I saw this photo last week and instantly felt like it was a personal attack. I'm not one to take offense at every little thing, but who do you think you are, Ann Voskamp? You don’t know my life. What if I can do hair and hard and holy things? Have you ever thought about that?
Clearly, I'm not over it.
I can’t remember when I started doing hair. Maybe you don’t even know that I do hair, but I do, sometimes. I shy away from admitting that, honestly. There are many people who are better than me, have more time to devote to it and really work at improving their skill, and a lot of them even went to school for it, so I feel like a bit of an impostor. I back away from saying I really do hair in the same way I'm reluctant to call myself a writer. Am I a writer? When do you earn that title? How many words do you have to tap out on a keyboard and how many people have to read them? I’m not sure, but I have this blog now, and I’ve done hair for homecoming and prom. I’ve been asked to write for people and I’ve styled brides and bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-bride/groom. So, I guess that counts. I guess I write and I do hair.
I actually really love to do hair. There’s something about helping someone feel beautiful, helping them create a look they love, that is kind of like participating in a little bit of magic. I love to see the way the hair and makeup and dress come together on a wedding day or other special occasion. Maybe that’s what Ann Voskamp doesn’t understand, you know? I’m creating a little bit of magic over here, Ann. Sprinkling pixie dust. Can’t you see that?
I often find that when something grates against my nerves, it’s because it’s true in one way or another. I heard one time that when someone does or says something we don’t like, we don't like it because we’re seeing a bit of ourselves in it and that's a little irritating. So, rather than feel our real feelings about that, we get mad and cover up with criticism or avoidance. I could read that quote and then blast Ann on Twitter or Facebook or simply brush it off and try to pretend I never saw it, but instead I took a look at my own life. Rather than feel offense, I decided to really dig into my feelings, mostly because it stung my heart to think the two things Ann referred to could ever be mutually exclusive.
Certainly there’s some truth to what she said. If all we’re striving for are material things – outward beauty and acclaim – then we’re really missing the point. There will always be someone prettier, smarter, skinnier, stronger, richer, more athletic, more outgoing, someone with more business sense or more common sense, more skill or more knowledge, more, more, more than you, yes you, in whatever way you want to compare yourself. Always. There will always be better writers and people who are better at styling hair. I mean, have you ever seen Hair and Makeup by Steph? Amazing, I know. But, if all we’re trying to be is MORE, endlessly comparing to someone else and how they’re living their life, gunning for position and power, then we’re basically lighting our time, energy, and money on fire, and probably being fairly critical in the process.
I think the heart of the issue is that Ann picked at something I have been feeling anyway. I have felt convicted lately about not doing the hard and holy things, about shying away from difficult conversations, about not speaking the truth when I feel like it might cost me something. It’s easier to just let the moment pass sometimes, isn’t it? In talking through this very thing last week, it dawned on me that the reason I don’t speak up more, the reason we don’t do hard things sometimes is because maybe, just maybe, we don’t fully believe the answer is Jesus. Maybe we don’t fully believe that that’s what everyone is really seeking – what they really need. I mean, it is for me. Heaven help me, I don’t know where I would be without daily preaching myself the gospel. I have struggled hard and ugly through some circumstances and life events that would have been nearly impossible without this steadfast anchor of hope. But, maybe we step away from hard and holy, from gospel and grace, because everyone seems pretty happy doing it their own way. They're getting along just fine without us speaking up or apologizing or taking that next right step. And maybe the real truth of it is we’re a little bit scared. We like comfort and ease. We like happiness and fuzzy feelings and Instagram-worthy moments. Everything we do is only seeking that end, no matter what decisions we make. We’re always about our own joy. But sometimes that rubs against the grain of hard and holy. Sometimes ease and happiness are wholly opposite of righteousness and sanctification.
There seems to be some fear in Christian community lately – panic over the times we’re living in because Gosh darnit, can we get back to the good old days when America loved Jesus? Certainly, our country was founded on a belief in God. You can’t deny that because, well, history. But I wonder if it was ever as easy as we think it must have been. America is no Eden and every single generation has had their own struggles and trials. There were laws people didn’t agree with and ways in which they felt everything was in a furious backslide. We romanticize the good old days, but if you look at the history of our nation, I often don't know what good old days we're talking about. Clearly, God has shed his grace endlessly on this country, but there have always been moments in history to go to bat for holy things and what if we just determine that we're here now for such a time as this?
Last year I read the book, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It's historical fiction (nerd alert, I love this stuff) about the life of Sarah Grimke and what she did to help end slavery in the United States. She lived in the south and defied her family (never speaking to them again), traveled three weeks BY BOAT (woof!) to the north and helped write and distribute some of the first pamphlets about the horrors of slavery and the slave trade. If that's not hard and holy, I don't know what is. So, maybe that angst people feel lately is starting to creep in because we've been pretty comfortable sitting on our hind legs and we don't really feel like doing hard things – there are missionaries for that, right? And besides, it's easier to post an article raging that we should #BoycottTarget or whatever we're offended at this week, than form relationships with real people and give out grace like party favors.
My favorite short story in all the earth is, A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. I read it in college and it has been haunting me in the best ways ever since. O’Connor had this transcendent way of mixing religion and prose and working out her faith in story, and one of the last lines constantly gnaws at me when I trade holy for comfort. The Misfit is pointing his gun at the grandmother and, as death stares her in the face, she’s spouting the gospel. SPOILER ALERT: he shoots her in the end and O'Connor wrote, “'She would of been a good woman,’" The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'"
I guess I’m not so much worried about the times we’re living in because, rather than panic and shake our fists and yell a little louder about how great it used to be and how awful it is now, maybe it's just time for us all to do more holy things. Maybe in little ways we're all the grandmother and it's time to start telling the truth a little more often. Life isn’t easy - it’s not supposed to be and it was never promised to be that way, and instead of working ourselves into a tizz, maybe now we’ll learn how to really speak the truth in love. At least I hope so. I hope we don’t pass this moment up. I hope I don't either.
Unfortunately, the tendency is to confuse hard and holy with comfortable and joy-filled, but those are rarely synonymous. Rather than complain about the current state of affairs in your life or the country or the world, look for ways in which you can be used – keep your eyes open and step up for the holy things each day. What does hard and holy look like in your life? They’re certainly different for everyone. For me, today, right now, it means sharing the truth in a blog post that would more easily sit unread by others in my journal. Maybe for you it means making dinner, again, for your people or wiping a runny nose for the 28th time or breaking up another fight between littles when all you really want is some quiet time and a night off. Maybe it means inviting the neighbors over for dinner or getting together with an old friend or simply not making that snarky comment you want to make. Maybe it means a tough decision at work or leaving the job altogether. It may mean showing up in your marriage, even when you don’t feel like it, or making the phone call that will repair a relationship or finally quitting that habit that strangles you with its control. Or maybe, if you’re in the darkness today - that dark night of the soul - it means just getting out of bed and living one sweet breath to the next. Doing hard and holy things means breathing light and life and hope into every arena of our lives.
I actually really like Ann Voskamp. I told you back in January how her writing changed my perspective. So, nothing against Ann, but you can do hair and hard and holy things. There are ways to step up to the plate for holy things no matter where you find yourself today. You can build machines or design websites or heal sick people or start new companies or create art or plan events or be a circus clown, or climb the corporate ladder til you're so high you can't even see the bottom, all the while doing hard and holy things. But, let’s just make sure we’re always doing both and not sacrificing the latter for the former. I think that’s what she really meant.