God called me to cut off all my hair. This may seem like a strange request, but not when you consider what He was really asking me to cut out of my life. He was asking me to trust in Him only and completely, without relying on anything or anyone else to validate me. He was asking to be my only source of comfort and strength and to realize that nothing else could satisfy me. I moved to Atlanta from Dallas in July and started my breast surgery fellowship at Emory. I had just finished general surgery residency which was, to say the least, difficult. I often questioned my belonging and self worth. I was the only African American in my entire department and the first black female in the program ever (the second black person ever). During the five years of my surgery residency I was often face to face with the reality that I did not belong, for too many reasons to count.
Somewhere along the road, I made my hair my escape. When everything felt out of control, I could control my hair. I often blamed it for why I didn't fit in and then controlled it. If I had a bad day, I could “treat myself” to getting it done. If I had a big event, I could celebrate by getting it professionally styled. Before I knew it, it consumed my thoughts. I ended up having more mindless thoughts than I am proud of admitting to of how to style it for certain events or days of the week. I was sad if it didn’t “look right." I spent time that could have otherwise been productive watching YouTube videos or hair blogs on how to style it.
In spring 2013, God convicted me that my hair had become an idol. I began trying my hardest, in my strength, to ignore my hair. I tried not thinking about it. And sometimes I was successful. I prayed for God to show me what to do with it so it didn’t consume my thoughts. I thought I heard Him say to get rid of it, but I couldn’t. What would my peers say? I already didn't fit in at my job. That would make me stand out more. This aversion to cutting my hair shocked even me, because just 9 years earlier, I had chopped off all my hair with reckless abandon and without a second thought to “go natural.” I wondered what had changed. Over and over I tried to put my obsession with my hair in its place, but in the idle moments, I found my thoughts drifting right back to it.
In October, the cycle continued. Many situations in my life felt completely out of control and I still found myself trying to exert control over something, anything, and that was usually my hair. That month I attended a service at Blueprint Church and heard a message on idol worship. I was just listening to the message, not really thinking it directly applied to a specific situation in my life, when God spoke to me. He told me again, “Your hair is an idol. You have tried in your own strength to tear it down. This has not worked. Cut it.” I started crying! I knew it was God speaking to me. He was asking me to let go of what I thought I had to hold onto for comfort and for strength. When things were shaky and uncertain, my identity had been in my hair. I told my husband and he said, "Okay." We went after church to a hair salon and I asked to have it all cut off.
The hair salon was open! On a Sunday! This was a foreign concept to me because every city I have lived in before has hair shops closed on Sundays. I was so happy it was open because 1) I got to cut my hair off and 2) I got to tell everyone why! I was sitting there in the salon and the hairdresser asked me why I was doing this. They were used to people cutting it off to “go natural,” but I clearly had a head full of natural hair already. I told her (and everyone else in the salon) that my hair had held too high of a position in my life and it had to go. It could no longer provide the comfort or identity that needed to only come from Jesus.
Many people after that day also asked me why I had cut my hair. It made a lot of people really uncomfortable! As a result, I got to tell my story to so many people. Some people thought it was great. Some people thought it was silly and couldn’t understand how hair could be an idol. Some actually got defensive or told me I didn’t have to do it or shouldn’t have done it. But I know I did the right thing.
I think the most powerful moment in this journey was right after I cut my hair and saw it all on the ground. It was nothing more than a pile of trash. It looked disgusting. What I thought was so precious on my head now looked like trash when it was detached from me. Philippians 3:8 says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
It seems silly even counting my hair as something I have “suffered the loss of,” but for the first time I was really able to see it as “rubbish." In my own strength, while it was still attached, I had tried to see it as such but couldn't. Now that it had been separated from me, it became so clear. I keep that image in my head to remind myself of what my hair (my grades, my job, my degrees, insert whatever you want here) really is. These things cannot define me or give me my worth. They cannot comfort me. When I feel out of control, there is a God who loves me and will never leave me and He is in control. That is all.
I know God doesn’t ask this of everyone. Hair in itself is not evil. But God asked this of me at that time. And when I cut it, in this very simple act of obedience, He freed me. He did for me what I could not do myself. And I am so thankful.