Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Hair Today, Dawn Tomorrow

Is pragmatism a sin?

I wouldn't normally think so. The very word "pragmatic" generally carries a positive association of weighing risks before diving into a dangerous situation.

Yet pragmatism also carries another meaning—that of accepting what appears to be a small risk, containing a small reward, rather than taking a larger risk that may bring a much larger reward. I recently heard the Rev. Steven Louis Craft speak of that meaning when he described the danger of pragmatism. He said it can easily open the door to temptation and, ultimately, fatal error.

His words struck me deeply. I knew that I had to recognize my own pragmatism, which was preventing me from giving God dominion over every area of my life.

I became aware of it after a painful experience that started when I was out with a group of people. One of them, a man I'd admired who is younger than I am, seemed to take an interest in me for the first time. I was surprised by the newfound attention; it's not every day that I receive interest from a man who meets seven to nine of my must-haves. (That would be #2 through #7, plus #10, at least some degree of #1, possibly #9, and—who knows?—maybe even #8.)

But he apparently didn't consider me a must-have, at least not yet. He failed to follow up on our conversation by asking me out, and I was left feeling foolish for having gotten my hopes up.

I was in that vulnerable mode a few days later, when my mother came to visit and commented happily, "Your hair's coming in white!"

She was excited because it showed that I'd inherited a family trait. Any family trait short of Type 2 diabetes is good in her book.

"Your Grandma Jessie had white hair coming in like that, right at her part, when she was in her 20s," Mom said.

My grandmother was a saint and I would love to emulate her in countless ways. White hair is not one of them. I am 36—tomorrow's my half-birthday. I don't want to be a graying spinster. That's why I normally color my hair...but with Mom's comment, I realized I'd let it slide too long.

I remembered how a few days earlier, I'd fancied myself receiving attention from a younger man. Now it seemed like his interest was all in my head, however real it had appeared to me at the time. "I must have looked like an old lady to him," I thought. And felt infinitely more foolish than before.

After Mom left, I spent much of the night crying.

A few days later, I picked up an inspirational book written for single Christian women, with the cheesy title of Lady in Waiting. Skimming through to the end, I was jarred by a not-so-inspirational message. It was to the effect of, "You may not ever get married. Get used to it."

Sheesh. That's comforting. Not.

"What would I do," I asked myself, "if that were true?"

The answer came back immediately: "I would wait a few more years, and if the right man didn't show up, I'd find an attractive not-so-right man and start having sex again. Because I can't wait forever—or, rather, I can, but I shouldn't have to."

It was resentment—the feeling that God was inflicting upon me a cruel and unusual punishment of singlehood—that made me pragmatic.

I realized I'd had that thought in the back of my mind ever since I began practicing chastity in earnest. And I also knew, with the sad realization of a child whose stockpile of forbidden candy is discovered, that I had to give it up—bring it to the foot of the cross.

The truth is, I don't believe it's fair to tell single women, "Wake up and smell the coffee. You may never be married." If a woman really wants to be married, it is too much to demand she live as though she does not have that hope.

It is in fact the hope of being married, backed by the strength given me by Jesus, that enables me to practice chastity. We are supposed to live in hope, as it says in Proverbs: "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life." It is when we give up hope that we fall victim to pragmatism, accepting the substitute for the real thing, the lightning bug for the lightning. That was how the unprofitable servant of Jesus' parable fell into error, burying gold rather than risking loss by allowing it to collect interest.

Jesus gave me more than golden talents. He gave me a heart of gold. I can bury it in pragmatism, letting its shine go dull while superficial hearts see themselves in its distorted reflection. But I'd rather keep it polished and fine, in the hope, however unfounded, that it will one day meet another heart of gold—and the two will melt into one.