I Didn't Cut My Hair Until I Was 30: My Journey Into Authenticity

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I didn’t cut my hair until I was 30.

It was such a monumental step for me; one that took much deliberation. I had always been the “girl with the really long hair” and it was deeply a part of my identity.

I was also the girl who didn’t wear makeup, pants, or jewelry. Even though all of those practices were technically my choice to avoid, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to do them. In fact, I wanted to very much.

So why did I not cut my hair? Wear pants? Wear makeup and jewelry?

I had believed those things bring shame to God.

You see, the church I was a part of is tremendously conservative. These beautiful people who serve an amazing, astounding, remarkable, limitless, holy God, interpret his Word in very distinct ways. For example, women are instructed to refrain from cutting their hair, wearing pants, makeup and jewelry. Other things like sleeveless tops, tight fitted clothing and low cut tops also were prohibited. The point was to be dressed modestly, to not bring attention to yourself, but to Jesus. There were hundreds of nuances which I dabbled with: sometimes fishnet tights were permitted, other times not. Sometimes open toed shoes were prohibited. I knew all the types of tinted lip moisturizers I could wear, and still not consider it “makeup." Of course many of these teachings come from a variety of sources within the Bible, albeit out of context, and are enthusiastically taught with good intentions. “We have full truth! Revelation from God.” They proclaim. For me to have believed anything outside of what they taught would be to "believe a lie,” which of course would cost me in eternity. Serious indeed.

So it was for religious reasons that every major decision with my outward appearance was governed by “the Church,” even if they claimed it was the Bible. People would ask, “Why don’t you wear pants? Is it your religion?” “No!” I would tell them, “It’s what I’ve given to God, and nobody is making me do it.” Which was what someone would say who is truly submitted to God and to their pastor. Now this was true, of course. Nobody was forcing me. It was, however, what was expected out of anyone who had committed their life to Christ. But I had a deep misunderstanding of what God required of me.

I thought, "Why does God require so many things for women but not for men?” The response was often, "I don’t know. But you should submit anyway."

"This doesn’t make sense,” I would think. "I can’t even explain it rationally to people. It’s such a turnoff from forming relationships. How am I supposed to attract people to Jesus when I’m repelling them with my list of things I can’t do?” The response? “It’s not for us to decide heavenly things. It’s more than sacrifice, it’s worship. We just submit, obey, and the people that are truly desperate for Jesus will submit too. Don’t worry about other people.” I desperately wanted approval though, since it validated my worth as a person, so I complied.

The rules are seemingly endless. Not only are women given those rules, but there are lists for everyone else. Among the prohibitions were viewing movies at a theater, drinking alcohol (much less walking into a bar,) having cable TV, men wearing shorts, having beards, and “mixed bathing” (girls swimming with boys.) Some rules have relaxed over time - participating in sports events, watching movies in your home and even wearing red are a few favorites I’ve been told have changed within the past 30 years. Being known for what you can’t do, and defining myself as someone who was severely restricted, meant that I viewed everything in black and white. I was right, everyone else was wrong. I was going to heaven, and most other Christians probably weren’t even going to be saved. “It’s not for me to judge,” I thought, “the Bible says they’re wrong, not me.” I was given “truth” on a silver platter, and couldn’t believe the odds of how lucky I was. I also wasn’t hungry to learn much more since I had truth, and I already knew everything I needed. I would eagerly engage in debates with others who disagreed because I wanted them to see how right I was, and for them to see the error of their ways. And I would pray they’d be converted. “They love God, but they don’t know Him like I do,” I thought. My heart truly hurt for so many I loved that didn’t believe as I did.

