When Lent hurts.

on March 29, 2017 in Nash-livin', Perfectly Unique with 41 comments by

It’s not a complicated story.

I gave up makeup for Lent.

And it’s terrible.

It’s about control. I knew it as soon as the idea was dropped into my heart the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, the start of the season. It’s about how I try to control everything, including what you think of me. And what you think of my face.

(You may have noticed it’s a bit of a theme me and God are working with right now – control – as explained in my SheReadsTruth piece for this Lent reading plan.)

And it’s terrible. This no makeup thing? It’s a daily struggle. It’s not like every person I see I get to explain, “by the way, I know what you’ve seen in pictures but I’m not wearing makeup right now but it’s really me hi will you still be my friend?”


It hurts. It’s bringing up all sorts of muck from the bottom of my emotional ocean that I never intended to be stirred up. Old insecurities. Fears. Worries. And it’s constant. That’s the thing that sucks the most. I never escape it. It never leaves my mind. In every place I go, in every face I make eye contact with, including my own in the mirror.

But it matters. The pain matters. I sat with a friend the other day as we discussed some things that we want God to do in our lives. She said, “the good stuff is never cheap.”

It isn’t. I’ve never found the best things in life to be free or easy or without struggle.

And that has been this. I know it in my guts, even if I don’t even know the good that will come of this yet. But good will come. That’s how this all works. That’s how it always works.

Today though? I’m mainly just ready for it to be over, if I’m being honest.

But I’m not quitting. I will finish this.

Last week, I saw that my friend Jeremy Cowart was offering portrait sessions here in town. I thought about it long and hard and decided that I wanted this experience documented. I want to remember the wrestling. I want to remember the things God has whispered to me in the secret place over these last few weeks and the layers that are slowly peeling away. I want to remember the Lent that I otherwise would work hard to forget.

So I did it. I went and had a portrait session with not one stitch of makeup on my face. Woof.

After Jeremy took my picture for about 15 minutes, he invited me around to the monitor side to see some of the shots. I hated most of them. If you’ve ever done a photoshoot (professional hair and makeup or none of the above), you know that’s pretty true no matter what. But I winced a few more times than usual as Jeremy slid through the images he had captured. As only a big brother can do, Jeremy kept reassuring me that he was on my team and loved me and the pictures were beautiful.

Then we hit this one- this one picture of me looking away and trying to speak truth to my mind and taking a deep breath. And I kind of love it. I guess I had never noticed my freckles before. Or the three bright grey strands of hair that stand out because being Annie means life is causing some greys. Or the fake dimples that age has gifted to the corners of my mouth. Or the creases and the spots and the bump on my nose and all the things that are me, right there.

So I thought I would share it.

Because maybe sometimes we think Lent is easy for everyone else but us. Or we think that insecurities are only for the weak. Or we think that we are bad people for struggling.

But you’re not. I’m not. We’re not.

I could have never dreamed how hard this would be before Lent began. And I don’t know the new that is coming on Easter. But I can feel the buds pushing their way to the surface, through all the dirt. And I’m believing that something beautiful will bloom from these painfully sown seeds.

. . . . .

(Small Lent caveat: I am wearing makeup when I teach at events. So if you’ve seen me on the road the last few weeks and I’ve been on a stage, yes. I’ve had on makeup.)

(Also. You can still book a portrait with Jeremy as well. So easy and so worth it.)

. . . . .

Want to hear more about Lent? Subscribe to my podcast and check out the Lent episode with the girls from SheReadsTruth!

. . . . .


  1. Andrea Lowe
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 12:19 PM  |  reply

    Annie, this is just beautiful. You are beautiful. This is the first year I’m fully participating in Lent; I too am reading through Isaiah with SRT. The waiting of the lenten season mirrors my own personal season of waiting. Knowing it’s time to leave my current job, yet waiting for the what’s next. I’ve felt the struggle of this season, and my participation seems weighty and significant. And, the recent verses about the Lord making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert have spoken so much truth to my weary soul. I’m believing with and for you that something beautiful will bloom from these painful seeds. Press on. It is always so worth it.

  2. Heather
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 12:52 PM  |  reply

    As soon as I saw this picture, I loved it. Like, I felt my heart grow. It’s raw and gorgeous. You are beautiful inside and out, with and without makeup, and the words He speaks from you just keep showing His beauty. 💕

  3. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 1:01 PM  |  reply

    Annie! This is beautiful. I want to tell you that you’re beautiful even without makeup (and you are!), but I also know in my soul that this would be so hard for me, too. I don’t like to even run errands without makeup on. Does it make me look flawless? Nope, but it does give me some form of comfort. I didn’t give anything up for Lent this year, but we’ve been working on cleaning out and purging during Lent because we are overwhelmed with our STUFF. It has been the strangest thing I’ve ever done for Lent (no desserts and no Facebook normally are my stand-bys), but I feel like I’ve been working hard and sticking with it more than I normally do. It’s so interesting what I’ve learned these past few weeks. It just takes some stillness and wiping things clean and listening.

