Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Vanity. And Patience.

Vanity and patience - these are two words you don't hear together very often. One is definitely less-desirable than the other. But both have been on my mind this week. 

Vanity has been lurking under the surface for a few weeks now. I've noticed that, even before the presence of a newborn in the house (any day now, baby, we're happy to have you any day now!), I'm looking older. I've noticed more age spots, more fine lines, more "imperfections" in my skin. I suppose this isn't really that surprising. I AM getting older, and I've been outside more this summer. These things do happen. They should be expected, even. But now I'm obsessing about skincare products and makeup.

My last day of work for a while was yesterday. I went a day longer than my co-workers expected before I declared myself "all done." I really am uncomfortable and All Done. When I do eventually go back to work, it will be only a few short evenings a week, and a few weekend days a month. Even my per-diem pay can't cover 3 kids. So I'm transitioning even more to being a stay-at-home mom. This identity shift has been a gradual one over the last few years, and not always a smooth one. But one that is shifting again. 

So the vanity kicks in. I enjoy dressing up for work. I enjoy looking put-together. I know that a SAHM lifestyle is not always a given for looking put-together. Nor does the lifestyle finance a fun, put-together wardrobe. But I think that one of my top resistances to the change is actually a fear of becoming frumpy. Ok, I'm nowhere near a fashionista now. But I do have standards. I try not to look 5 years older than I do. I try not to dress 10 pounds heavier than I am. I try to look like I've shopped for new clothes in the past decade. I try to look like I at least TRY. I can't make any claims as to whether or not I succeed...

So then I start to feel guilty for my vanity. Really, does it matter what I look like? Aren't my actions more important than my appearance? Isn't my health more important than my looks? This is what I hope to teach the girls. A beautiful body is an healthy body, not a thin one. God gave us miraculous bodies to do His work here on Earth, not to adorn and flaunt them. What we know, feel, and do is far more illustrative of who we are than what we wear. Our appearance should not be our priority.

How do we demonstrate our priorities? Time and money are pretty good indicators. So if we spend money on our appearance, we are demonstrating our prioritization of it. So if, while only one parent is bringing home a regular paycheck, I prioritize spending some of that paycheck on skincare products and clothes, then I'm making a statement about my priorities. While working, this doesn't make me feel so guilty. One must keep up standards of appearance for professional purposes. Appearance DOES matter in the workplace. Investing in an appropriate work wardrobe IS an appropriate thing to do for one's career. And besides, I can spend some of MY paycheck to do it.

But what about when your career is being a SAHM? "Honey, can I have some of the money you earned to spend on makeup and clothes?" This just feels so... 1950's. Ok, so no, I don't have to ask BestestHusband's permission to spend money on things. But I do need to be able to justify them. And I realize that justifying them to myself is actually a bigger threshold than justifying them to him. But hey, that's a healthy thing, right? (Right honey?) But what is justifiable and what is just vanity?

What is vanity, anyway? I've been thinking of it lately as taking pride in one's appearance. But Sunday's Bible readings at church made me reframe the concept of "vanity". There is a long discourse on the topic of vanity in Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 2. It discusses vanity as taking pride in accomplishments, not in appearance. I think most of us suffer from this version of vanity more often. We've worked hard for what we have:  our educations, our jobs, our comfy homes in expensive real estate markets, our 401Ks. They're OURS. We earned them. We're proud of them. They're part of who we are. But are they? 

Our homes will likely still stand when we die. Our diplomas will crumble and fade over the years. The money will get passed on to someone else. They are just things. Things that will go on without us. To take pride in possessions, to take pride in what we've done is true vanity. Our brains, our parents who made us go to school and get diplomas, our health to let us keep working, they're all from God. They were given to us, and they will eventually be taken away. This is the point of the Parable of the Rich Fool. To think that we deserve them is a conceit far greater than worrying about our gray hair and crows feet. This is the real vanity that many of us should strive to avoid. 

So I'm grappling with multiple versions of vanity now. I need to find a fine balance between maintaining my appearance and maintaining my perspective. It's not inherently sinful to want to look good. I certainly appreciate BestestHusband taking the time to keep up his appearance. I certainly owe him the same level of effort. I wouldn't want to be an embarrassment, and I don't want him to have to work too hard to find me attractive. But I do need to keep in mind that, like the grasses and lilies, my life will eventually fade and end. No amount of expensive potions will change that. This is the will of God. And likewise, my education and career, as well as my vocation as a mother, are gifts that I will use differently at different times of my life. And this, too, is the will of God. To cling too strongly to any of these is vanity. 

Well, one thing that I certainly can't be vain about is my patience. Because I don't have much of it. I know local moms whose mantra is "I'm an endless well of patience." They're proud of how patient they can be with their kids, and what good parents it makes them. I'm thankful I can't be vain in this arena. Because every day, I pray for enough strength and patience to make it through the day. And I keep getting it. Just barely enough of it. I know it's not because I have an endless well of it. I don't. 

My Mum likes to say it's never wise to pray for more patience, because it can backfire. It's our trials and tribulations in life that help us grow into more patient people. To pray for patience is to ask for more hardship. So I'm content just to have it doled out in barely-enough daily doses. I'm too much of a wuss to ask for the hard work to make me more patient. And God will always provide what we need. And having to turn to Him for our daily needs seems to be a good antidote to vanity. 

So after all of this, I still plan on celebrating my first day of not-working tomorrow by getting a hair cut and a pedicure, and shopping for new skincare and makeup products. Let's face it. I'll need all the help I can get after the baby's born, and we already paid for preschool for the girls. And I really can't reach my toes. It's my best chance to get these things done. But I'll keep in mind that this version of vanity is really the least of my worries. I'll need to continually battle the rest of it.

What vanities do you battle? 

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