Wednesday, 3 April 2013

To Wear or Not To Wear?

The other day, I was laid up in bed a lot of the day with a cold, and, as often happens when you have plenty of time on your hands, I began to think about and spend time meditating on the Lord. And for some reason, the thing that kept coming into my mind was the issue of modesty. 

Now, I know that one word may make a lot of you want to quit out of this post immediately. I myself struggle sometimes with the term, thinking "Great, another Christian who wants to impose their views on how they think I should dress upon me. No thank you!" Well, I encourage you to keep reading as this post is written from my heart, and I truly think this is an area of the Christian walk which we all struggle with to varying degrees. Once again, feel free to disagree with me on some of the points I raise here, as the only thing that we should rely on ultimately is the Word of God in the Bible. But I sincerely want my own struggles to help you in your walk with the Lord, so please, whatever your view on the matter, bear with me. :) It would be great if you could leave your thoughts in a comment, as I'd love to hear what you think! And I ask you to forgive me in advance if I come across as "preachy" - I struggle with modesty as much as the next person, so this post is as much for myself as for you, believe me!

Before I really dig into this, I want to state that I think that among Christians there seems to be a huge division over this issue, and that when you really think about it, there seems to be a problem of Christians either not caring enough about modesty or caring too much. That's right - it is possible to care too much about modesty! Very few girls I know have managed to reach a place between themselves and the Lord where they simply ARE modest - not being peer pressured either to focus too much on modesty or not enough on it. And the few girls I know who have managed to steer clear of either extreme are the ones who actually seem to show the Lord to the world most clearly. So now, I'll try and address some common issues I've come across in my search to be "modest". 

What is it actually?

While everyone seems to have the vague notion that modesty is to do with honouring the Lord through their external appearance, the reality is that everyone seems to have a completely different standard. I'm sure you can identify with this. I mean, how many times have you opened different blogs with a focus on modesty which appear to have completely contradictary standards that leave you going either "How can she even call that modest?" or "If I walked out of the house in this people would look at me like I'm crazy and might even ask which century I'm from!" (Postscript: This is not a critique of any particular modesty blog, rather I thank all those bloggers who take the time to try and earnestly search for modest clothing. You have encouarged and helped me so much over the years!). I've lost count now of the many times where there is such a stark contrast in views, with some firmly convinced that to be modest means that you must be wearing an ankle length skirt and a neck high top while others will tell you that surely wearing a bikini is modest as you're still covering up certian areas of the body, right? I'm not going to enter into a discussion as to my own convictions on these views here, and of course those are extreme examples, but I merely want to point out that this is something which is surely confusing so many of us out there!

To be honest, I don't really have any answers as to "what is modest and what isn't". I think it really is a lifelong search! As always, I think we have to look to scripture first and foremost and see where it is clear and not so clear. Some verses that have helped me in this area are as follows:
  • “Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelery, or the clothing you wear, but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.” ~ 1 Peter 3:3,4
  •  “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” ~ Proverbs 31:30
At the end of the day, I think the reason why there is so much division here is that it is one of those "grey" areas in the Bible - there are some clear guidelines the Bible sets, but the reality is that the Lord's focus in the Bible is on our heart, with the way we behave in our external lifestyles flowing out and changing to be more conformed to His will once we are right with Him. We must bear in mind too that the way modesty will manifest itself will vary slightly with each generation and culture. So maybe the way to look at it is to see where the Bible places the emphasis and so to not focus so much on the external but rather on the internal. In other words, you need to ask yourself that if I really love the Lord, would I not at least be striving to serve my fellow brothers and sisters as well as demonstrating to the world that I serve Him by attempting to be modest? Is the way I present myself to unbelievers having a negative or positive influence on their view of the Lord I serve? Is maybe the way I present myself externally a reflection of my relationship with the Lord at the moment? 

I'm going to briefly share with you my own struggle with modesty. Feel free to skip down to the next point if you are short on time as I'm aware this is a really long blog post! :) I just wanted to share my own story so that you can see that this topic really is something I have struggled with too, and to encourage you to keep trying to come to an understanding as to how to be modest.
I remember beginning to struggle with the concept of "modesty" aged about 12 when I was heading into the "terrible teens" and so was becoming more self-concious about my appearance and the impact it had on others. However, for some reason I reacted in a very different way to most others my age: while many girls spend their teenage years trying to look attractive, I spent most of mine deciding that getting attention and looking pretty in clothes was somehow "sinful". So I dressed in a way that undoubtedly was well covered and modest but certianly not attractive. Not suprisingly, I got my way - no unwanted attention was directed my way! :) Except...I gradually came to realise that that wasn't actually what the Lord wanted either. He was at work on my stubborn heart, and helped me to slowly see that attractiveness, being feminine and pretty was actually what He had created me, as a girl and woman, to be. Yes, I still believed that I had a responsibility to be modest in what I was wearing but now I realised that I should still be embracing my feminity too. So I began to wear clothes (especially my new favourite - skirts!) that I found pretty and girly and even began to wear jeans for the first time in five or so years (up till then I mostly wore baggy black sweatpants). Yes, I do still struggle with getting a balance in being modest, fashionable and feminine but the Lord is helping me and my prayer is that He will help you too! :D
Not Caring Enough About Modesty

