Of Tangled Hair, Beauty, and the Inevitability of Suffering

tangly hair .jpg

“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

This was the sage advice offered by my mother years ago when I knelt in front of her chair on Saturday nights for the weekly ritual of Dippity-Do gel and pink foam rollers that would force my hair into some semblance of pretty for Sunday morning church.

This, the only “saying” I remember from my childhood, made sense as I gritted my teeth, fists pushing into the floor in mute protest as the comb yanked through the inevitable tangles fine hair made when it had grown thick and long. I knew Suffering, indeed; of a trivial yet visceral and immediate sort to a young girl. Beauty, too—because I desperately wanted to be beautiful, and what could possibly be better than the ringlets that miraculously emerged the next morning?

I’ve said it in jest to my own grimacing daughters as they’ve complained of hair-brushing over the years, making me wonder if this experience of pain as we have our hair “done” is perhaps a universal one among women. Maybe it’s just foreshadowing, birth-pangs of a truth it will take us a lifetime to learn.

I used to think it was a ridiculous statement, one perhaps accepted years ago by fifties and sixties moms with their high heels and skirts in the kitchen, maybe by today’s nip-and-tuck or even the hit-the-gym crowd. I don’t think you could get away with saying it publicly today anywhere, not even across a magazine page from teased and microbladed and starved-into-that-size beauties staring off into space with vacant eyes.

“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of traveling to Oxford to spend time with dear friends. One particular morning, after everyone else had gone home, my dear mentor and I ambled down narrow, cobblestone streets with sidewalks so small we often had to step into the roadway to maintain our companionable arm-in-arm walk. Sometimes, it was easier to remain behind or ahead as she asked questions and then spoke truth, difficult proclamations that brought areas of my life and heart into focus I would have preferred remain in the dark; ways I’d justified rebellion in sharp relief as her words and my heart’s responses brought tears to my eyes. It’s interesting how we can know things, deep down, while we pretend we don’t know them, and it takes someone else daring enough to shine the flashlight deep into our hiding places to uncover what’s there.

What was there for me was a stubborn, heels-dug-in, curly-head-shaking little girl refusing to give up her own way.

Somehow, somewhere, right in the middle of Bible study and church and ministry and pouring my heart into my house, I’d managed to nurture an untruth: that if someone didn’t behave the way I wanted them to, I couldn’t be mean to them or anything but I *was* allowed to be permanently unhappy about it. That I could claim a right to be a bit miserable (okay, sometimes a lot miserable) because something in my life was really hard. Now, I wouldn’t have explained what I was doing that way; I had no knowledge of purposefully choosing my overall attitude—and yet the correlation was obvious when the truth was pointed out by someone I knew had my best interest at heart.

My friend said, “You’re right. It’s all hard, and that situation is incredibly difficult. But you have a choice to make. You can’t base your happiness on other people. You have to find joy in your obedience to God in this difficulty, and stop expecting anyone to change. You must show your children, who will face their own difficulties one day, a model of happiness. You have to do things that will sustain your soul, and be happy because you are doing what is right. You need to apologize for the ways you’ve failed, and be grateful for all that is truly good in the situation.”

And I cried, because she was right.

  crucifix, Pusey House, Oxford

crucifix, Pusey House, Oxford

Here’s what it boils down to … When we respond to difficult circumstances and people with unhappiness and dissatisfaction; when we nurture discontent in our hearts; when we sigh and grumble and strain against our given puzzles … we become ugly.

Later that night, we attended a lecture in Pusey House, a beautiful space in Oxford dedicated to be a house of sacred learning. It was the display above the wonderful lecturer’s screen pictured above, though, which caught and held my attention for the night.

In my day-to-day life, I don’t come across many crucifixes. The churches I’ve attended focus on an empty cross, one Christ has already emerged from—and honestly, in most cases, not even an empty cross anymore as our worship bands have taken center stage in blank warehouse-style surroundings. Empty crosses make sense; we want to remind people that He has risen—and He has risen, indeed.

Yet, as I sat there that night, it struck me that most of life as we experience it finds its truest reflection in a crucifix, not an empty cross. Christ has risen, and we are seated with Him in heavenly places. He took our place on the cross. And yet …

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Luke 14:27

So here’s the thing: I’ve asked God to make me more like Jesus.

Why did I think He could do that without there being a cross involved? Why have we forgotten that we are following Jesus, and that is where He is resolutely heading?

What if the reason God has allowed there to be many difficult circumstances in my life (yours, too?) over the years is that He sees how much I truly desire to be like Him and to love Him well, and these difficulties and people are the very tools He is using to make that happen for me?

“You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

What if rather than the thwarting of all my greatest, deepest desires, these difficulties are actually precision instruments, with just the right edge on them to remove all the ugliness I know resides in my heart and soul—because, after all, I, too am a difficult person? What if rather than being problems, they are really answers? Could I not find joy in the issues themselves, if I develop a more long-range view of where I really want to my heart to go?

Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.

Frances J. Crosby

  altar at Christ Church, Oxford

altar at Christ Church, Oxford

Could I not smile at problematic events, trying personalities, insurmountable predicaments, embracing and accepting them with some measure of joy? He is a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and I want to be like Him, who loved well through it all.

I know I’ll still get frustrated sometimes, still be sad or angry, still be disappointed that in some ways my life doesn’t go as I’d hoped or planned or even worked for—because I’m still a human being in a broken world. I’m determined now, though, to take another step: to sit with the frustration and sadness and anger that is common to all of us, and remind my soul that when I thank God for all that is truly good in my life, when I respond with love in spite of my negative feelings, I’m becoming just a tiny bit more like Jesus, and a tiny bit more of His image is showing. And that is where deep happiness lies.

Because what I want most of all is to be beautiful.

misty krasawski

Misty Krasawski, Louisville, CO

Misty Krasawski is hopelessly flawed but eternally optimistic, because God has promised to be the Author and Finisher of her faith! She is also wife to Rob, mama to eight precious children and two beautiful daughters-in-law, and spends all her free time trying to avoid the laundry by reading classic books, painting with watercolors, lighting too many candles, baking copious amounts of cookies, and studying as much theology as she can lay her hands on. She's currently pursuing a degree through Colorado Christian University and is a regular contributor to both The Better Mom and For the Family, and also occasionally pours her heart out at www.mistykrasawski.com and the brand-new www.itsabeautifullife.org. She loves encouraging people to chase the dreams God has placed in their hearts, preferably over steaming cups of tea and coffee and probably something chocolate.