My husband comes home early on Tuesdays so that I can go to the gym. But over time my “gym time” has morphed simply into “relaxation time.” Most Tuesdays I lace up my sneakers and spend a half hour on the stationery bike, and the rush of endorphins brings relaxation in the midst of a busy week taking care of my kids. But sometimes, maybe once a month, I’ll do something else I find relaxing: go for a walk, get a chocolate malt at Anderson’s, browse the racks at the Salvation Army thrift store. About once a year, I get a haircut during my relaxation time, most often at the Supercuts on Delaware Avenue.
A year ago I walked in to Supercuts and sat down, waiting twenty minutes for the first available stylist. When she finished with the twin boys ahead of me, Rosie called my name, and I sat down in her styling chair, which she promptly elevated. Rosie was about five feet tall with heavy dark makeup and unnaturally black hair. I assumed it was dyed, because if I ever become a hair stylist it will be so I can do interesting things to my hair for free. Rosie also had several streaks of light purple in her hair. Getting down to business, she said, “Just a shampoo or blow dry as well?” “Tea tree oil scent or something flowery?” “How many inches do you want cut off?”
I tipped my head back gratefully while Rosie ran the warm water over my scalp. The tingly fresh scent of tea tree oil shampoo somehow cleared my nose and my mind, and I sat there and breathed deeply, leisurely enjoying my afternoon off. My husband was probably in the middle of a game of Jenga with multiple children. Either that or it was post-Jenga time, when the boys just start throwing the blocks at each other. Who knew Supercuts could be such a haven of rest for the weary?
When the shampoo was over, Rosie wrapped my dripping hair in a towel and wheeled me back to her station, getting right to work on my annual cut. I was a little self-conscious at all my split ends, but she didn’t seem to notice. She worked in silence, and I appreciated not having to talk. Suddenly Rosie stopped and said, “I keep hearing children.” Startled, I stared at her. I had no idea what she was talking about, and I had no desire to converse. Snip, snip, snip, she started cutting again. “What do you mean?” I finally said.
“Well, as I’m cutting your hair, I keep hearing “children.””
I shifted uncomfortably in my swivel chair, totally confused. “Wait, you keep hearing children making noise, or you think that someone else here is saying “children” to you?” I looked around. There were no children playing in Supercuts, and all the other stylists were engrossed in their work, curling, cutting, shampooing, spraying. Rosie was unperturbed by my uneasiness. She smacked her mint gum loudly and kept cutting. “Someone is saying “children” to me.”
This conversation was not what I intended for my afternoon of relaxation.
“What are you talking about?” I finally said.
“Well, when I hear “children” being said, I hear it in my mind, and I think it has something to do with you,” Rosie remarked casually.
It started to dawn on me that there could be a spiritual component to what was happening. I finally asked, “Are you praying when this happens?”
She stopped mid-snip and looked at me like I was an idiot. “Of course I’m praying. I’m always praying. So I don’t know what it means, but I thought I should tell you because it might be God talking. Do you have any children?”
“Yes,” I said slowly, somehow becoming both more and less comfortable with each passing minute. “Four of them.” I didn’t add, “I don’t think I’m a good mom. I think God made a mistake by giving me these kids. I feel overwhelmed right now and I came to get a haircut so that I wouldn’t have to think about them.”
“Well I really don’t know then,” Rosie continued. “Maybe God is telling you that your children are a gift. I have five myself. They’re hard, but they’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I sat back in the vinyl chair, adjusting the velcro slightly on the black cape that kept the hair off my neck and shoulders. I relaxed again and savored the sounds of the salon and the cool spray of the water Rosie used to dampen my straight thin hair. Haircut complete, I drove home to my children with a lighter head and an unburdened heart.
It can be hard to know whether you’ve received a message from God. I often too quickly judge people who are always hearing from the Lord because they can seem careless, reading into every situation messages and personal blessings that aren’t necessarily there. I worry this makes faith look like a figment of our imaginations that we lean on in difficult times but which has no real or universal significance.
That said, I do believe God speaks, and in a variety of ways. Sometimes audibly in one’s heart or mind, sometimes through a message from another person, or perhaps through music, art, or a dream. In the Bible, we find the words of God that have endured through thousands of years, words that do speak to us reliably. Our Old Testament reading for this third week of Advent comes from the book of Zephaniah:
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
When I left Supercuts after my annual haircut, I was pretty sure that God had spoken. It was a simple, unexpected message from a stranger who had no reason to talk to me beyond asking my shampoo preferences. I left Supercuts that day strengthened and renewed, my troubled heart quieted by God’s love. I was reminded that God will use anyone, anywhere to give his beloved children a message that needs to be heard. On Christmas we will celebrate such a message, that the Lord our God is in our midst, showing up in a most unexpected form: a baby born to an unwed mother. Where have you seen or heard from God unexpectedly?