An old adage: “You are not who you think you are. You are who you think other people think you are.”

Who do we want to be? As Christians, what is our goal? How do we want others to view us? Chuck Swindoll used to say (and I quote loosely from an impaired memory), “If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church.”

Who are we really? No, really?

Martin Luther once made a controversial statement: “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” I love Luther. He did not hold his hair back when vomiting. He let the vomit shine for all to see. Luther was keenly aware of his sin, and of grace. Luther’s comment was meant to provocatively communicate something much deeper. “Sin boldly . . .” the statement begins; it continues, “. . . but believe more boldly.” Luther did not care much for self-righteousness. He did not like masks. He did not like trying to impress people. He was continually attempting to make those who were satisfied with their own works recognize their own utter depravity. “Look in the mirror,” he might have said. “You are a wretch. Let your wretchedness be seen. If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” What a terrible place to be: Self-fooled and graceless.

It was not so much the case that Luther wanted people to sin with a sense of comfort; he preferred they recognized their sin and its presence in their own life. When we sin and play cover-up, grace becomes invisible. Yes, it is there, but when we are so quick to clean ourselves up, we cannot see grace. We have to live with such a recognition of our brokenness that we are continually kneeling at the foot of the Cross in utter dependence on him. We never deserve anything.

But others need to see this mess. Quit cleaning yourself up. Let the vomit dry.

There was a scene in a recent episode of Breaking Bad (yes, I do watch this show). The main character, who is dying of cancer, broke down crying in front of his son. His son watched as his dad fell apart. The next morning, dad came in to have a father-son talk. He apologized and told his son that he did not want him to remember him the way he was last night. He wanted him to remember a strong father figure who kept it together. The father had vomit in his hair and he wanted to clean it up in an attempt to erase its memory and smell.  However, his son responded, “No. I want to remember you exactly the way you were last night. It was the first time you were real.” Who are we? We are controlled by others’ perception of us, a fact which frequently motivates us to clean up too quickly. In the process no one is helped. All of us need to see the vomit. All of us. Please. I want to see your vomit.

I am glad Paul did not hold his hair back in Romans 7. I am glad Abraham’s fumble – handing his wife off to another man out of fear – is recorded. I am glad Moses’ clothes are soiled with filth. And Peter…God bless Peter. His failures created such a stench of repulsive odor, similar to that which I smell on my breath each and every day. As a result, I have hope. If all the biblical characters were clean, well-shaved, and manicured, I would feel isolated and alone.

Yes, shampoo will cover it up. Yes, mouthwash will help. Change your clothes. spray your cologne, apply your deodorant and cover up. Remake your image. Fear what others would say if they really knew. But when we hold our hair back when we vomit, are we following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us? Is it biblical? From what I can see, the Scriptures go out of their way to reveal the brokenness – the vomit – of its greatest heroes. Why do we go out of our way to cover up our vomit?

Why do we hold our hair back when we vomit?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    19 replies to "Don’t Hold Your Hair Back When You Vomit"

    • J Kanz

      This might be the best thing you have ever written. OK, maybe not the best because you have written a lot of good stuff, but this nailed me right between the eyes today. Thank you.

    • Ed Kratz

      Love this post, Michael.

      “Why do we hold our hair back when we vomit?”

      Shame and our need for perfection. We don’t like when we don’t measure up because there’s something inherent in our nature that longs for perfection. I believe that is part and parcel of the imago dei. So when we fall short, the shame leads to cover up lest we be found out. But the only perfection we will find is in Christ, which is why we need to turn to him.

      I also think this is why a proper understand of sin is important. Often we look to the application instead of the root and treat behavior as the guiding tool. But if we know there is something still wretched inside of us that can prompt a myriad of distasteful applications that should turn us in openness to God and honesty about ourselves.

    • drwayman

      Most excellent!

    • Pete again

      Yet another thought provoking article. Although I’m not a Calvinist, I can’t stop reading this blog!

      On the matter of sin, The Holy Scriptures instruct us to “Confess your sins to one another, that you may be healed”. I believe that we are supposed to clean ourselves up and try again, instead of giving up and wallowing around in our dried-up puke.

      Luther states “If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” In other words, Pride may sneak in, the root of all sin. Good point. However, true confession teaches us Humility, the best antidote for Pride.

    • Rebecca

      Awesome! Being that I am known in my family for running….literally from anyone that is about to vomit or has recently vomited or panics if I am about to vomit, I can’t think of a better analogy. So true, washing the vomit out of our hair too soon is not allowing others know from which we came…..if we can stand our own stench! And that part about being real, wow. I think that might be especially tough for dads that try with good intentions to raise the bar for their sons?

    • Steve Martin


      Great piece of writing! Just awesome.

      Like someone said (above), it’s not that you haven’t written many other good things. But this is a clear, bold, gospel statement, unmitigated by any other add-on of self, or seriousness, or piety.

      Thank you!

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      When am I going to read a movie review about “The Avengers” by C. Michael Patton?

