Monday, August 5, 2013

Modesty Series, Part 1

Talk about a loaded word - modesty! It is often not a comfortable topic, but it is a necessary one. I have found that there are just so many different opinions about what modesty means in today's culture. Sometimes it even seems overwhelming because in Christian circles, people believe so differently about this subject. I'd like to offer some simple, straightforward ideas about this subject.  My goal is to simply write about my perspective, and not come across as a condescending know-it-all or a self-righteous judge. It is my personal belief that the Lord is the One that brings conviction for areas we are to change in our life. I didn't always know, understand, or believe the way I do now about issues of modesty.

 I don't have the belief that God hears my prayers because I wear skirts, but He doesn't hear yours because you wear pants. I don't believe that I will be getting a fancier mansion than you because I don't wear low cut tops, or short shorts, or spaghetti strap dresses, or fill in the blank. I don't believe that dressing a certain way earns me salvation. I don't believe that I have any favor with God because I wear or don't wear certain things. I don't believe God loves me more than you if your clothes are different than mine. And lastly, I don't believe I am some sort of judge over you that can dictate to you what you can and cannot wear in order to be right with God. I have some OPINIONS, and I can share with you MY EXPERIENCE, but what you wear is between you and God.

I grew up in the Midwest mostly. I was raised by parents who trusted Christ as their Savior shortly before I was born. They loved the Lord with all their heart, and it showed. They did their best to raise their children according to Biblical principles. My mother told me that when she got saved, one of the things that she was immediately convicted about was wearing very short shorts, dresses, and skirts. I never remember seeing my mother dressed immodestly a day in my entire life. My mom let me wear shorts and jeans to play in, but insisted I wear a dress or skirt to church. That's just what we did. That's what pretty much all the girls and ladies in our church did. We wore dresses or skirts to church because it felt like a way to show respect to the Lord by dressing up in our best clothes.

When I went to a large Christian college, I was told that pants were not allowed. I didn't have too big a problem with that, because it was only going to be for four years. There were times when it seemed annoying, but it wasn't too bad. But then I started hearing some chapel messages on why pants weren't a good choice for Christian ladies. I was speechless! Then I was mad! What????? What in the world are you talking about? How could pants be wrong? I didn't wear tight pants, like what the style was (well, tight pants during the 90's are nothing compared to the skinny jeans of today, but anyway). As long as my pants weren't tight, I didn't see a problem. I had surrendered my whole life to the Lord, and I didn't think I was holding anything back. I was in college to train to go the mission field. I was not living in open sin towards the Lord. So it made me actually furious to be told that I was perhaps doing something that didn't please the Lord. Perhaps some of you have been confronted about something you were wearing, and felt the same way. It doesn't feel good, does it?

But wait. As I look back, I see a couple things. First, my immediate reaction to being confronted with an area to consider was to become angry and defensive. That is not the mark of surrender to the Lord. I could have prayed about it, to ask God to give me wisdom on this subject. But I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to think that I could have thought wrong about this. I blamed the chapel speaker, and picked apart everything he said. I told myself he was just so condescending and judgmental that I didn't need to listen to THAT! So, I didn't. I closed my Bible during the chapel service, and sat with my arms crossed. How dare he imply that I, a good Christian girl, could possibly be wearing something that displeased the Lord!

The kicker is that I was planning to be a missionary to Africa after college. I had been two missions trips to Africa already, and I knew that is where I wanted to end up. I also knew that meant giving up pants, because I was planning to go to a remote village to share the gospel and work among the people, and I had already been told that culturely, pants would not be acceptable in remote villages. So, I was already planning to give up pants. Just not because I thought they were wrong, but because they were culturally unacceptable. Bottom line, I just didn't want to be told I COULD BE WRONG.

Fast forward several years. My husband grew up in a pastor's family of a Baptist church, and his mom and sister did not wear pants or shorts. But my husband was willing to let me continue to wear pants until such a time as I decided on my own that I preferred dresses or skirts, if that time came. I knew he would prefer me to wear skirts or dresses, but he honestly left if up to me. As time went along, the issue still nagged at me. I began to feel uncomfortable in jeans. The styles of the day were getting even tighter , and it was hard to find loose-fitting pants. The words I had heard in those college chapels came back to me, about how pants automatically draw attention to certain parts of a woman's body. I had scoffed at that idea when I was in college, but I had to admit that yes, pants did draw at least SOME attention to certain areas that skirts did not. As I looked in the mirror, I couldn't deny it much longer. My jeans DID seem revealing. I noticed that I felt more lady-like and feminine in a skirt. It also hid my figure more than pants did. No, I'm not saying I looked like I was wearing a potato sack. (See, a lot of girls think that there are two options - jeans or a potato sack. But ladies, there are PLENTY of cute, modern skirts out there that don't make you look like a pioneer woman.)

Now, my husband also became the principal of a Christian school around this time. I am sure that part of my uncomfortableness with pants was caused by realizing that my husband had a position of spiritual leadership, and as his wife, students and parents would be watching us. There is a fine line between fear of man (desperately trying to please everyone just to make yourself look better) and setting a high standard. This is not just true in Christian circles, but in the secular work place as well. When I was in high school, I was a cashier at a large grocery store. We cashiers had a somewhat relaxed dress code. If I remember right, we could wear something as basic as a tshirt, jeans, and sneakers. But the store boss wore dress pants, shirt, and tie every day. His position of leadership was easily recognizeable by his attire. It was expected that he dress more professionally than us. People do hold those in leadership positions to higher standards, whether you like it or not. As the wife of the principal, I felt I needed to hold myself to a higher standard, and I decided to put aside pants and  wear skirts or dresses.

So, this whole post has kinda gone on and on mostly about pants. Am I saying that pants are the biggest issue here? No. Modesty is so much more than "to wear pants, or to not wear pants." I am really just telling my back story so that you can maybe understand my perspective. I feel that I understand both sides of this issue, because I have been on both sides. I'll be adding part 2 soon, and I'll talk about more than just the pants issue!