I’m raising a daughter in a wild, burning world. Her identity is up for sale, up for grabs, up for measuring, or at least that’s what you’d think if you looked around. Who she is, what she wears, what she ought to desire is communicated through an onslaught of advertisements, music, movies, television, books, you name it. As she twists her hair into curls and leans her head on my shoulder at the end of the day, I speak the words of truth as best as I can. I tell her my story. I tell her where I failed, where I was rescued, where I was redeemed. How do I even begin to tell her what beauty looks like? What does womanhood that’s distinctly marked by the gospel look like?
1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry,but rather what is inside the heart — the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
I’m going to be honest with you, a “gentle and quiet spirit” sounds boring. It sounds like the kind of woman I don’t want to be. I’m not quiet. I have opinions. I have a brain and I like to use it to think, to form ideas, to speak them. If I put on my 2019 American glasses, I could easily read this scripture and roll my eyes at the patriarchy and decry their small view of women.
But this verse doesn’t actually say that what makes me beautiful is being a wallflower. That would be a poor and unfair interpretation of the text.
This passage implies something deeper and stronger within women as a counter-reaction to striving toward cultural beauty. The chapter goes on to say that we can be the kind of women who don’t fear intimidation. Surely, gentle and quiet doesn’t mean a pushover. It doesn’t mean that our beauty comes from weakness, silence, or invisibility.
If Christian women are going to stand out amidst the fray of cultural vices and affirmations, it’s going to be this — women who are rooted in Christ and who won’t be intimidated. Don’t mistake gentleness for weakness.
My 2-year-old son recently discovered the flowers growing around our home. When he leans down to cup the daffodils in his sticky hands and says “Good morning daffodils!” he is gentle with them. Since he has the capacity to crush them, he must learn to be gentle. Because he has the strength to destroy their image, he has to learn the grace of gentleness. As women, we wield within our tongues and our words weapons that can destroy our children, our spouses, our friends, and our homes. Even Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.”
I’m not impressed with a woman who just says what she’s thinking all the time. I’m impressed with a woman who knows what she could say but doesn’t, and instead finds a way to season her words with grace and kindness. Our gentleness, the one that restrains the fire and uses it to warm people instead of burn them, is what marks a woman with true beauty. Women without the ability to restrain themselves are not helpful to anyone’s cause. In the same way men without restraint destroy societies, women do the same. But women who know their strength and channel it through gentleness, with care to not crush the very hearts and lives they hold, those women are a force for the Kingdom that cannot be stopped.
An even more commonly known translation for that word is “meek.” Meek, though it does rhyme with weak, does not mean the same thing. Henry Thayer, a Greek scholar, wrote: “Meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God's goodness and control over the situation.” A meek woman isn’t a woman who placidly smiles when the world tears her down. She is filled with a strength that’s not sourced in either offense or defense but in reliance fully on Christ.
Meekness, too, is in itself a strength. Which leads me to the next little bit: “…and a quiet spirit.”
Lord, let it be so.
American bookshelves are filled with the words of people trying to tell you how to have a quiet spirit. Meditation, self care, acquiring a zen-like state, inner peace, inner sanctum. We’re the most anxious and depressed generation yet. A “quiet spirit” isn’t how I would describe most of us. A whole lot of us are knotted up, busy-minded, wringing our hands, white-knuckling our smartphones, and fearful of the future. We are overextended in our commitments, overinvolved in other’s lives, and overindulgent in our internal thoughts. We don’t laugh without fear at the future. We aren’t gifted at being unmoved by criticism and naysayers. I think of those who have gone before us, the likes of Photina, Perpetua, Amy Carmichael, Katharina von Bora, women who no doubt were not timid or afraid. They were not quiet in their words, but the waters of their hearts were still. Deep and rested. Their quiet spirit was not anchored in the currents and wind-tossed waves of culture, but was one that sunk its chains deep into the seabed of Christ’s faithfulness — unmoved, fixed, steady.
When we face medical news that rattles my core, a quiet spirit roots me back into the depths of grace. When the headlines strike fear and we don’t know what’s next, a quiet spirit shows me that I do not need to white knuckle anything since he already is holding me.
So in this passage from Peter, don’t hear what he’s not saying. Wear your braids. Your jewelry is not wicked. Your outward appearance does not need to be homely, invisible, colorless. But don’t begin to think that your beauty is rooted and found in those things. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the measure of your beauty is found in the brand of your shoes, the carats of your ring, or the blow out you just got. Our goals as Christian women should and will look different the more we behold Christ and, in desperation, throw everything aside and root ourselves in him. Only then can we be immovable, unshakable, laughing at the days to come.
I have met only a handful of women in my lifetime who have lived these characteristics out. Usually, they’re the older women of the church. They're the ones who’ve seen a few generations of pain come and go, a few seasons of heartbreak and uproar, and they now stand, gray-haired, facing heaven with a gentle and quiet spirit. They know their King. When they say they’re praying for you, you better buckle up. When they tell you that God loves you, you know they know it in a way that not many people know it. Their faithfulness has been lived out in unseen mornings, social-media-less days, and prayer through the night. While their bodies fade, what remains is imperishable, marked by timelessness and beauty.