I believed the deep truths from God couldn’t be discerned without tribal acquiescence, and blind faith in my influencers; that their interpretation of things was the whole truth. Submission to authority was something so ingrained into me; particularly pastoral authority. We were told that of the many nuances of teachings, we were to follow our pastor obediently. If another church of our same faith had different teachings on something like, that women could trim their hair (but not cut it short) we were told we should obey our pastor. And disobedience to the teaching of our pastor was akin to the sin of witchcraft. Other churches within our faith community could have more flexibility and make it to heaven, but if ours didn’t, we were outta luck. “Cutting your hair isn’t necessarily a heaven or hell issue,” we were told, “but submission to authority is. So whatever your pastor decides is what God has decided for you.” And we were told not to.

These issues quite naturally created frustration in me even as a young girl. By the age of 11, I begged my parents to enroll me in a local Christian school where the girls were required to wear skirts. At least I wouldn’t stand out and face embarrassment and rejection so frequently.

But even there I stood out. I was so insecure. I didn’t want to be different, but I also didn’t want to shame God. I loved him, and wanted to please him. It was the most important thing, even if I had to suffer emotionally. (Of course I didn’t have the emotional maturity to understand I was causing my own suffering here.) After all, what’s temporary discomfort from superficiality (how I looked on the outside) to be compared to an eternity of separation from God? No big deal.

As a result of the colossal importance placed on superficial things, I was quite understandably, a superficial person.

I couldn’t deeply know God, even though I spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to do so. I was so focused on all the things I was sacrificing so that He would be pleased with me. And I was certain that He was pleased; for how couldn’t He be? I was doing all the right things. I was making all the hard choices. I was standing firm when others were more concerned for living selfishly.

I couldn’t deeply know myself. This was something I viewed as not only unnecessary, but dangerous. The desires of my heart would most certainly lead me away from my Creator, so I couldn’t risk it. My feelings were deceitful. They were not to be trusted. I believed that my feelings were often influenced by evil spirits, which in turn made me a victim of the spiritual world. Developing my own thoughts wasn’t a practice I was familiar with; and repeating the thoughts of other people I respected was the only way I knew how to communicate. Their thoughts were always truth, and superior to my own thoughts which would lead me astray. In essence, I was a walking collection of other people’s thoughts.

I couldn’t deeply know others. Friendships I formed from within the faith community were based on agreement. If other people agreed with me, fantastic. If not, they were potentially dangerous and to be held at arm’s length. Being vulnerable with others was impossible, since I wasn’t even vulnerable with myself. Friendships I formed outside the faith community were equally shallow. I couldn’t get close to them for fear of being led astray.

So why the big change?

I moved out shortly after my 29th birthday, when I was married. We moved to Charlotte and everything changed, overnight. New husband, new city, new living space, new church, new job as a music director for my new church, distance from my family, friends and influences, etc. Having never been my own person, and not possessing the skills to think for myself, I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t have the same influencers to guide my thoughts, and tell me what to do. I was so lost. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who my husband was. I didn’t feel like myself, and my years of practiced negativity began to lead me into a pit of depression. It was the perfect storm.

Weeks turned to months of crying and tears and heartache. My older brother was also suffering with brain cancer, which further added fuel to my emotional fire. That depression led me to immerse myself into God’s word, specifically the New Testament. But I’d always read the Bible…I could quote countless passages. What made this different?

When I moved, my pastor began a series on the Life of Paul where he detailed the struggles the New Testament church faced. He told the specifics behind many issues which are covered throughout the New Testament, and how the church handled them. These included controversies, disagreements, heated debates, and things which could have easily split the early church in two. Once I was armed with a much clearer contextual understanding of the NT, I couldn’t un-see it. Context is EVERYTHING. I poured myself into the New Testament, but I noticed everything seemed new. The context gave such clarity that I had never before experienced. Reading as if it were my first time was exhilarating. I soon began telling my husband all the scriptures that I had misunderstood and misapplied. That I had not known I was interpreting out of context. Every day, for months, I would excitedly tell him the new things I was understanding. And that whole time, I was getting to know my Creator. I was finally seeing Him as the loving God He is. I had (what feels like) hundreds of beliefs that needed shifting, and those months spent immersed in his Word, equipped with contextual understanding, shifted my mindset about Him, and what He requires of me. I finally understood the Gospel. I finally understood the work of Calvary. I finally understood how He views me. I finally understood how my efforts to create holiness for myself literally had no value in Heaven’s economy. They were artificial holiness. I finally met Jesus.

