Hairy Spiritual Disciplines
Tangible Acts Turn Our Attention Toward God
By Rod Reed
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some time with two students, Felipe and Jessica (not their real names). Each approached me for counsel, but in both cases, I was the one who was inspired and challenged by what God was doing in their lives. Specifically, they helped me think more broadly about what spiritual disciplines are. I typically think of spiritual disciplines as the regular practices we do that turn our attention to God, like prayer, daily Bible reading, and Scripture memorization. These practices are indispensable in the Christian life, but these students showed me unusual examples of awareness of God’s voice through unusual choices. Those choices in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit shed light on the transformative power of God in the midst of daily life.
Felipe is a fairly typical sophomore. He’s chosen a major, but hasn’t totally figured out how to manage college life well. Consequently, he ended up on academic probation. Additionally, some important relationships weren’t going well. For the first time in life, he’s struggling and his naturally positive attitude isn’t enough. One day Felipe showed up in my office minus his typical goatee, so I asked him about it. After a long pause, he explained that he thought of facial hair as a sign of manhood. Since he didn’t feel like he was living his life in a mature way that was reflective of godly manhood, he decided to shave his goatee until his life looked more “manly.” As we talked further, it became clear that this was not a decision made rashly. Felipe shaved as an act of faith made in response to the Holy Spirit, designed to remind him of an area of life that needed work. In many ways, that is a description of spiritual disciplines – tangible acts that turn our attention toward God.
A couple weeks later, I ran into Jessica before chapel. Jessica is a straight-laced freshman from a pretty conservative background, so I was surprised to see her normally dark hair dyed blonde. When I asked about it, she explained that she had recently realized that she was quite judgmental, specifically about people who dyed their hair. Feeling convicted about this attitude, Jessica decided she needed to identify with the people she was judging. She hoped that dying her own hair would help reverse her tendency to judge others. When I asked how it was going, she said, “I’ll never judge the way people look again. It’s amazing how many people comment about my hair, and I don’t like it.” God used a change of hair color as a tool to change her heart.
Just like Felipe, Jessica chose a specific action in response to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as a way of highlighting (no pun intended) an area of her life in need of change. Both students stumbled into spiritual disciplines in their most basic forms. They became more aware of the Holy Spirit in the midst of daily life, not in leaving normal life for something “spiritual.” Our students need more of this vision of daily spiritual formation – and so do the rest of us.
Rod Reed is the university chaplain