Lessons From Head Lice, the Sorrow and the Self-Pity, Part I

Line-art drawing of a louse.

Image via Wikipedia

Such a small creature  can still produce such misery.  It wasn’t just the itching, it was the surprising shame that still is attached to these “ugly, creepin, blastit” insects, as Robert Burn aptly describes them in his poem, “To A Louse.” He saw humour in his situation, and longed for the gift to see ourselves as others see us, when he saw a louse in a fine young lady’s bonnet at church. In my predicament, I began to see myself as my Father sees me, which is often the crux of these kinds of trials.  In vulnerability, I came even more out of  hiding, and had to depend more on God’s people.   And this light affliction produced in me endurance for a much greater trial that very shortly followed.

It was some years ago, when we first spotted the head lice on one child’s head  just as we were getting ready to leave for a “Weekend to Remember” Marriage Retreat.  I was ready to bail out of it, but our eldest daughters proved their mettle, and insisted that we go.  I left, releasing my control but still very chagrined, as piles of beautiful, shiny blond hair were forming on the bathroom floor, and shorn heads were being slathered in mayonnaise to smother the repellent insects.

So my husband and I enjoyed a luxurious weekend, writing love letters to each other in dappled sunshine, eating candlelit dinners and meditating on the wisdom of elders. Our heroic daughters hacked at hair, and combed out eggs and wriggling ‘wonners’, washed bedding and clothing and tried to keep restless young children amused in their quarantine.  A darker blight had just passed through our family, affecting these girls the most, and we had just endured an even more painful quarantine of therapuetic boarding schools.   What a gift these two young women gave to us that weekend, in serving us so well, that we might enjoy at last the sweet  fruit of a marriage  that had nearly broken in those same great trials.  I was so proud of my big girls.

We came back,  and everyone was alive and well–especially the head lice!  I do not recommend the natural treatments.  Spare yourself time and misery.  Go to the big guns, the neurotoxins.   But heed the warnings–they are not child’s play.   But happily, my littlest girl’s lovely blond locks had been spared the scissors.

And then I found them in my head too.  Gross!  Really gross.   How unclean they made me feel.  Oh, the self-pity I indulged in, as I spent my morning Quiet Time combing out my hair–it was distracting, all the itching! So I had to grab the lice comb, every time I felt their “creep and sprawl and sprattle”  on my poor scalp. I would sit, a magnifying glass in one hand, and a lice comb in the other, the Bible  open on my lap, but my attention wholly absorbed by the anxious question–is it a nit or just lint?  A little bug had become bigger than God to me.

I was magnifying the wrong things. When this realization dawned, I was on my face in repentance.   It is a good place to be when a storm hits.

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6 Comments on “Lessons From Head Lice, the Sorrow and the Self-Pity, Part I”

  1. Laurie M. Says:

    I almost didn’t read this when I read the subject matter, but I worked up my courage. It’s been twenty years since my toddler’s baby fine curls began crawling. I still feel my skin creep when I think of it – and all the hard work it took to get rid of them. I went straight for the big guns. I remember the shame at the store and hardening my heart as I approached the checkout. I remember treating every head in the house, including my grey-haired mother, laundering everything, even the stuffed animals, spraying every surface with poison, and vacuuming, and combing, and combing.

    When I was a child nobody ever had lice. That was the stuff of fairy-tales (like bed-bugs…).

    I remember wondering what had happened in the years since my childhood that brought them back. It seemed like every mother I knew had a story about them, but had not had them in their own childhood. I found out later that it was, in large measure, the banning of DDT and its subsequent gradual disappearance from the environment that was to blame. Its widespread use had eliminated many common parasites from many populated environments. And now we see them finding their way back.

    I remember trying to get my mind to put it in perspective – after all, they’re just little bugs. Back then people were coming down with AIDS like nobody’s business and the hysteria was widespread as there were no treatments available yet and no real certainty about how to avoid catching it. But even so, my skin crawled and I felt dirty as could be. So many times in my life I’ve found myself tackling the really big problems bravely only to fall apart over the tiny ones. Sometimes it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine.

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Thanks for dropping by Laurie! I was disconsolate when I saw you dropped writing your blog, but I understand. I was weighing whether I should do the same. I’m relieved that you didn’t delete Beauty For Ashes!

      Whenever I even think about head lice, I have to scratch my head. They feel like a phantom limb on my scalp, or some other neurological anomaly. It serves to remind me always of Proverbs 24:10, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”

      And that’s the subject for Part 2–how God sometimes uses our chase of these little foxes to harden our spiritual muscles for the harder things we will have to face.

      • Laurie M. Says:

        Karen,

        Thanks for caring about my little blog. That really touches my heart.
        This Sunday past my pastor preached the sermon that finally gave me the courage to begin writing again. My time for writing will still be limited, but I’m at least back to it, with hope, and hopefully with a message of hope.

      • Karen Butler Says:

        That’s great news! You have such a gift. I look forward to reading more from you, and you excel at bringing hope. And you can also make me laugh, which is very neeeded in my life, as well!


  2. […] the last installment, a little bug had become bigger than God to me. We are given to  foolishness about such things: […]


  3. […] Scriptures use trials, afflictions, persecutions, necessities, infirmities, reproaches, and distress for Christ sake synonymously, […]


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