So, in Proverbs, Solomon – allegedly the wisest man of all – tells us that “Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained by righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31) and that “grey hair is the splendour of the old” (Proverbs 20:29). The book of Job tells us that wisdom belongs to the aged, and that a long life brings understanding (Job 12:12). Despite their alleged wisdom, somehow Solomon and the writer of Job forget to tell us of some of the other ‘benefits’ of growing older … things like random patches of body hair!
I noticed that the hair on my head is gradually becoming what can be euphemistically described as “salt and pepper” – i.e. grey – a good seven or eight years ago. I could quite happily handle that, after all Solomon told me it was a crown of splendour!
I wasn’t necessarily as happy about my growing splendour when it spread to my beard – although it did stop people asking me “Why is your beard ginger when your hair isn’t?” (Answer: I don’t know, it just is!), but it’s the kind of thing that you chalk up to the ‘maturing process’ and get on with.
Noticing the first grey chest hair was quite sobering – no-one, and I mean no-one, tells you that it’s going to happen at some point, and whilst it isn’t the end of the world or anything important, that’s the moment I had to confess that maybe – just maybe I wasn’t eighteen anymore and I might have to grow up a bit!
What is freaking me out a little at the moment is the fact that as the hair on my head appears to be thinning out, the hair elsewhere – for instance my nose and ears for a start – seems to be becoming more luxurious and vigorous. And, just to magnify the feeling that my body seems to be turning into somebody else’s I’ve found a random patch of hair that I swear wasn’t there a couple of days ago! I can’t imagine why my shoulder needs extra insulation at this time in my life – or why one hair in particular is so incredibly black that it looks drawn on. This is mildly distressing!
We all have this inbuilt sense of self, an interior image of how we regard ourselves; whether it’s good or bad, accurate or wildly exaggerated isn’t really important, regardless of circumstance and situation we have a sense of who we think we are.
The problem comes when our actual experience doesn’t necessarily match up with what we’d like it to be. For instance, I still have the nagging feeling that I’m twenty five years of age and able to do all the things I could do back then, random patches of body hair and the gradual greying of the hair on my head mitigate against this … I’ve just got to face the fact that I’m a middle-aged guy now. It’s just not so much fun facing up to that.
It’s never that much fun to face up to the things we don’t like about ourselves – the fact I can’t lift what I could lift twenty years ago, the fact that I get aches and pains when the weather changes, the fact that I’m certainly older, but definitely not much wiser, and the fact that there’s that gap between who I am and who I want to be … And it’s that gap that grasps me sometimes, and casts harsh shadows around who I am, showing the mistakes and the flaws in horrible clarity, whilst simultaneously seeming to render anything positive invisible to the naked eye.
There’s a sense of this ‘gap’ in the letter Paul wrote to the Roman church when he talks about the difference between who he wants to be and his experience of how things are.
“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise … I know the law but still can’t keep it … I realise that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong in me and gets the better of me every time … I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope!”
(Romans 7:15-24 The Message)
Paul’s desire is to show that there’s a way out of this trapped way of thinking and being, a way to change the record, change the story, change the outcome. Paul tells us that it isn’t down to us to strive past our brokenness and make ourselves good enough to be accepted by ourselves, others … and God.
Paul, tells us that Jesus “acted to set things right in this life of contradictions.”
(Romans 7:25, The Message).
Jokingly, whilst at a barbecue, my wife made a throwaway comment something to the effect of, “Oh, I’m not good enough to be a proper Christian!” In response, she was told “Yeah, but that’s kind of the point … you don’t have to be!”
I think that that’s the main point of Paul’s agonising here; we don’t need to strive to be worthy – if we’re tempted to do that Paul warns us that:
“Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get round to exercising it in real life”
(Romans 8:5 – The Message)
I could – metaphorically speaking – worry about the colour of my hair, where it seems to be migrating towards, and the apparent onset of middle age but that wouldn’t actually accomplish anything other than increasing the discomfort and disappointment. I could (butchering another metaphor or two) spend all my time dotting my ethical ‘I’s’ and crossing my moral ‘T’s’ and keeping a ledger of my successes and failures … or I could get over myself and get on with living a real, occasionally chaotic, sometimes disappointed and disappointing, often mundane, occasionally inspired and joyous, always real and genuine life. Random patches of hair included …