As far as Bible stories go, Esther has always been one of my favorites. A young girl is plucked from the masses as the next queen. She gets a year of spa treatments and then a chance to win a king’s affection. How glamorous and exciting! And, how totally random that the God of the universe chooses a beauty contest to save his people!
It seems surreal.
Beauty contests are far less popular today than they were when I grew up. My family watched the Miss America pageant every September. I carefully analyzed all the women who flashed across our rounded television set. I critiqued them on their talents and evening gown choices. Violinists playing the “Orange Blossom Special” impressed me more than the opera singers. If I liked the style or color of their dress, I assigned them more of my points. The swimsuit competition annoyed me, even back then. But, in the 1980s contestants all wore one-piece suits that weren’t nearly as risqué as some of the suits I’ve seen in recent pageants.
I’d cheer for my favorite–hoping she’d be the one to win the crown. I’d tear-up watching her take that stroll down the catwalk, waving wrist-wrist, elbow-elbow with one arm, while holding her long stem roses in the other. Her new sash read “Miss America” and her bejeweled crown, somehow, never messed up her hair.
Ahhh. . . I always envied pageant girls. I knew if there was one group of women who didn’t struggle with their body image, it had to be the woman who was chosen as the most beautiful in the land. (My beauty idolatry started early.)
This is why Esther’s story always fascinated me. While the Sunday school ladies tried to convince me that true beauty was on the inside, I knew that being physically beautiful was an important part of Esther’s life purpose. If Esther had looked more like Leah (from Genesis), would she have been able to save the Jewish people?
I wonder why God would put a story in the Bible where a woman had to make herself as beautiful as possible in order to accomplish his purpose. Doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive to everything we’ve been taught about what God values?
When Beauty and Purpose Collide
I never had a shot at being a pageant girl. My lousy posture prohibited me from ever balancing a book on my head. I wasn’t tall enough, shaped right or talented in the acceptable ways to ever even try the pageant circuit. But Esther. She must have had it all together in the looks arena. I imagine her as one of those natural beauties who rolled out of bed looking gorgeous. Extra spa-treatments and make-up just accentuated what God had already gifted her with in the looks department.
My first instinct is to cry, “That’s not fair!” Why did God make some women look like Victoria’s Secret models while others of us trudge on, trying every product out there but never making the cut?
I think it has to do with purpose.
God gave Esther everything she needed, physically, to accomplish his purpose for her life. He needed her physically equipped to win the heart of the King. She needed a type of beauty that would captivate him. God had a mighty purpose for her life, and to fulfill that purpose, Esther needed to look a certain way.
But, what’s interesting is, this same truth applies for Leah. You may remember she was the “less than hot” sister of Rachel. Her dad tricked Rachel’s beau, Jacob, into marrying her. She fought for her husband’s attention and affection by bearing him children. One of these children just happened to be a boy named Judah. From his line, later, comes our Savior.
Did God have a lesser purpose for Leah’s life than for Esther’s? Hardly. Both had important roles to fill in the history of the world. But, God physically made Esther look one way and Leah look another.
Why would he do that? Doesn’t he know that he should have made “all women beautiful?” (You know– like those nice women on stage at Christian pep rallies try to convince us He did . . .)
How do we reconcile his choices in the arena of our physical appearance?
Trusting He Designed Your Looks On Purpose
I think one of the most freeing lessons we can derive from Esther is that God created each of us with a purpose. And, in this, he created the way each of us looks, physically, with a purpose as well.
He did not create me to look like a model. I can rest knowing that modeling is not a part of his purpose for my life. He can work through me to accomplish his will without me ever having to get plastic surgery and liposuction so that I can look more like Kim Kardashian.
Yet, he has physically gifted me with all the looks I need to do what he needs me to do. And, the same applies to you. He designed you from the toes up to fulfill a purpose.
A few years ago I saw a man named Nick Vujicic speak. He was born without arms and legs, and yet, he speaks to hundreds of thousands of people every year, all across the globe. In his talk he said, “How can a man without arms and legs be the hands and feet of Jesus?” And, yet. His physical disability has not hindered his ministry. More doors opened for him to speak to dignitaries and massive audiences because of the way he looks, not despite it.
I am not hindered in my ministry because I have thick thighs. These extra twenty pounds that won’t leave, no matter what, they aren’t stopping me either. Sure, God wants me to be a good steward of the body he gave me, but I’m not bound to the pursuit of looking like a cover model. He can accomplish his will for my life without me ever winning a beauty pageant.