Does having a beard make a person more or less effective as a minister?
I feel kind of silly even posing the question, because it’s not the kind of question that typically crosses one’s mind—except that I’m in ministry, and about a year ago I started growing a beard.
When I stopped shaving, it wasn’t “No Shave November,” and I didn’t have plans to donate my beard to “Locks of Love” (though I don’t think they accept beard hair anyway). I just kind of quit shaving.
And people began reacting.
I have been faithfully working out at the same gym for three years now, and there are people there that I see on a regular basis but never talk to—until I started growing a beard. Once I had some facial hair all kinds of people started approaching me, just to chat. And now we’re becoming friends.
At church, however, people have reacted a bit differently; it’s been a real case study. Had I never given up shaving for a few months I would never have known there are so many people sitting in our church every Sunday with serious concerns about whether their associate pastor has facial hair or not.
Everyone wants to know: “Why are you growing a beard? How long do you plan on having it? Is this just a phase? But seriously, are you going to shave it soon?”
People can’t just let it be. So not long after I started growing out my beard, they began doing what comes so natural to us as human beings—they started reaching for labels. People started calling me a “hipster,” and others began calling me “Grizzly Adams.” Still others called me “rabbi.” And one person in particular thinks I look like a member of ISIS with my beard. I know this, because she has told me so, several times.
Though it’s all been in good fun (and I sincerely laugh thinking about it), a few church members have expressed their opinion of my beard more explicitly. Like on Easter Sunday when someone handed me what looked like an Easter gift, but when I pulled out all the tissue paper and looked into the bottom of the bag, all I found was a razor. And on another Sunday I was handed an envelope in the hallway. Inside was 15 dollars, and on the front of the envelope it read, “Haircut.”
The youth have exhibited a little more understanding, as in most of them could care less if I have a beard or not. But a couple of them have asked, “Why are you subjecting yourself to this?”
Good question. Why would I not just shave and make everyone happy?
I guess I just find the whole thing terribly amusing.
You see, as human beings we are at all times wondering what this person or that person thinks about us. Their evaluation matters to us because we have given them the power to determine whether we are somebody or nobody. Looking outside of one’s self for approval is a behavior we pick up at a very young age, so we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves. But the problem is this—many of us are still looking outside of our self for approval, and it’s killing us.
We think to ourselves: “Do they like me? What if I fail? Do they approve of me? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I say something wrong? Do they think I’m successful? Smart? Funny? Helpful?” The questions are endless, and they run like tapes in our head…over and over and over again.
Though we should be looking for approval in God, we choose instead to look to others. And when we look to others, we inevitably find ourselves caught up in a game that can get awfully exhausting, quick.
What’s troubling for me to think about is that the longer we play at this game the less we are aware it’s a game. We get into habit of looking for love and acceptance outside of ourselves, and it becomes our reality. Before long, almost everything we do is an attempt to get others to say we are somebody, because if they tell us we are somebody then that in turn gives us a sense of comfort and security. This also makes sense of why we would spend so much of our lives trying to live up to the expectations others have placed on us, or even those expectations that we have placed on ourselves. Our value and worth is on the line.
When we are caught up in this game, there is no possible way for us to love our neighbors, at least not all of them. Instead, we are only able to love those who tell us we are somebody, or make us feel as if we are somebody. Everyone else is perceived as a threat (often unconsciously) because they make us feel like nobody.
Whether we know it or not, at any given moment what we want more than anything else is to be loved and accepted. But as long as there’s one person who doesn’t love and accept us, we can’t be too sure that anyone loves and accepts us. And this produces a great deal of fear in us, namely a fear that we are nobody. A lot of us are living this kind of life, but it’s a far cry from the life of freedom God wants for us.
In Galatians 5:1, Paul says, “Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.”
So how do we remain free? Or better yet, how do we get free? Simple. Live your life “in Christ.” But what does that mean? It means becoming aware of your acceptance. If you are a human being then you are made in the image and likeness of God. Right now, in this moment, you are loved. You are already somebody. What you do, the roles you occupy, the abilities you possess, the skin you were born in, the beard you grow—none of these things are who you are.
Let me say it again, you are made in the image and likeness of God. And so are they. Everyone is. Therefore, we don’t have to look outside of ourselves to determine if we matter. You matter. Everyone matters. And this is true because all of us are in God, and God is in all of us.
So it is better that we not burden one another with judgments and evaluations. And it is better that we not burden ourselves in this way either. But instead, we must learn to just be with one another, and to come to every moment as if it is the only moment that ever was. This is grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.”
Again, we are made in the image and likeness of God. This is not something we chose for ourselves; this is not something we earned; this is not something we can put on and take off; this is not something we can purchase; this is not something we must get from someone else. No, it is a gift from God that we’ve always had and will always have.
Through God’s eyes one can never earn love, because you cannot earn something that you already possess. So if we are to love like God we must come to see as God does—we must come to see that everyone is lovable. If they hurt us, it is not because they are unlovable, but because they are fearful, caught up in a senseless game of trying to become something they already are.
As followers of Jesus, may we have eyes to see what is most true about us as a human being, that we are loved just as we are. And as a result of this love, may we experience freedom from the games that we play, in order that we may be completely free to care for and love others as God does.