      I want to know if my Marvel superheroes vomit.

    • mbaker

      I may be the most unpopular person on this blog when I say this, and that’s okay, but how does the vomit thing compute? I have asthma attacks all the time, and this is a thing that regularly happens sometimes as result of it. Does this mean I am is somehow lacking in understanding?

      No, it has not. What has and does makea difference is being given good solid teaching that despite my stench, or whatever you choose to call that goes along with my asthma side effects is what really matters.

      Maybe you don’t realize it, but it is sort of like asking you if your own suffering and your history of family depression is some kind of a sign that the Lord is trying to tell you something you are not getting.

    • Ed Kratz

      Mbaker, I think you misunderstand the metaphor that Michael is drawing. The vomit represents our sin that is bound to come out of us. That is not assigning blame to anyone or ourselves its just how it is. By pulling our hair back, we don’t want the stench to get on us, meaning we want to look good and hide the fact that we have vomitted (i.e. have sin). I don’t think it is fair to say that Michael is asking for his own suffering.

    • mbaker


      I really don’t think you get what I am saying either. That”s I am not accusing anyone of anything, just saying that we need to stress the Good News of the gospel first when all too often we so get folks so hung up on the personal problem stuff we forget that. We need to be more of the solution in Christ, than vomit.

      What a turnoff it would to me otherwise as a non-believer. and even as a believer.

    • Ed Kratz

      “we so get folks so hung up on the personal problem stuff”

      But that’s just it. We all have personal problem stuff, i.e. sin. The question then becomes what do you do with your sin. Do you hide it to make yourself look good OR do you be honest and let it show? That is what I believe the post is addressing. It’s about being real instead of trying to make ourselves look good. So to say we need to be more of a solution or being turned off to unbelievers kind of misses the point of how vomit is being used here. In fact, I think unbelievers are smart enough to know whether we are trying to make ourselves look clean by hiding or are honest enough to admit our faults.

      Also, I don’t think that the comparison to your asthma really gets at what is being communicated. It’s not saying that anything that happens to us is the vomit. The vomit is a reference to our sin and brokenness, which we all have but with different applications.

    • mbaker


      Then we shall have to agree to disagree.

      i get all that, I just disagree as to how we should do it. Most everyone knows their sin, whether they will admit it publically or not and know they need to change, but most people just need reassurance in Christ that despite all that we are still okay.

      That does certainly does not mean we ignore or eschew repentance. if anything the proper preaching of the Good news makes us more aware of that than someone simply drilling the fact that we all sinners into us.

    • Ed Kratz

      And I hope that I’m not coming across as too harsh. That is not my intention. Unless I am misunderstanding you, which is entirely possible, it seems like you are advocating that we SHOULD hide and keep ourselves clean at least to others. That leaves people stewing in the shame of their sin and inadequacies. I think that is a dangerous place to be. The church is full of such people who suffer in silence and have seen more of their backs as they walk out the door because they can’t handle not measuring up for crowds that insist on looking good. Is it any wonder that James says “confess your faults one to another so that you may be healed”

    • Ed Kratz

      Note what Michael stated here

      “We have to live with such a recognition of our brokenness that we are continually kneeling at the foot of the Cross in utter dependence on him. We never deserve anything.”

      It’s not about others pointing it out to us, but our own recognition of it. When we see sin that should drive us to Christ. There we find grace.

    • mbaker

      Yes, you are definitely misunderstanding where I am coming from! At my advanced age I couldn’t care less about appearances for apperances sake.

      What I am stressing is that we need to emphasize more the need for a Savior that can heal our brokeness, no matter where we are. I was raised, like a lot of peopl., with a gospel of shame and guilt. It wasn’t until i was exposed to a proper balance that I really got it and understand what the gospel is all about., and began to trust Christ.

      Now I am NOT saying that either you or Michael are preaching shame and blame or the lack of need for repentance, but i am saying that we desperately need in this day and age to make the fullness of Christ known both in and outside the church, not just the need to repent.

    • Ed Kratz

      Mbaker, yes I am tracking with you there, sister. That is something I think of often why we feel the need to point out people’s sins to them. If the gospel is proclaimed and scripture faithfully preached, the Holy Spirit will bring conviction. And besides we never know what the Lord is doing in the heart of another person. We do need to point others to Christ.

      But we also need to be honest with where we are, is all I think he is getting at.

    • Leslie

      Posts like this are why I have breakfast with this blog on a daily basis!

    • C Barton

      Great post! The world is about perception (keeping appearance on the surface) – the Church is about reality, keeping Truth in the core. Don’t pander to those who are too superficial to see the core. We know better.
      It’s like driving a car: we constantly make those little corrections to stay on the road (like incidental sin, deliberate or otherwise), but we never just turn off the road and drive randomly (keeping a lifestyle of sin to abandon faith), because we keep our destination in mind. This, I think, is close to what Apostle John means in 1 John, that we sin, but cannot sin. It seems like a paradox.

    • Francis

      I’m confused.

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