Mirror, Mirror On The Wall…Am I Vain?
I watched in the woman’s bathroom mirror, mesmerized as she drew the smoothest line I had ever seen out of black eyeliner before adding a neat flick at the end. I was trying not to make it obvious I was staring, but all I could think was that this middle school girl was far better at doing her makeup than I, a grown adult woman, could ever hope to be. I found myself visibly ageing as thoughts of “When I was her age…” began to dance in my head for the first time.
And although it’s easy to pretend this obsession with looks is one that applies to preteen girls alone, the truth is our whole society is obsessed with keeping up appearances. Last year the cosmetic industry alone pulled in 49.2 billion dollars. And let us not place blame fully on makeup lovers. Health clubs and gyms pulled in 27.8 billion dollars as Americans scrambled to perfect themselves. I am not arguing that caring for our bodies, or making ourselves look nice, is inherently sinful. But vanity is a sin. So, where’s the line? And how does this all affect our faith life?
There’s an interesting passage in Scripture that has been taken out of context many times. Paul is writing to Timothy and he says regarding the women in church, “the women should adorn themselves in respectable ways, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire (1 Tim 2:9).” Paul isn’t trying to write out an exact dress code here (in fact other parts of Scripture make it clear that it’s not our responsibility to judge others on how they dress). What he is trying to do is discourage vanity. Back in the time Paul was writing, pearls and braids denoted wealth. Paul felt these women spent more time showing off how wealthy they were to other believers, than actually serving God’s people.
And that’s where we come back to the question, “where’s the line?”. Vanity is not simply placing value on how we present ourselves. Vanity is placing more value on how we present ourselves than on God and His people. We don’t just do this in our looks. If we place more value on our favorite sports team’s record than on the people cheering for the other team, we are vain. If we place more value on our political preference than on those in need, we are vain. If we place more value on our salaries than on giving to others, we are vain. It’s something we are always going to fall into (thank God we have forgiveness through Jesus), but the Holy Spirit challenges us to honestly reflect on what makes us vain, and what that vanity is preventing us from doing. Reflect this week, Church. What makes you vain? Who can you better serve?
Director of Youth Ministry
Redeemer Lutheran Church