  4. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 1:01 PM  |  reply

    Oh Annie. I just love you. I totally get this. Three years ago, I gave up mirrors for Lent. At first, it was so painful. But let me tell you something, the hardest part of all was uncovering the mirrors on Easter morning, because all of my mirrors were covered with these papers: http://jenniferdukeslee.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/LoveIdolPrintable_pink.pdf …. reminding me that I was loved, chosen, beloved, preapproved, and more. You can’t be confronted with that truth every day, on every mirror, and be anything but fundamentally changed.

    Know that I am cheering you on in every way, sister.

  5. Mandy W
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 1:27 PM  |  reply

    I love this raw honesty and the beauty and truth it represents not only for you but all of us.
    “Because maybe sometimes we think Lent is easy for everyone else but us. Or we think that insecurities are only for weak people. Or we think that we are bad people for struggling.
    But you’re not. I’m not. We’re not.”

  6. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 1:36 PM  |  reply

    when my 21-yr-old self signed up to go overseas with a missions organization in 1989, the first thing i was told was that makeup wasn’t allowed for all of bootcamp. i had acne bad enough that accutane was in my future, so i know about the struggle to be barefaced before the world.

    it turned out to be the most freeing thing, and this 50-yr-old is believing it will be that way for you too. you know the truth–don’t let the enemy whisper {who are we kidding–scream} LIES in your ear. tell him what Isaiah 41:24 says and listen for the Truth that is always at work to set you free. who you are is brave, loved, adored. AND BEAUTIFUL.

  7. Kate
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 2:02 PM  |  reply

    Thanks for sharing Annie!!! God is so doing something glorious in you right now!! I can feel it as I read your words. You are beautiful inside and out, even though it doesn’t often feel that way. God made you perfectly just as you are. Don’t be afraid to show it!! If other don’t see it, that is their loss and not because it isn’t there.
    Thanks for helping change my life btw. Your journey has inspired me. God is doing so much good in my life right now, and showing me so much good He has been doing and is doing all around. He is so good beyond good, so great, so holy, and so loving and powerful. I am living Brave and fearless and believing in big things.

  8. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 2:02 PM  |  reply

    love this….often I feel like you are so much like me….except, you seem to have a much clearer view of God and your relationship with Him. I envy that….

  9. Ellen B
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 2:20 PM  |  reply

    Annie, this is so vulnerable, raw and real. I applaud you!

  10. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 3:43 PM  |  reply

    “The good stuff is never cheap.” So true. I’m walking in a hard I chose. When I was reading your post I kept thinking about how you chose this. Yes God leads us to something, but we have to choose to be obedient. When it gets hard we think to ourselves “I chose this?!” Well done for making the hard choice to lose control! (from one recovering controller to another)

  11. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 4:05 PM  |  reply

    Annie, I had a similar experience several years ago and it was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done. It sounds shallow to say it, but there it is. I felt utterly exposed, as if the world now knew every ugly thing about me (and not just the dark circles under my eyes.) It was ultimately liberating, but, like you, I couldn’t wait until it was over. I’ve written about my experience here, if you’d like to read it: http://mudroomblog.com/?s=Simply+Beautiful

  12. Leslie
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 4:20 PM  |  reply


  13. Joyce
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 4:31 PM  |  reply

    This is really, really lovely. Thank you for writing from the heart. I’ve loved seeing Jeremy’s posts on Instagram of these sessions.

    I gave up makeup for Lent a few years ago. When I told my brother-in-law, he laughed. I felt so ashamed. I guess it was silly and vapid and not as ~spiritual~ as what he was giving up or doing more of or whatever whatever.

    I questioned my motives because he laughed. I thought maybe I really was being silly and taking the easy way out. I mean, it wasn’t like I was giving up food for 40 days. Now that would be something.

    But it really was necessary. As silly as it sounds, it really was a sacrifice for me. I had come to a point where I idolized makeup and what it could do for me. I cannot believe after all these years one of my favorite writers is writing about the same thing.

    Be blessed during this Lenten season, Annie. You are so loved!

  14. Lisa Ann Harmon
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 4:59 PM  |  reply

    Annie, I absolutely LOVED reading this! And the picture is beautiful! Your story moved me to tears… mostly because it took me years to understand that beauty truly is more than skin deep, and you are so right – the best things in life are not always free!

  15. Linda
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 6:56 PM  |  reply

    I just told my husband during dinner, “I suck at Lent!” But I guess that’s the point. We can’t do it without Jesus. Thanks for encouraging me not to quit.

