreal’s slogan for years after, enduring to this day. Is this what women’s equality with men is worth?—paying more for cosmetics, which, let’s be honest, actually has more to do with looking attractive in a male-dominated world than female empowerment?
Women certainly are worth it. But “it” has to be more than budget-stretching shampoo and mascara. What a pittance that is compared to the sheer worth of any human soul.
The currency of our day is human worth, sometimes metaphorically in the consumerist mirages we treat like paradise and, sadly, sometimes literally in the depraved markets of pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking. Prostitution, they say, is the oldest profession in the world. I don’t think they just mean vocationally. Since that snake held out those sweet promises to that first woman, he was in a way saying, “This is what you’re worth.” And she sold her soul. And so did her man. Selling our souls short is the oldest profession.
But there is something older. Two words about us that pre-date our spiritual prostituting of our selves for illusions of fulfillment.
First, there was the divine word: “It is good.” God looked out over his creation, with man and woman as its crown, and saw that it was good “indeed” (Gen. 1:31). But there was a point where it wasn’t quite good enough. Do you remember? It was the time between the creation of man and the creation of woman. God made man, saw that he was alone, and decided that wasn’t good (Gen. 2:18).
And this is where that second word, older than the oldest profession, comes in. This is the oldest “profession,” in fact, the oldest human utterance, a profession not in the sense of vocation but in the sense of evocation.
And the man said: ‘This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man.’ (Gen. 2:23)
You can likely see from the formatting in your Bible that this is Hebrew poetry. This means that the first human words recorded spoken were actually sung. The oldest human words in recorded history were a love song.
“At last.” You can practically hear Etta James’s soulful voice sumptuously spilling over the text. “At laaaaast . . .”
“Bone of my bone. Flesh of my flesh.” God ordained marriage then as the only human relationship that can be rightly described as “one flesh.” Which is why, forever after, every marriage has been perfectly fulfilling.
Okay, sorry, I know I lost you there.
And it’s because we lost us somewhere, way back there, shortly after this first love song, after this first union before reunion was ever a thing, way back in that garden when the first Jerry Maguire declared to the first Dorothy Boyd in that first living room, “You complete me.”
Our hearts rose. Our eyes misted. Why? Because we all know the power of “You complete me.” We suspect we’re worth it. We hear it echoing in the dim memories of the garden we all carry around in our souls. But in the bones and flesh of our reality in exile, after the profession changed, we know that, after all, it’s just a movie.
But what if it isn’t?
What if every romantic movie, every romantic song, every insipid Hallmark Christmas show and every flimsy Hallmark Valentine’s card, every stupid TV commercial that leverages romance and human fulfillment to sell makeup and blue jeans and bubble gum—even every lustful glance or scroll or click—is not because love isn’t out there, but because somewhere it is? As C. S. Lewis has said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
And what if, despite our failings and flaws, despite nearly everything we see with our longing eyes and know with our tired minds or even feel with our aching bodies, that other world was real and coming quickly? What if despite our fears it’s not true and despite our foolish settling for rom-com fairy tales, we actually are worth it? Just maybe not in the way the sellers of makeup think.
This is why, I believe, Christmas strikes so many of us as warming and cheering and magical and at the exact same time hollow and superficial and, for some reason we can’t quite put our finger on, not quite satisfying. We enjoy getting baby Jesus out of his box in the attic and putting him in his place of honor in the family room, but somewhere between December 25 and December 31, right back into the darkness he goes, next to the dismantled toddler bed and the extra furnace filters. We know it’s Jesus who completes us. And we know plastic Jesus will not do. We want to be known. We want to be held. We want to look into his eyes and be seen.
So until the day he returns, we long. We pine. In sin and error, sure. But also in just plain ol’ lovelorn loneliness. All the cosmetics—commercial or religious (and is there even a difference any more?)—can’t do the trick. They promise us to match our worth, but they can’t deliver.
But one day, when he appears—a thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices. At last, the soul will feel its worth.
Do not settle for less than union with the One who made you. Today may feel empty. But yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.