My favorite movie in all the wide world is Steel Magnolias. The original one, the one with Dolly Parton–the one in which her character, Truvy, says “I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence.” I love that line, y’all.
In this movie, Truvy also declares, standing in her beauty parlor that her husband built for her by enclosing their garage, “there’s no such thing as natural beauty.” Although I disagree with the sentiment on principle, I do believe in putting forth some effort to look pretty on the outside from time to time.
My effort at exterior beauty has involved quite the journey with something as mundane as shampoo. For a while, I tried the no ‘poo experiment (which sounds as though it may be an exercise in avoiding a trip to the toilet), but it actually refers to “shampoo.” I used baking soda mixed with water for months to clean my hair. Only it never felt clean. Or looked normal. It felt like matted straw, with a big greasy patch right at the back of my head. So for a while, I switched back to the conventional, chemical-laden stuff that sends bad substances down my shower drain (because–of all things on my outsides–I wanted my hair to look good). Then I decided to try a more natural approach but still use actual shampoo. I won’t tell you the name of the company whose shampoo I used, because it was no good to me, and I don’t want them to lose business due to a bad report from me.
Maybe it serves other people well; I don’t know. I should have known what I was getting myself into–after all, the ingredient list (to which I had full access before I ordered the bottle) revealed several different oils, cornstarch, and that’s about it. Occasionally, I tried to convince myself that this natural option worked better than the no ‘poo plan–but it didn’t really. So when my husband ran out of his shampoo, I bought the industrial-sized bottle of blue-dyed “regular” shampoo at the big box store where we got a discounted membership last year. And I use the fire out of it, wondering if I may be throwing vital hormones in my body out of whack with this substance. But I want my hair to look nice, so I suppose I’m just taking the risk. Killing myself a little bit with those chemicals, all so I can feel that my hair looks pretty, even if just to me.
I might be incrementally killing myself as I aim for good-looking hair, but we can also die a little bit when we DO beautiful things, when we go to efforts to create some beauty in this world through more than our looks. Jesus referred to this as dying to oneself. But as in so many glorious truths of Scripture, there is a fundamental paradox in play: When we lay down our lives for Him, when we die to ourselves, we can then truly live.
I’ve tried keeping my life, clinging to it and insisting I did not have to give it away–it was mine, after all. Not much beauty in staying safe, though.
Years ago, single and living in my own apartment, I once fixed a glass of ice water–because in the South, we “fix” a glass of water–and took it one Saturday to a man doing some kind of maintenance work in my apartment complex. It was sweltering, and I felt bored, so I kept noticing him doing his work outside our building. I hesitated, thought about it, chewed on the idea, and then did it–tentatively, but I did it. He gruffly said, “I’ve got my own water,” gesturing to a jug in the back of his pick-up. Of course, I thought, carrying the full glass of cold water back up the stairs to my apartment, the ice cubes clinking against each other.
Of course he brought water–how foolish of me not to realize that. I was embarrassed, embarrassed because I’d thought he’d needed a stranger to bring him refreshment when he would certainly have attended to that need himself. Embarrassed that I had taken a risk, embarrassed that I had embarrassed myself.
The action itself wasn’t so fruitful, but I believe my heart grew a bit that day in its capacity to take a risk for the sake of serving another. If I had stayed up in my apartment that day and not taken the glass of water to that handyman, I would have risked nothing–and gained nothing. I attempted to serve him with a cup of cold water, and on one hand, it resulted in nothing. But then again, taking the risk and not staying safe and being willing to look foolish resulted in life. Killing my pride a little bit so I could put another before myself resulted in a heart grown, a heart a bit more trained to take a risk and extend myself to serve next time.
The gift of the water was not received, but maybe the beauty was in the offering, the risk taking, instead of in the gift: the dying a little bit to self in order to gain a better taste of real life. That’s even better than having nice hair.