Week 17 (of 26)
I have a confession to make. Some days I really miss my highlights. When I started this journey, I was a golden, sun-kissed blond. For most of my adult life I have been one of the countless partakers of the multi-billion-dollar beauty industry that (sometimes) lets us reclaim what nature so heartlessly steals from us as we age. In our youth-oriented and appearance-conscious culture, the chance to look bright and fashion-forward can be an almost irresistible temptation. But, since moving in with the sisters, I’ve gone au natural, which sometimes leaves me feeling as drab as dishwater. I recognize that this is a profoundly shallow, first-world complaint, and I’m genuinely embarrassed to admit to it. But there it is.
Now, to be clear, as a sojourner I was not required to give up coloring my hair. It was my own choice. In trying to make the most of my time with the sisters, it seemed wise to observe and then emulate the way they live. Perhaps you’ve noticed that they have a certain “look.” Neat, practical, appropriate to most any circumstance, and decidedly understated. Or, maybe you haven’t actually noticed this because that is precisely the point. Their appearance is a non-issue. You see them, not their adornments.
So, I’m trying to do and be likewise. And so far, on the plus side, I have found it can be pretty liberating. I’m free from concern about my root-growth, paying for touch-ups, and exposure to harsh chemicals. I’ve been trying to embrace simplicity and have become more mindful of how influenced I have been throughout my life by airbrushed images and unrealistic ideals of female beauty perpetuated by popular culture and consumerism.
A few days ago, while I was searching the internet for something else entirely, I bumped into a clip from an old movie where the Devil, played by an eerily convincing Al Pacino, declares: “Vanity is my favorite sin!” I can see why that might be true. If I could take back all the time and money I have spent fussing over my hair I could probably build a house, finance a college education, or feed a family of four for a year. It’s not that I’ve done anything that was bad or wrong—it’s just that I haven’t done anything particularly good or right either. Such a silly waste.
I don’t believe in devils, or even in the traditional idea of sin, but I do believe that our lives are made up of choices. We are continually being offered the choice to align ourselves with the Spirit of Christ. Moment by moment as we go through our day, we encounter people, ideas, opportunities, challenges, situations and relationships. Each of them has the potential to help us grow closer to Christ, or not. It’s up to us.
I think there is something to be said for pursuing beauty and for honoring our Creator by showing up as the best version of ourselves that we are able to muster each day. But preoccupation with the external, the superficial opinions of others, the thrill that comes from being physically appealing or an object of desire all go well beyond framing the divine. Vanity is a spiritual cul-de-sac. It’s a hamster wheel that takes up a lot of our attention and energy but ultimately goes nowhere. It produces very little of lasting value.
And this is what draws me to monastic life. It is quite specific, intentional, and totally up-front about the transformative power of directing our personal choices toward Christ. It’s a way of life that provides 1,500 years’ worth of guidance and support for those who hear the Gospel as a call to be “in the world but not of it.” I feel the rightness of this perspective in my bones, and that is the kind of woman I long to be. But then I look in the mirror. There I am reminded that transformation sometimes comes in very tiny increments and not all of them are pretty—and that for every choice we make, even the very best ones, there will be some kind of sacrifice required.