I see them walk down the street engulfed in a black baggy fabric. I see their veiled faces at the library's story time. At the grocery store or at the park they might wear a bright scarf draped over their heads and gathered around their necks with faces exposed. These are the Muslim women dressed in different forms of hijab (covering) in my community. These differing forms of covering are a sign of modesty and religious faith. Though we don't follow these specific dress codes in the Christian faith perhaps we spiritually put on our own personal coverings.
It's not that the external has no importance in the Christian faith, but it should be the internal reality of the Spirit's work in our hearts that flows out into the externals of our faith. Not the other way around. We know band-aids don't heal cancer, just like when we put on something externally that does not solve the internal issues of the human heart. It's a shallow fix when we put on external morality and behavior in place of a changed heart. Could the Christian hijab be a performance-based mentality that we impose on ourselves and others?
Performance-based mentality asks the question, "How am I doing?" without a view of the free gift of grace in Christ. It's present when we feel like we need to measure up to something or somebody in our minds or "out there" in social media, in church, or at work. It is present when we feel like we have to put on something, be someone else, cover up who we really are, or how we're really doing on the inside. "How am I doing?" is a healthy question in and of itself, coupled with healthy self-assessment and self-awareness. But the question goes horribly wrong when we are more aware of ourselves (how well or not so well we are doing) than the grace of Christ.
In Christian culture this mentality can be expressed when we feel the need to conform to certain practices that can be extra-biblical, like how we school our children, how a husband loves his wife, how we conduct romantic relationships with the opposite sex, our parenting style, and even how we worship or express spiritual gifts (just to name a few). Performance mentality can show up when we copy certain Christian vernacular even when it doesn't feel natural or when we talk and act how we personally think a Christian should talk and act, but can't be found in the Bible. And yet Christian culture is not always the same as following Jesus. God's purpose for us is not to be the model church going believer who says the right Christian words, phrases, and pat answers to everything. God's goal for us as his children is not to conform us to Christian culture, but to his Son.
We must follow Jesus who himself did not conform to the world or the religious practices of his day. As Jesus says in Matthew 23:2-4: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
The performance-based mentality is a burden and it does not bring peace and rest to our souls. Hannah Anderson refers to this in her book Humble Roots when she says, "We feel the pressure to maintain picture-perfect lives and never step out of line lest we incur judgment. And we end up caught in a cycle of always evaluating our performance, always looking over our shoulder, always afraid and defensive."
But Jesus came to break the yoke of slavery that the hypocritical religious leaders invoked upon others and usher in his yoke, which is easy and light.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
We need to ask ourselves, "What does it mean to follow Jesus?" We must daily conform to his image and not the images we see around us, secular or Christian.
I have a tendency to use Christian performance-based mentality on my husband. In the past when my husband has hurt me by his sin I would begin to view him through that particular sin struggle. I would overly-evaluate his spiritual life, because how he was doing spiritually always affected me. I would be anxious about his spiritual struggles and find my view of him became dark. But one day I realized God does not examine me the way I examine my husband. I knew I needed to view my husband as God views him. So my prayer became, "Lord, help me to see my husband as you see him, with eyes of grace."
My eyes needed to be adjusted when I looked at my husband. And our eyes need to be adjusted when we look at ourselves too. How does God see us? When he looks at us he sees the perfect performance of his Son. This needs to inform our perspective before we judge ourselves or others. Yes, we are still clay formed by the potter, and God knows this, but we are also jars of clay filled with treasure. And God sees the treasure of Christ in us and that informs the clay shaping process.
The hijab of Christian performance-based mentality won't save us or make us more acceptable to the Father when the Son has already done a sufficient work. We are already accepted through Christ's performance on our behalf and that is worth the weight of ten thousand hijabs. Child of God, take off your own man-made covering and put on Christ; you are covered by him.