I want to be clear. Not every woman who refuses to wear pants or refuses to cut her hair does so in an attempt to make herself holy, or because she feels pressured to conform to the tribal culture. Many beautiful people have consecrated things to God willingly, and of the abundance of their heart, and they do so as an act of worship. THAT is where the authenticity and beauty is; from their free will. But to imagine that anything we consecrate as worship somehow makes us more holy, or more worthy of Christ’s favor, protection and/or power, is to exalt our own sacrifice and diminish the incredible, overwhelming work of Calvary.

Once I started seeing that my outward appearance (as it related to biblical holiness) was a bit confused, I immediately ran to my pastor. “I’ve read, hundreds of times over, that my outward appearance doesn’t matter the way I’ve always thought! What should I believe?” And that’s where he said, “This is up to you. As you’ve developed a relationship with Christ, those things are your responsibility to develop." He wanted me to develop my own convictions based on my own prayer and study - my own relationship with God. (I knew certain specifics required for my job as his music director, but when it came to my personal life, I wanted those answers.) At first, this frustrated me, and I wanted him to just come out and say his opinions. I felt like he was hiding them from me. But what it forced me to do was research it for myself. I had been spoon fed all my beliefs previously, and I wanted him to do the same. To make it easy for me. I didn’t trust myself to read, comprehend on my own, discern truth and get it right. I felt like I might get it wrong if he didn’t just tell me everything.

Once I had systematically dismantled many countless misunderstandings I had within God’s word, I realized I was able to freely make choices about my physical appearance that I had never fully explored. And so I did, but with reservations. I didn’t think I could share this with people.

I was just starting to get to know myself (outside of everyone else’s opinions) but I was still tremendously fearful of other people’s opinions of me. I was certain I’d be rejected. Labeled as “dangerous.” Shun the nonbeliever! For several years I told God, “I know you accept me even if everyone else rejects me.” It was a stressful time, because I was so convinced I couldn’t be myself. I was truly living a lie. Pretending to be something I wasn’t, for fear of rejection. Authenticity soon became my mantra. I craved it, and saw how damaging life is without it.

Inauthenticity can be linked to so many flavors of unnecessary emotional suffering. For me, living a lie cost me my emotional stability. I couldn’t imagine myself living happily with my own choices, outside of the approval of others. I didn’t trust my judgment, my own decisions. But now, things couldn’t be more different.

I’ve been able to step into responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings, actions and results and gain a deeper understanding of who I am as a person, and who I want to be. Having that God-given liberty feels incredible. I’ve created freedom for myself by deliberately shifting my thinking. It really was as easy as that. And as hard as that too, since I didn’t think it was possible originally. I’ve grown into an individual. I’ve learned how to confidently make decisions. I’ve learned how to have my own opinion of things.

My passion now is to equip other women to step into their authenticity so they can create more freedom in their lives.

Living for the approval of others is bondage, and living your authentic choice is freedom. Truth truly does set us free.

I have no mission to convert people to my doctrinal beliefs. The beautiful thing about God-given free-will is we’re allowed to believe whatever we want to believe. Yes, there are consequences (positive and negative) to our beliefs, but the choice is ours alone. I have zero intention to ruffle feathers. But if I do ruffle feathers, I’m ok with that.

Authenticity has set me free from the emotional prison I kept myself in for 30 years. The rest of my life, I dedicate to communicating to women the utmost importance of making decisions that are authentic to them, and to their values. And to facilitate that change by bringing to their awareness the lies they’re believing, and help them shift those permanently. Lies that they’re not good enough, they’re going to suffer intolerable rejection, they’re going to be worse off by being themselves, etc.

Life is far too precious and short to live inauthentically. It’s my pleasure and honor to help women make that shift.