  16. Lois
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 7:01 PM  |  reply

    You are beautiful!

  17. Debbie DeVaney (Nysewander)
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 7:03 PM  |  reply

    Annie you are beautiful and amazing! I am so excited to see the beautiful garden that come from this. Love you and so proud of you.

  18. Lori
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 7:39 PM  |  reply

    I think this is a beautiful photo. Way to be brave!

  19. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 8:33 PM  |  reply

    Dear Annie,
    Thank you for sharing this. Yes yes and amen. I have been struggling with my lent too. I really hate how much I am struggling. That is the worst part. I only gave up going to Starbucks for lent. It shouldn’t be this hard! Yes I do tend to run to go get a coffee when my day starts to feel out of control, but, ugh. I try to pray for my pastor every time I catch myself struggling because he is preaching a series that is really important for our church and that has helped my channel some of my angst. Thank you for being brave. You are beautiful.

  20. Laura Heimgartmer
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 9:38 PM  |  reply

    You are a very inspirational woman ! 💕

  21. Icant
    posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 9:58 PM  |  reply

    So so brave and inspiring in a world where these real concerns matter and can’t be ignored. Jesus died for our struggles and watches our grand sacrifices as we find our right and true path. Thank you. Namaste.

  22. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 10:34 PM  |  reply

    Yes, we need this and you the way you are. Giving courage to the rest of us. That’s beautiful. Love it. And thank you.

  23. posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 11:13 PM  |  reply

    “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Brava for stepping out in faith and obedience!

  24. Stacy
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 12:00 AM  |  reply

    Beautiful inside and out! What a wonderful role model for young girls! 👯 And us 50 yrs plus girls. Blessings to you!! Thank you for inspiring us all! #keepingpouring

  25. Kristina
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 12:24 AM  |  reply

    I was just flipping through emails and twitter put your post included your post as something they thought I’d be interested in. I don’t even use my twitter account for anything other than important stuff like trying to get upgrades at sporting events or concerts by hastagging something with a photo of our lame seats. But they send me emails. They’re really of no interest to me 98% of the time but your post jumped out at me. I clicked the link. I’m so glad I did. What a lovely article with such vulnerability and truth. The coolest part to me is that I’ve never heard of you before this. Therefore I’ve also never seen you before. My first vision of you is this black and white imagine you’ve posted at the top. And I think you’re beautiful. You look kind and peaceful and like the sort of person who listens to the hearts of those near you. As a 40-something year old who still deals with more skin issues than I think are rightfully fair at this stage in life, I constantly try to remind myself of all these things you just said. I appreciate your perspective. I look forward to reading more about you and eventually I’ll find a pic of you with some makeup on. 😉 For now, I like the you I “know.”

  26. posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 3:19 AM  |  reply

    Annie, this is such a beautiful post and you are so beautiful, too! Thank you for being so brave and sharing with the rest of us. Thank you for giving us courage to be who we are, just as we are.

  27. posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 5:51 AM  |  reply

    So many amens friend…thank you for sharing this.

  28. mongupp
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 9:06 AM  |  reply

    You are real and you are beautiful, Annie!

  29. Stephanie Volkmer
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 9:36 AM  |  reply

    Thank you for your honesty and humility, it’s not something that we like to talk about, what God is working in and through us. I was planning on giving up coffee for my Lent, but God actually showed me that I have been not really content, instead I have been complaining because of where I am or because this season doesn’t look like it should. So I decided that for Lent I was giving up complaining, which is so hard. A lot harder than I thought it should be.
    But at the same time, I can see a growth in my heart and life coming from this. Praying for you dear friend that God would open up new and amazing truths to you during this period.

  30. posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 12:34 PM  |  reply

    Oh Annie, Just thank you.
    I’m a 50 something who has always struggled with something to do with controlling how others see me. It started with the birthmark on my face that became a scar. Then it became food and weight issues. Al along it’s really been so much deeper.
    Right now the dull skin and dark circles are making me dig deeper to those places so thank you for the reminder.

  31. Jessica
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 2:27 PM  |  reply

    Wow! I feel ya sistah!!! I’m in that stage of learning to fully surrender. I completely believe God is enough & that I am enough for Him. BUT I’m still working in accepting I am enough for me. I’m often am my biggest obstacle interfering with God unconditional love. It’s a daily attempt. Old habits died hard. Like last night a friend mentioned she wanted to set me up with a someone. . And although I am open to it & excited for the opportunity, fear suddenly rushes in reminding me that I may not be enough… and in my head it sounded like this. “Hi, I’m Jessica. Sorry I’m not skinny & perfect. But I promise I am a good person.” Wow! It hit me! That sounds so ridiculous! And I need to quit apologizing for who I am. Much like the “let me explain. Will you still be my friend?” The roots of insecurity are the same. Where did they even come from?? I’m tired of hustling & proving my self worth… and learning that I don’t have to prove it to anybody but myself!! Own it, girl!! You’re beautiful!!!