It grieves me to see so many young Christians viewing this issue carelessly or simply not realising its importance. As we can see from the above verses, while scripture is more concerned with the inward workings of the heart, if we are going to be truly expressing our love of the Lord and want to be a witness to the world than surely there should be some outward expression? You should be really worried if a non-Christian starts viewing your clothing as "revealing too much" - if even they are making that distinction than how much more should we care! Of course this will vary with each culture and generation, as stated above, but really how difficult is it to try? Yes, it may mean that you don't always match up perfectly with the world's view of fashionable (though I actually believe that with a bit of extra effort it is possible to both be fashionable and modest). Yes, you won't always get it right - we all slip up in this area at some stage, but our God is a gracious God and when we really are prepared to surrender our own preferences and put them under His guidelines than He will help us! Many others have written comprehensive articles as to why we should be modest, so I will not go into the arguments for it, but I strongly encourge you to look into the matter further, particularly if you struggle to see why modesty is significant in our lives as Christians.

Caring Too Much

This section is really where the Lord has been convicting me recently and why I really felt compelled to write this blog post. You see, I think that this is an issue just as much as not caring enough about modesty is. Through my own life, I have come to realise that it is possible to be outwardly modest but to still have heart attitudes that are not at all Godly. Sadly, so many of us (myself included!) have been convicted by the Lord that modesty is an issue to be worked on, but have spent much of our time and energy obsessing over it at the detriment of other heart issues that need to be dealt with. I know for myself this comes in the form of a judgemental and proud spirit, whereby I am tempted to think that my view on what is modest and what isn't is the one and only correct view. I hardly need to say how foolish this is and yet how many of us conciously or subconciously do this! We read extensively on the subject, spend hours shopping for the most modest possible outfits and feel that in doing so we are pleasing the Lord, somehow earning "brownie points" with Him. Then along comes another sister in Christ whose clothing doesn't fit our checklist and so we feel smug and superior. If I'm truly honest, to my shame there are many times when I have thought to myself, "Hah! I wouldn't be seen dead wearing that, I must be a much more Godly Christian than she is, the Lord must be pleased with me!" Well, if we are going by the Word of God, where it is really clear is certianly in the area of our heart attitude so while I definately can see that an outward expression of modesty is important, I think it is even more important that we be aligning our heart attitudes to God - we need to remember that no matter how important we personally may feel modesty is, truly "man looks on the outward appearence, but the Lord looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

It may also come as a surprise to you that I believe that if my own life is anything to go by, it is possible to be modest outwardly and yet to be completely immodest at the same time. For instance, a dear sister in Christ I know wears clothes that I personally wouldn't wear (in part due to the fact that we are completely different sizes) but whose whole lifestyle shouts to the world who it is that she serves and her gracious, Godly manner demonstrates a modesty that inspires me so much to serve the Lord more. Surely this should be our focus! Conversely, I have at times struggled with outwardly dressing in a modest way but acting in a way that even a non-Christian would find hard to term "modest" - in other words, the way in which I speak often doesn't draw attention to my Maker but to myself, and when that is happening dressing modestly becomes a sham and simply an attempt to cover up the horrible reality that I am a sinner who would prefer to boast about myself rather than the one I serve. Lord, I pray that you would help me and any other sisters in Christ who struggle with this to boast not in ourselves, but in You!

Wow, what a long blog post! I feel that I have sort of gone on a rant about the topic as it is something that has been in my mind for such a long time, but I hope I have written what I feel is the truth with love. Dear sister in Christ, if you are anything like me you will feel like such a failure in this area, whether it be because of caring too little or too much about modesty. But remember that the God we serve is greater than us and has overcome our sins so we need to earnestly seek to serve Him but rest on His grace to help us in this area. 

God bless you, dear sisters in Christ, as you serve Him!


Ella said...

I agree with everything you said.
I'm glad this wasn't a you-should-wear-this-but-not-that modesty post. Thank you for being an encouragement!!!!

Violet said...

Hi Ella,
Thanks for your encouragement! :D I must say I was a bit nervous about posting this as I'm always a bit unsure about writing on "grey" areas in the Christian walk as there is often no clear answer. But I'm glad it helped you! God bless!
Your sister in Christ,

Daisy said...

Such a great post Violet!! I can totally see all our conversations on this topic over the years in this hehe :) Thanks for posting it <3
God bless xx

Violet said...

Thanks Daisy! I thought you might recognise some of the thoughts in this as indeed it does seem to reflect years of struggling through the subject. :) God bless, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Any thing for boys?

Violet said...

Hi there!

I didn't write this post directed at boys simply as that's another whole post in itself, and one that I don't really feel qualified to write since I am a girl. I also felt that as most of the followers of this blog are female, a post on modesty directed to/about girls was more relevant. :) But boys are certianly not exempt: it is important for them to be modest too, particularly in their attitude (e.g. the last point about not boasting about ourselves but Christ).

If you were meaning what do I think about the impact immodesty has on boys, again, I don't feel quite qualified to write about that as I'm not a guy so can't speak from experience - but there are plenty of posts out there about modesty that address that aspect (such as this one ).

I'm not too sure if that's what you meant, but hopefully that helps clarify things anyway for you and anyone else! God bless!


Violet said...

Opps, sorry the link didn't go on properly, here it is: