I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to shave off my hair.
After my friend quit her high-flying, high-paying job to go travelling, COVID-19 suddenly intervened. Once back in London and working shifts at her local Co-op, she made the drastic announcement that after “not much thought” she was planning to shave her head (and livestream it) to raise money for the NHS. We all secretly wondered if perhaps lockdown had caused her to officially ‘lose it’ (pardon the pun).
It’s events like these that make me sit up and ask myself “How far would I be willing to go to be considered truly generous?” Personally, I can find it quite challenging to part with my money, let alone my hair. Not because I don’t want to be generous, but simply because I (probably quite selfishly) worry about having enough for myself and – in this particular case – I would never want to be seen with a shaven head.
Maybe at times you have found yourself grappling with the same question as me: “How can I be a Christian and yet secretly struggle with generosity?”
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 we are told that God is most concerned with our attitude towards giving, rather than how much we give or don’t give: ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ Admittedly, I don’t always feel cheerful when I give. But perhaps I should be paying more attention to what’s causing me to hold on to my money (and my hair).
Jesus provided an example in Matthew 19:16-26 of the extent to which he expects each of us to give. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the parable of the rich young ruler who on the surface ‘led a holy life’ i.e. kept all the commandments, yet was not willing to place following Jesus above his wealth – in fact, the passage says he ‘went away sorrowful’ because he could not part with his many possessions.
In contrast, Mary Magdalene was willing to ‘waste’ the most expensive item she owned on Jesus. John 12:1-8 tells us that she was judged for performing such a generous act – perhaps in a similar way to the criticism/concern shown towards my friend’s decision to shave her head. Why are these displays of selflessness often met with apparent disdain? Perhaps, rather than judgement, it is actually an attitude of fear. Fear of the loss of wealth that the spilled perfume would equal, and fear on behalf of my friend of how her appearance would be temporarily changed without her hair.
I would like to be able to confidently state that if I felt Jesus prompting me to shave off my hair, whether for his sake or for the NHS, I would be able to give it “not much thought” in the same way my friend did, but the truth is I don’t know if I could be that obedient. Not because I don’t love him, but because I am full of fear, and that fear overrides my desire to be radically generous. Quite simply, I’m fearful of what I would look like without my hair, and how people would respond to my new appearance. Acceptance triumphs over generosity in this scenario.
My friend doesn’t know Jesus, and yet her brave act clearly demonstrates a lack of fear (and vanity). I’m certain that if she did, she would be called to test social and conventional boundaries in many different ways – she has that ‘carpe diem’ personality. For those of us who are not natural go-getters, how can we begin to push past our personal limits of generosity?
Perhaps the place to start is simply fearing less. When we know that we are wholly accepted by God just as we are, with all of our quirks and imperfections, we are free to step out into deeper waters of generosity without being concerned about other’s opinions (and, most significantly, our own). We are also assured in Matthew 6:25-26 that there’s no need to worry about making sure we have enough for ourselves, since our ‘heavenly Father knows that (we) need (these things)’. The more we look at our lives and realise how infinitely generous God has been, is being, and will continue to be to us, the more we can confidently trust that ‘every good and perfect gift comes from above’ (James 1:17) – enabling us to embrace radical giving in all its forms.