  32. Margaret Kirkland
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 3:09 PM  |  reply

    I love pensive, natural Annie! Your “earth suit” is perfect! God did GOOD!!!

  33. Julie Tomlin
    posted on Mar 30, 2017 at 6:31 PM  |  reply

    my dear annie–you are BRAVE!! you are BEAUTIFUL!! you are REAL!!! you are LOVELY!!! you bring joy to our precious savior Jesus!! oh the good that comes when you share your heart!! He is using you dear one!! i am so proud of you!! hope to see you soon!! please visit if you are ever this way!! the guest room is ALWAYS open to you!! much love~julie

  34. posted on Mar 31, 2017 at 3:17 AM  |  reply

    Annie. I love all of this. And you. You are beautiful for who you are – a child of a King. And His glory shines through you and your words, encouraging others to love themselves in their own skin. As we should, for we are created in His image on purpose, for a purpose. ❤️

  35. posted on Mar 31, 2017 at 7:38 AM  |  reply

    […] When Lent hurts. This is a beautiful post by Annie F. Downs, that I so relate to. I gave up — for Lent, and it has been quite journey so far. It is scary to open up a fragile, hurting heart to others and to trust them to keep it. It is painful sometimes, being vulnerable but not be received. […]

  36. posted on Mar 31, 2017 at 2:02 PM  |  reply

    Annie, my daughter is 7 and already wrestling with her image and how she compares to her sisters. She is self conscious about having freckles on the bridge of her nose. She says about her sister she is “skinny” “and I am fat skinny” (or maybe it was skinny fat).
    It breaks my heart that my precious girls already doubt their value and worth based on their appearance.
    Bravery such as yours helps to defeat Satan’s lies that we are not enough for God. We are His Masterpiece!
    This post was wonderful. I see Jesus looking at you adoringly, tenderly drawing your chin up to meet His gaze of unashamed love and adoration.
    Your beauty is not superficial, but I don’t see the flaws you seem to think you have. I can point out my own to you, but you probably wouldn’t notice them otherwise.
    I have realized I don’t have any ugly friends. It’s not that I screen people before I accept them, or that I gravitate toward “pretty” girls. I usually run the other way in pre-anticipation of rejection!
    It’s that I love my friends. And I see them as they are and it transforms their appearance to me in a way that I could never find them anything but beautiful.
    That is how I see you.
    Be blessed, my Brave friend.

  37. posted on Mar 31, 2017 at 4:11 PM  |  reply


    Thank you SO much for writing this. I’ve been battling the no-makeup scene for a few months now (I decided to stop wearing it in January except for church and special occasions) and it’s been hard but in a good way, if that makes any sense. It’s challenged me to love my body, look beyond the skin, judge others less, and find more strength from Him, and NOT my outer appearance. It’s definitely been hard as a single girl who feels self-conscious, but like you said, the pain matters and the good stuff aren’t easy and free.

    Seeing you write about this, reading your vulnerability is an encouragement and beautiful reminder that I’m never alone. Thank YOU! 🙂

  38. Kim
    posted on Apr 01, 2017 at 3:00 PM  |  reply

    Your words are a constant source of inspiration for me. Your raw honesty and vulnerability help me feel less alone as I am fighting my own battles. Thank you for sharing and opening your heart. This Lent has definitely been my biggest and most meaningful undertaking, but I know I am strengthening my relationship with God and this pain has a purpose. Hang in there and thank you again for speaking the hard truths.

  39. posted on Apr 20, 2017 at 12:12 PM  |  reply

    Love, love, love your willingness to share this! Years ago, I did a variety of fasting methods over Lent. Every week, I fasted from something different. One week, we went on a mission trip and I decided to fast from make up. I thought that since I did not know the people I was going to meet, since I was going to work, since I was a on a mission trip, the no makeup thing was not going to be a big deal. Wrong! I am desperately attached to my make up. I feel dirty without it; as if makeup makes me clean. How backward is that? I think, “Shouldn’t I give others my best?” But, it’s not about them. It’s about me. It’s all about me and my insecurities, my self-obsession, my ego, my sense of control. I spend 15 minutes everyday caking it on and I like what I see, as though a thin layer of color can change anything about me. It doesn’t. Thanks for the reminder. You are beautiful Annie Downs, inside and out!

  40. Trina
    posted on Apr 30, 2017 at 7:53 PM  |  reply

    LOVE this picture of you, Annie!

  41. posted on Jun 09, 2017 at 5:01 AM  |  reply

    […] This girl went make-up free for 40 days to release a bit of self-perceived control. To lay down the suit of armor offered to strangers. To cozy up to the person she was, not the one she presented. […]

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