Penitence: The hair shirt

By: Heather M. Norten

In reading through my devotional today I came across the term “hair shirt.”  You’re probably thinking what I did...um, a WHAT?  Here ya go…back in “the day” there was a shirt worn under the normal garments (not meant to be known by anyone other than the wearer) made of what we would now consider burlap.  I’m sure you can imagine the absolute delight of wearing a burlap shirt, underneath your nice cotton tee and cashmere sweater.  The lovely, itchy, scratchiness of it all …        The purpose of wearing this shirt was to be a constant reminder of the suffering of Christ, and a reminder of mortality, bringing the wearer into a deeper relationship with his/her savior.  It got me to thinking, what do we do each day as a secret surrender for Christ?

Penitence is theoretically to be done in secret.  Sacrifices we make to draw closer to Christ are to be undisclosed.  “Let not the left hand know what the right hand is doing” sort-of-thing.  In this day and age, it’s trying (at best) to do anything in secret.  Our whole lives are on display, oftentimes unbeknownst to us.  How are we to: apologize, make amends, heal divisions and/or help others without making ourselves known? 

Perhaps the better question is: to question your intention.  Where is your heart when you are making amends?  Why are you apologizing?  For what purpose are you trying to heal a division?  What’s your motive for offering to help?  Are you doing these things, making these choices, saying these words to deepen your relationship with Christ?  Do your outward practices show the true disposition of your heart? 

Are you wearing your “hair shirt?”