Our daughter came into the world with a large head, a conspicuous tuft of bright red hair, and a deep stubborn streak which clearly has no relation to her biological parentage.
Because of that spark of ginger on top, many hands would reach out and touch her head as a child—commenting on her hair and doing that weird thing where strangers touch your baby in the market and you wonder if jail time is worth what you’d like to say (remember when people touched one another in general?!). Our daughter has grown up with a certain reticence about her hair—she didn’t like ponytails or braids or those baby headband doohickeys. Off they would come, that is, if we survived the screaming while putting them in.
Loving her as best we could, and wishing to preserve our sanity, we left the whole hair thing alone (a privilege in some ways). One day it came to a head (PUN INTENDED) when we found a chunk of hair on her bedroom floor—rather than brush a perma-tangle out (this particular part of her hair resembled geological impasses like this one) she cut it out herself. Problem solved, she thought.
But we all know that that isn’t how problems are solved. Because it grew back only to tangle again.
It was solidly into Lent this year when I found myself with a sobbing child who just wanted to cut the tangles out yet again, and in some ways, so did I. But I channeled what could only be God’s patience and grace far beyond what I usually possess on a Tuesday evening in February, and we set up something we called ‘salon.’ She sat in a favorite chair wearing a robe after showering, and got to watch a show she enjoyed, while I used half a bottle of detangler, a gentle brush, and a healthy dose of God’s grace and set to work.
I was astonished by how a single strand, gone awry, could bunch up so many other strands. And conversely, how loosening that one strand—which much of this work was, sometimes making the tangles seem worse at first, rather than better—could ease up so much of the pressure on the others.
That first foray took at least two episodes of television, so let’s say 40 minutes total. I had to carefully work around her head, somewhat methodically, and with constant encouragement. While I could have gone faster, I reminded myself that a human existed underneath the tangle; there was someone trusting enough to allow me to do this work. And, it was as much of a challenge for her to allow this, as it was a gift for me to sort through it.
And that’s when my Lent truly began, in those first forty minutes.
My daughter is unaware that she is my Lenten practice this year. Every few nights, we repeat this process. Following a bath or shower, she allows me to brush her hair, and I stop what I am doing to do it. Some nights are easier than others, and one night, when it went quickly, I took a gander and offered to add a braid into her hair—maybe it would be easier to brush the next morning.
Gentle reader, I know exactly one kind of braid, and that clearly wasn’t the one she wanted. So we sat there as I watched a YouTube video of parents with yogi hands and yogic patience doing impossible things with human hair. And I tried to do my best. Then a few days later, I tried my best again. And again. All while she sat there, trusting me to care for her and allowing me to work some of those tangles out, as I often could see them better than she could.
For so long, I have considered Lent to be a time of personal practice and piety: that it’s my ‘self-soul-care’ time (which has been appropriate from year to year). But most of my practices have been about me, mine, and myself.
But as we began each Sunday morning church service with the Confession this Lent—all the accompanying ‘we’ language kept sticking out to me—“We confess… what we have done… what we have left undone… we are truly sorry… we humbly repent.” And sometimes, when I would glance around the sanctuary seeing all kinds of people kneeling (as they were able), saying this together, I was reminded that ours is not a faith of personal salvation—not a tradition where my hope of righteousness was divorced from others.’ We believe in corporate salvation, that somehow what I do, and how I love, is intimately connected to how we love as a community, and it’s the communal work which is the foretaste of heaven, not my own pride in ‘how well I’ve done this Lent.’
I did not always have a willing partner for our ‘salon’ dates. And we would forgo it some evenings. Because consent is important, and it takes two to rustle out the wayward strands of hair and whisper softly with hope to them, ‘Come out! Be unbound!’ Each evening we did have a salon time though, my daughter and I would learn something new—about each other, about ourselves, about trusting one another with patience and love. And, that we are chronically short of hair elastics in our house.