Until recently, I worried a lot about what others thought of my headcovering and, by extension, me. I constantly compared myself to others. Why couldn’t I be as confident as the women in the YouTube videos? What if people thought I was a legalist or a pietist? What if they thought I was crazy and weird? What if they thought I was a Muslim?* Even though I believed I had Christian freedom in whether I covered at least outside church, I really wanted to keep covering most of the time, as it suits my personality. But I felt controlled by social pressure not to cover, or to cover in the most discreet way possible, such as with a headband, which I felt was inadequate as a true covering.
This type of anxiety extended into other areas of my life as well, though to a lesser degree (and on a level where I didn’t realize it). Finally, one day, when I was talking to someone about some things unrelated to head-covering and about my lack of confidence, she pointed out that I was spending all my energy comparing myself to others and worrying about what they thought. All I could do was guess at what other people were thinking, but unless they told me, how would I know? And if I did know, what difference would it make? She told me to just take people’s words at face value and to stop trying to guess what they really meant, or what they thought, or I would drive myself crazy, and then I really would be crazy and weird.
I went home and thought about that. I really wanted to be the kind of person who is a little quirky and different but has confidence to be who she is and is a kind, generous, loving person whom everyone else loves to be around. I realized I didn’t have control over whether others liked me, but I could at least do something about how I presented myself. I knew that started with confidence, so I Googled ways to boost confidence. I found a helpful blog post here, which got me started. (I’m not fond of the term “self-confidence,” however. Plain old confidence is good enough, and our ultimate confidence should be in God, not in ourselves.) What I like about this list is that it encourages things such as smiling and being kind to others. I decided I was going to make those types of positive actions my focus to replace my focus on what others thought.
Then, I just started noticing when I would start down the road of worrying what others thought and cut myself off at the pass. I told myself that I wasn’t going to worry about that anymore, and I was just going to be myself and be friendly–to simply be the kind of person I wished I were. If people thought I was some kind of weirdo or legalist, they were entitled to their opinion, but I was going to demonstrate with my words and actions that that was not the case. What they thought didn’t matter; I knew who I was, and God knew, and if others had a faulty opinion of me, that was their problem, not mine.
Also, I decided that I would be in control of what headcovering I wore. I could make the decision to not cover or to cover in a more “socially acceptable” way if I wished, but it was under my control; it was my decision. I didn’t have to make that decision out of fear, but in freedom to present myself in whatever way I chose. And with my newfound confidence and decision not to try to guess what others were thinking, I started deciding more often than not to cover the way I really wanted to, and insofar as I did want to make a positive impression on others, to let my smile and kindness be the attraction, not how much hair was visible or how closely my appearance resembled current social norms.
This has been an easier change to make than I expected, and believe it or not, it has worked. I have no idea whether it has altered the way others see me–but the point is, it doesn’t matter. Yes, it does matter whether I am kind and loving to people and take their feelings into consideration. But paradoxically, this is easier to do when I stop fretting about it. As long as I do what is right and reasonable, how others react is their business. To improve on an old song, “You can’t control everyone, so you’ve got to control yourself.” And that’s where my responsibility ends and others’ responsibility begins.
The bottom line is, if you want to cover but don’t do so out of fear for what others will think, try just stopping that worry train in its tracks. Refuse to go down that mental road (to mix metaphors). Imagine yourself confidently wearing the covering you want to wear, being the kind of person you want to be and be perceived as. Be that kind of person. Remind yourself that you can’t control the thoughts of others, but that what you wear and how you wear it is your decision. Make that decision autonomously and without fear. Remember to love others. Do these things, and you may be surprised how quickly the fear vanishes away.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. […] Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7-11, 17-19, NKJV)
*The reason I was afraid others would think I’m a Muslim is because I don’t want to misrepresent my true confession of faith. I want both my lips and my life to bear witness to Jesus Christ, not to a religion I believe is false. It has nothing to do with hating Muslims. I just want to represent my beliefs honestly.