A Case of Mistaken Identity

Photo by V. Fleming (Unsplash)

Ok, ladies, I’m going to be painfully transparent. I know this is going to sound shallow, but I am wrestling with a decision, do I cut it off or let it grow? I’m talking about my curls. They have reached my shoulders, that-not-so-sure-about-what-to-do-length, and I am running out of creative ways to keep the frizz under control.

When I was little, I wore my hair in two braids down around my waist but then a summer filled with swimming, resulted in a pixie cut. Evidentially pool chlorine irreparably damages hair.

Since that time, short hair has been my calling card. Well, until the pandemic. A lack of access to my hairdresser and encouragement from friends culminated in this out-of-control curl problem.

I recognize my hair dilemma is insignificant in comparison to all that is going on in the world – yes, again I admit I’m being shallow. And at my age, I’m just glad I have hair. But I’m beginning to think my struggle may be a symptom of a different type of problem, perhaps an entangling of my identity instead of just my curls.  

I wonder if you’ve ever allowed the simple and not-so-simple challenges of life to affect how you define yourself – a haircut gone wrong, a dream derailed, or your reputation tarnished and bruised. Have you caught yourself believing the lie that you aren’t valuable unless you are performing, run to the ragged edge of yourself?

I’m a little embarrassed to share that for many years I allowed what others thought, culture encouraged, and my accomplishments to define me. And if I’m honest, I think they still influence how I see myself. There is an unrelenting pressure to be more.

Yesterday I was standing at the bathroom sink, staring into the mirror. I was thinking about this question of cutting or keeping, and pondering this new entanglement around personal identity, when I caught myself in mid-thought. And in that minute, Beth’s face came to mind.

I met Beth several years ago. She was in the midst of one of those not-so-simple life challenges – a breast cancer diagnosis, a mastectomy, and a round of chemotherapy. She had lost so much, including a thick head of red curls. Her smooth bald head was covered most days with a purple scarf, her eyebrows carefully sketched in place, and a lavender compression sleeve covered her right arm. She was in her early 40s, and the ravages of therapy had stolen her vanity, humility and unexplainable gratefulness replaced any hint of pride.

When asked about her journey, she would often remove her scarf, gently rub the top of her head, and softly share,

“My cancer has allowed me to see who I am without all the things I thought made me beautiful, desirable, a woman.”

Ladies, the memory of those words reverberated in my heart and as I turned off the bathroom light and made my way down the hallway, I was overcome with a palpable sense of shame.

I am more than “All the things I thought made me beautiful, desirable, a woman.” What a freeing way to approach life.

Have you ever had to come face-to-face with yourself, what drives you, what defines you? That morning, I was forced to take a hard look and what I saw wasn’t pretty.

I’ve spent too many years self-absorbed, more concerned about what I looked like on the outside than who I am on the inside. I wish I could tell you that now in my mid-60s I’ve grown beyond the superficial. But clearly, my fixation on cut or no cut proves I continue to struggle.

So, what do we do? How do we overcome our pride, self-reliance, and fear of not being enough? How do we start caring more about our hearts, the soul that God uniquely created, rather than living up to a self-made image of who we hope to one day become?

I had to ask myself these questions and found I was immediately transported back to my conversation with Beth. Her cancer had stripped away all the pretense, the self-control, and all she clung to as she imagined herself. She was left with a fresh reality. God had made her for more than her external form. He knew cancer would reshape her, change her focus, and restructure her perspective.

But I’ll be honest, I don’t want the suffering, the restless nights, and being pushed to the very end of my personal definition. I want transformation without sacrifice and change without any inconveniences. I want the simplicity of my pixie cut while flaunting well-managed waste-length curls.

But God has been working on this wayward heart and I have been forced to look at a new reality – true value, accepting God’s definition of me, can’t be embraced overnight. My brokenness wasn’t created overnight.

I am learning that I am a work in progress.

The Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians offers this solution for embodying God’s design,

…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

Ephesians 4:22-24 (New Living Translation)

Paul’s answer requires us to abandon our old way of life and allow the Spirit to transform our minds. His path leads to embracing our true identities, bearing the image of God.

The path leading to this type of surrender is unique for each person. Beth found her way through a malignant mass. I am learning that change comes when I acknowledge I am not God and I am not in control. I wonder what your path will be. How will you learn to receive God’s amazing destiny for you, a beloved daughter, an image bearer?

I hope as you look in the mirror today, you see God’s image reflected in your countenance. I pray you will find the courage to stop listening to the enemy’s whispers telling you are not enough and replace his counterfeit tape with the truth of God – He valued you so much that He sent His only Son to erase the condemnation you are choosing to rehearse.

Beloved you are enough because God is more than enough. You can stop striving because He has made you beautiful, worthy, His daughter.  

Be Blessed,

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