Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lice and Faith

I have had lice twice in my life.

The first time I was three, and I don’t really remember it. My family was living in Hawaii, and it was common for us little ones playing in the sand to get those itchy little head bugs. I don’t remember much of anything, but my mom had to cut off all of my hair. It was a sad day.

The second time I was in fifth grade. This time I remember vividly. My head had been itching for a while, but I was afraid to tell my mom about it. Whenever I thought of lice, I thought of dirty children playing in the streets. I thought it somehow made me dirty and unclean. I was afraid of the consequences: having to cut off all my hair, using the lice killing shampoo, having to miss school, etc. I kept the itching my head, because I would rather suffer through the pain then deal with it. However, eventually the itching became too much. My scratching picked at my scalp, and my fingernails came away covered in blood. I knew I had to tell my mom, or things would only get worse. I confessed.

My mom, being a teacher, took it in stride. She checked my head, saw the tell tale signs, and immediately began to take action. My sheets went in the wash. My stuffed animals went into bags. All of my hair was chopped off. The bug killing shampoo was scrubbed into my shorn hair. I spent several hours sitting in my mother’s bathroom while she picked nits out of my hair. (That’s where the phrase ‘nit picking’ or ‘nitpicky’ comes from by the way. Nits are very small, and take a long time to get out). It was a long unpleasant experience.

However, a few weeks and several reapplications of the bug killing shampoo later, the stuffed animals came out of their bag and my head no longer itched. I suffered for weeks, but now all was right with the world. I could crawl into my bed with my favorite stuffed animal, and my head was gloriously free from itching. I was far better off free of those nasty bugs then I ever was with them, and the process of removing them turned out to be worth it.

Now over twelve years later, any time I read something about lice or someone says the word “lice”, my head starts to itch. Even now typing this, I scratch my scalp. I fear that I might have lice, though I have been in no situations where I could get lice. My cubicle is lice free. I don’t share hairbrushes, hats, or other hair touching things with strangers. I do share a hairbrush with my sister, so if I had lice she would too (which she doesn’t). However, despite how bad that fear can get sometimes when I hear a news report about lice breaking out in a local school, I never ask anyone to check my head. I’m too afraid.

What if they actually found lice?

The stigma of lice overwhelms me (though it should be noticed that lice like clean hair, not dirty). The idea of being subjected to that horrifying process sends fear through my heart. I can’t afford weeks of nit picking. I don’t want to deal with the consequences. So rather than admit that my head is itching, I suffer in silence, afraid of anyone ever hearing of my lice filled fears.

I have discovered in the past few years that I treat many problems in my faith in a similar way.

As an example I will take something that I feel I’ve struggled with for a while:

I can’t discern God’s voice, His will for me. I can’t feel Him in my life.

This is something I should deal with, preferably with the help of friends. It’s something I should confess to someone and have them help me struggle through it. However, I’m afraid. I’m afraid because people say things like “God pressed this on me the other day” or “I felt God saying this to me”. When people say things like that it makes me feel like they must be super holy and that there is something wrong with me. It makes me feel dirty and lice riddled.

I am afraid to go to my friends or my Bible study and say, “Hey, I really struggle with hearing God’s voice in my life.” I fear they will look at me with judgmental glances and think, “She’s not really a Christian. She’s not as holy as us. She’s so low, so unworthy, so dirty.”

I also fear the process of fixing it. I fear the shampooing, the putting things away in bags, and the nit picking. I don’t want anyone to nitpick my soul. I don’t want anyone to reveal that I actually am dirty and unclean. I don’t want anyone to push back my hair, see the nits, and begin to tear them from my head.

So rather than confess my problems and fears with my faith, I stay silent. I suffer in unsure silence, feeling dirty, unclean, and unworthy. I feel like a worse Christian. Without anyone pointing fingers, I point fingers at myself. Only, by myself I can’t fix it.

I know if I seek help for my problems in my faith, then I will be able to fix them. I know that afterwards I will feel much better. I know that without the lice my head won’t itch, and I will no longer have to worry about scratching myself until I bleed. I know I will be far better off and happier once I admit it.

Instead I sit here and itch.

Maybe I’m alone in this. Maybe I am not worthy and I’m not as good a Christian as the rest of the world; however, I think this is a problem we all struggle with. We’re afraid to admit our real problems, the problems that are causing us to itch until we bleed, because we’re afraid people might look at us and say, “She has lice.”

This year I make a pact with myself to admit when something in my faith does not feel right. I will go to my best friend, my mentor, or my Bible study and I will say, “I think I have lice.”

I believe my friends won’t judge me. I believe I will discover I’m not the only one who struggles with Faith Lice. And I imagine this will occur:

“I think I have lice,” I admit in a low tone to my Bible study.

“Lice? Oh dear, let me check!” one girl exclaims, rushing to my side. She checks my head. “You definitely have it, Bittersweet. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. We’ll need shampoo…”

“No worries, I have some,” another girl says, digging in her purse. “I struggled with this a few months ago. I know exactly how you are feeling. Don’t worry, Bittersweet. I am with you on this.”

“Where are the plastic bags?” asks a friend from the kitchen, searching through my cabinets. “I’ll bag your favorite stuffed animal for you.”

“I think I might have lice too,” admits another friend, emboldened by my confession. “Can you check me too?”

“We’ll get this put right, Bittersweet,” the girl by my side says with a smile. “We are your friends. We will help you struggle through this. We are here for you, and we love you.”

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