Eight or so months ago, I began to feel nudged to cut my hair.
Actually, the very first nudge occurred two years ago, when Jane’s friend Michaela, who was four at the time, was diagnosed with leukemia. When Michaela’s hair fell out after several months of chemo, her older sister, who was six, chopped off her beautiful long hair so that it could be made into a wig for another child with long-term hair loss.
That was the first whisper that maybe I should cut my hair. But then I found out Doug and I were having twins, and then we had the twins, and pretty much every thought was one of simply surviving.
But about eight months ago, when I came up for air and finally had time to look around and see beyond my immediate needs, the nudging started up again.
By “nudging,” I absolutely mean to imply that I’m one of those people, like Joan of Arc or Julian of Norwich, who thinks God speaks to her. In my case, however, I wasn’t being called to defend my people or declare the hope of humanity.
I was being gently called to loosen my hold on my hair.
Let me be clear. I don’t really “hear God,” not in audible words anyway. But when a thought recurs and persists over the course of months, I’m usually pretty sure God’s trying to get my attention.
And since the idea of donating my hair kept popping into my mind and coming up in separate conversations with unrelated people and intruding on my prayers, I was pretty convinced that God was whispering that it was time to let my hair go, let it loose, give it up, give it to a child who needs it more than I do.
Here’s the thing, though: I am very attached to my hair. Literally, of course, but also emotionally. A fair amount of my identity is wrapped up in this mane of curls that falls to my waist.
In Little Women, Jo bobs her hair and sells it to get money for Marmee’s train ticket to Washington, where Father is lying wounded. When Amy sees Jo’s shorn head, she cries, “Oh, Jo! Your one beauty!” That’s about how I feel about my hair.
When Jack was a baby, I used to have nightmares about someone forcibly cutting off my hair—and it wasn’t anywhere near as long then. I later learned that in dream-analysis, hair symbolizes strength and power (Samson, anyone?), so those dreams were revealing my deep fears of not having what it takes to be a writer, a parent, a person.
But as a Christian, I believe my strength is found in Christ. Not in my hair. My identity is found in Christ. Not in my hair.
My hair is a gift, a pretty nice one, if I say so myself. But it is not me.
I know this, of course. And yet, it’s taken me eight months to finally do the deed. Back in Advent, I promised myself that I would give up my hair for Lent.
On Saturday, I kept my word and chopped it off. Well, technically, someone else chopped it off, but I gave her leave to. I actually paid her to.
Now my hair is winging its way to Locks of Love, where it will be made into a wig for a child who has lost her hair due to chemotherapy or some other medical condition.
When I told myself back in Advent that I would cut my hair for Lent, I imagined my hair would be my little act of self-giving to a stranger, that it would be a little mirror of the greatest gift of Self that ever was, the gift we spend the weeks of Lent getting ready for.
But it’s not like that at all. What I thought would be a big sacrifice turns out not to be: I truly don’t feel like I’ve given up anything much. I feel, rather, grateful. Grateful that my hair will make a lovely wig for a child somewhere. Grateful that I had hair to give. Grateful that I finally did what I’ve long known I should.
And it turns out my hair isn’t my one beauty after all. As my mother used to say, “Pretty is as pretty does.” Keeping my hair would be pretty, but it’s far prettier to give it away.