Embracing Gray

by - October 14, 2017

I'm growing out my hair color. Going gray.

I'll be 49 this year, and not that numbers mean anything inherently, but 50 on the horizon feels like a profound place to pause and reflect.

As long as I can remember, I've been a conformer, a rule-follower. I've spent much effort to meet outside expectation without even thinking about it. This facet of my personality is so much a part of me that I don't even know I do it most of the time. One way it manifests is in my measuring my beliefs and behavior against the expectations (perceived or real) and editing them to comply.

When you do that long enough, you don't know who you are anymore. I traded being myself for conforming to someone else's or something else's ideal. And it comes with it's own rewards and incentives to continue to behave this way, which doesn't help.

But I can think of only one instance when this is healthy:  when we determine to crucify the sinful nature and put on Christ. (Of course, we must know who Christ is, and for that I and others like me rely on an outside source to dictate who he is and what that looks like lived out. Dizzy yet?)

This new decade on the horizon is bring some unexpected things with it. I'm testing the stuff of my life for authenticity. I'm asking hard questions of myself, questions that may make uncomfortable the powers that be that I have allowed and conformed to. I've been searching myself with questions like:

Do I really believe this thing I've taken at face value since forever?
If I believe that, am I doing it right? Is my way the right way to live that out?
How do others who value the same ideal as me live it out?
What does that mean if theirs looks different than mine?
Is someone right, someone wrong? Could both be appropriate and add value?
Could the fact that there is more than one way be the actual point? Is this the real beauty we were supposed to find all along?

With a new decade, I'm becoming more open, more reflective. I'm more interested in real truth, knowing myself, owning what I know and want, and who I really am down deep, even if questions and uncertainty lurk there. I want to keep seeking answers and never stop. Even if I land on the same old answer I used to trust at face value. And even if I land elsewhere. I'm trusting God with the questions and the quest.

And that's scary for someone like me who values pleasing others and conforms to expectations.

But it's also freeing and rewarding because I'm learning who I am.

I once embraced the idea that the Harry Potter books were sinful because that's what people I trusted told me. I've now read them and enjoyed them immensely on so many levels. Further still, I'm willing for people I know who still believe that way to know this about me and form whatever opinion or judgment they will.

In other words, I'm willing to differ with people I love about things because I want to own who I am. It's hard work to be proud of who I am, because being the real me doesn't come naturally to people like me.  Complicating things further, many people feel free to make judgments about pastors' families when they wouldn't with others. I'm not sure why we feel that unkind liberty unless it has to do with the scriptures that say spiritual leaders should live above reproach.

I have found that trying to live above the approach of every cotton-pickin' person with an opinion is exhausting and impossible.  It's covering the gray with a chemical that will give me the appearance of my childhood brown.

So I'm growing it out, letting the artificial façade fall away. It's going to be interesting to learn which color of gray lives under decades of vigilant cover-up.

I  had a conversation with a childhood friend who went before me in going gray. I told her that my decision to go gray changed my perspective on my roots. I used to view my root growth as my enemy, old and ugly. Now, I welcome it, curious about what my natural color actually is (because it's been so long no one knows!). What hues will my gray be (I've never thought to ask before because it didn't matter to me.)? This shift in perception surprised me. The new perspective was my own personal proof I have been stupid.

I had adopted an outside view of what female beauty is and isn't. I didn't think for myself. I was surprised to uncover a desire to form my own ideas about female beauty.

My youngest daughter, at 17, is my biggest supporter in going gray. (She is so smart.) What is this new experience of embracing my gray saying to my young-adult children, not just the two daughters but the son also?

What else will I discover about myself when I look beneath all the adopted ideals I heaped on top of my natural self? What will I discover when I become ultra-aware that I have a propensity for mindlessly adopting the ideals of those I love and trust and try to stop doing that?

I am scrutinizing many things I've formerly accepted without the thoughtfulness they -- and I --  deserved. No more stupid (slow of mind, given to unintelligent decisions or acts, acting in an unintelligent or careless manner).

I want to know what I think about things.

Things like a woman's place in ministry and my desire to be seen as a competent human being with intelligence and an equal ability to contribute to the body of Christ that isn't defined solely by my gender. I want to be taken seriously and be treated as an equal spiritually and theologically. I want to know what I think about hard stuff like why God would give women the gift of teaching and then limit their audience to half the population. (My husband says teaching is not a gift but an office, and I'm thinking about that too.)

I'm thinking about friendships that cross gender lines and all the potential that could be there if we stop over-sexualizing and viewing one another through only the very small lens of anatomy.

I'm reading Harry Potter.

I'm longing to worship in cathedrals that are works of art because I'm discovering that art and beauty are a legitimate expression of glory to God in the highest, a true act of worship.

I'm looking at what other cultures, ancient and present, can teach me that are worthy of incorporating into my modern, Western Christianity to combat its bias.

I'm curious about church history and the mystics, and some of the more ancient Christian practices and wondering if we Protestants turned our backs on legitimate ways to walk in Christ.

All these issues feel like taboo.

I want to study what both sides say about all these issues and others, and draw my own conclusions. I want to uncover and own who I am, even if that reveals a whole lot of gray.

I'm learning that although God has told us in his word that some things are black and some are white, his creation is filled with many colors, including gray. He called it all good back when we were in the garden, before we stopped trusting him to define good and evil, before we stopped trusting him to lead us, and we stopped learning from him.

I want to live there in the Garden again, the one before they chose unwisely. And I actually do, because long ago I submitted my life to trusting Him, even with all the gray, and the Holy Spirit became my resident teacher. I don't think He wants me to be afraid to investigate my surroundings and learning of him.

Embracing the gray in my hair feels dignifying and validating. If I didn't feel the devaluing in coloring my hair, I certainly feel "revaluing" in taking gray into my physical, and, metaphorically, my spiritual,  identity. Searching the hues of gray feels like a new and unfamiliar land of freedom. It hints at the wisdom that's earned by mindful experience. It feels like the opposite of stupid.

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