In a few days Julie and I will take our last-born daughter to college in Iowa City. For all practical purposes, we’ll be empty nesters next week (as well as Hawkeye fans for a while). Hard to believe, but it’s true. Yep, the last one is leaving shortly.
As I think about that upcoming goodbye, my mind races through the past, gratefully rehearsing so many good memories with Brooke. Frankly, often I share these memories with colleagues and friends as a way to help me get ready for this weekend. During one of those “memory lane” jogs recently, a fellow dad with daughters asked me, “So looking back, what’s one thing you’d tell dads with daughters?”
My answer? The heart is where it starts.
I draw this from Peter’s words in his first letter (3:3-6), where he, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the essential value that must be embedded into the soil in which we raise our daughters is this: It’s what’s inside that really counts.
In fact, the word “daughter” is used at the very end of this particular passage, albeit in a spiritual sense. But without question Peter is saying unequivocally that women—young girls, too—when living in light of this one essential, stand in the company of Sara as “daughters.” Truly, ladies both young and old who follow in her footsteps are in a long line of women whom God considers deeply beautiful and genuinely attractive. They have grown up as a spiritual daughter of Sara, becoming a fruitful vine because of the rich soil they share.
Take a look first at the passage:
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
The only imperative in the paragraph is the first phrase of the passage—“Do not let your adorning be external.” In other words, paying attention to the heart first is the singular call and command. So this ‘one thing I’d tell dads with daughters’ rings true textually.
But it also rings true culturally. Practically. Personally. Don’t believe me? Finish this statement: “Beauty is _________ _________.” Of course you knew the answer—“skin deep.” Why? Because though we are surrounded by bodies with busts and biceps, everyone knows, inwardly, that it’s simply physical curb appeal. Too often muscles and make-up only hide deeper blemishes of the heart and blisters of the soul. But that’s where we discover if someone is either truly beautiful or tragically ugly—in the heart and soul of every person.
No doubt society says beauty is in our external “adornment.” But not Peter. In fact, he uses that word to indicate just the opposite—that’s not where real beauty arises. Note that the word “adornment” is the word “kosmos,” and it is from this word that we derive our word “cosmetics.” It simply means to arrange in order or set in place, much like what women do when they “arrange” their face or “set in order” their appearance.
Peter then goes on to actually identify some of the things used by women to adorn themselves, specifically braided hair, jewelry, and clothes. And his point? This isn’t the source of real beauty! Yet, the point of Peter’s insight isn’t to demand that women stop using those items appropriately, but rather stop seeing those items as necessary for beauty. After all, he says, the externals don’t paint the truest picture of genuine beauty.
True beauty isn’t rooted in how pretty a woman can arrange the outside, but rather in how proper she can arrange the inside, the “hidden person of the heart.” That’s why Peter repeats the word “adorn,” indicating it is proper for women to arrange and set in place the things and issues of their life; but this time he connects adornment to the real source of beauty: the heart. He doesn’t include the weight on the scale or the size of the figure as adornment checkpoints; he doesn’t give more beauty kudos based on what you drive or where you buy your clothes. He simply states that dressing the heart is what matters most.
How hard it is to grasp this concept, for we live and move within a culture where an extreme emphasis is placed on the outside. Weight, size, and height, as well as appearance and accessories, are the standards used by society to see if our daughters measure up. The fountainhead of feminine beauty, the world says, is rooted in how well women can arrange or set in place the externals. But oh, how mistaken they—we—are!
The point? Though it’s not always easily deciphered, the heart is the message board of beauty; it’s the real advertisement of a woman’s attractiveness. That’s why Peter says it is “hidden,” the word that forms the basis for our word “cryptic.” It’s the heart that people should see and read. Of course, I highly doubt if anyone, while standing in line at the market or store, glances over to the magazine rack and spots a picture of a heart on the cover of True Beauty. The publisher of Women’s Health isn’t going to put an internal organ on the front page. Instead, we see pictures of unblemished faces, manicured nails, and glittering jewelry. You never see a picture of a mastered inner self. Yet, that’s exactly what Peter says is the true indicator of beauty.
Though counter-intuitive, genuine attractiveness starts internally. This is where women should primarily focus: on the inside! Dress your heart first. After all, if it’s going to be read appropriately, you must adorn it properly. This is the right kind of soil—prioritizing the heart—that helps your daughters grow up to be truly beautiful.
That’s exactly what Brooke has grown up to be—truly beautiful. And for all the right reasons, for I’ve watched her, especially recently, dress her heart beautifully. Seeing her well-worn Bible on the table, hearing her talk of her Bible study with friends, listening to her talk about how God is sanctifying her… it’s evident she’s doing more than getting ready physically. She’s adorning her heart, and she’s more beautiful than ever! After all, that’s what matters most, and that’s where real attractiveness begins—in the heart.
That’s what I’d tell dads with daughters.