Friday, May 19, 2017

Modesty and Me

August 1994, Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil
In 1994 I arrived in the tropical beach city of Fortaleza to teach short term at a school for missionary children.  I'll never forget the first Sunday I went to church with my husband.  We didn't have a car, so we chose to walk to the nearest church we knew of.  It was a walk of about 5 or 6 city blocks.  I had on white, high-heel, summer sandals, a pair of Summer L'eggs pantyhose, and my best Lanz summer dress with a pink floral design.  I was in-style, if I'd have been in American, that is!  By the time we got to the church, my feet had blisters, my legs had heat rash, and my pink floral dress was the only one like it in the church that morning.  

I quickly adapted on future walks to church to flat sandals, no hose, and simpler outfits.  I learned that women didn't wear their bathing suits on buses even if they were on their way to the beach and dressing up was a fancy blouse with jeans and high heels.  I learned about culture and style in my new location and I learned about what modesty meant in the big city, in the small interior towns, for missionary wives, for national church members and for me.

As a married missionary lady, bikinis were a definite no-no, and most wore shorts and tees over their full-piece bathing suits.  I discovered that after a fellow at a retreat asked me why I dressed differently on the beach than the other missionary ladies he'd met.  No, it wasn't because I was wearing a bikini.  It was just because I didn't have a tee shirt to cover my very full-piece swim-short bathing suit that I'd bought thinking it was rather frumpy.

I learned how long shorts were supposed to be for missionary ladies in the North of Brazil is much shorter than the modesty limits of the South where most where only skirts. I even read a required book as part of my language training that told why women shouldn't wear the color red as men would think I was looking for some action.  A friend told me later that it was a really old book, times had changed,  and not to worry.  I was relieved since red was a favorite color and I'd been wearing it a lot!

Modesty is one of those topics that is touched on in the Bible but the rules are not hard and fast.  It's something that is influenced by culture and time, style and climate.  It's a touchy thing that can split churches and make for angry campers at Christian camps.  I've submitted to dress codes at Christian colleges, Christian schools, government offices and bank office buildings.  But on what do I really base my personal clothing choices as a mature Christian lady?  

First of all, there is no one Bible verse or passage that says - Dress like this!  Nonetheless we can look to the Bible and I have to define my own clothing code of conduct.  Let me state what I do wear and what I don't. 

I wear shorts.  I wear them at home to do my housework in the hot, tropical country where I live.  I wear them to cover up a little my bottom when wearing a bathing suit at the beach or pool.  I wear them long near the tops of my knees like bermudas.  

I wear capris out and about in our little town to ride my bike to the bakery or market.

I wear jeans and pants in the cold, especially in the USA or for certain activities like hiking.

I wear skirts and dresses to the a mall, to town, for important meetings and to church.  Most of my dresses are below the knee or just to the top.

I avoid tops with low cut fronts or cut out backs.  I rarely use sleeveless tops but have a few.  I'm careful to only buy sleeveless blouses with wide shoulder straps, super-wide, no strings or spaghetti straps and no tube tops or no straps at all.

I use make-up sparingly and mostly when I'm going to somewhere important.  Same with jewelry.  In Brazil I'm more conservative to avoid theft as well as to not draw attention to myself in general.

Just to not leave out shoes, I wear flip-flops every day all over the place, tennis shoes for walking, and comfortable but fashionable sandals for more important stuff.  

As a Christian everything I do should be based on biblical principles.  I don't smoke because my body is not my own.  I don't drink to avoid scandal and to stay in control of my life.  I discipline my children to help them mature into good citizens and hopefully godly men.  Each of those practices are based on specific concepts and verses found in the Bible.  So what verses guide my clothing choices?

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NKJV)
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 

I want to glorify my God in everything that I do - even my appearance and dress.  

1 Timothy 2:9-10 (NKJV)
In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 

I want people to look at me and say she's look good, not because of wild, provocative or extravagant clothes or styles, but because of who I am and what I do.   

I could say a lot more and probably write a whole book on the matter.  We could consider Eve needing clothes after the first sin.  We could look at the concept of women covering their heads and how respectable women dressed in Bible times.  But it seems the big issue revolves around the willingness to submit to a higher authority - not school rules, or church rules, but of God and our desire to glorify Him in every aspect of our lives.

1 Peter 5:5- 6 
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.

I want to live humbly before God.

In my rebellious days, yes, there were some, a friend of mine and I went shopping  and I found the cutest summer outfit with the sweetest little green mini-skirt.  I feel in love with it.  I had to have it.  I was living on campus of a Bible college taking one summer class and working.  I rationalized in my mind that the outfit was cute, on sale, and I was only taking one class.  My pal bought a similar outfit.  The next day went went to the mall with our new clothes to prance around.  We were having a ball.  Secret sin, you know, can be sweet.  All of a sudden here came one of the oldest professors on staff at our college.  Yes, he knew us both by name and called out to us.  He shook our hands, asked us how we were enjoying our summer.  Not a word about or even a peek at our itty bitty outfits.  Bless his heart.  

What did we hope to accomplish with our outfits?  Catch some cute hunks at the mall for dates?  Show off our incredible bodies?  I don't even know, but humble we weren't.  It wasn't the only area of my life at that time that needed to be evaluated.

My dear husband came up with a little acronym to help young ladies consider their clothing choices - M.M.A.  Moderate, Modest, Appropriate.

Moderate goes with that verse from 1 Timothy.  Christian women don't need purple hair and green mini-skirts to show off for Jesus.  No purple hair is not a big sin, but is it overboard and showing off?  Moderate could include price.  Do I need a $500 pair of shoes?   Good synonyms for moderate are adequate, controlled, acceptable.  

Modest.  A good definition for modest might be this - not accentuating your private parts for all to see.  You know what parts were talking about.  Keep them under wraps and only for the eyes of that man of your life in the privacy of your home under the sanctity of marriage.  I was teasing some girls at church recently that if I could see it, was that an invitation to touch it?  Think about it.

Appropriate.  Bathing suits on the beach and gym clothes at the gym and neither one at church, school, work or the mall.  If it looks like a bikini, it is a bikini.  Should you wear it to the grocery store?  

One last thought for all those young Christian ladies out there...

Romans 14 talks about the "law of liberty."  There are many practical issues on which there is not a clear cut rule mentioned in the Bible.  The early Christians had lots of questions about foods that were appropriate to eat.  Today some Christians might question the choice of watching movies at a theatre or what type of music is best at church.  Romans 14:1 says, "not to dispute over doubtful things." 

Some clothing choices might fall into the area of "doubtful things." But in Romans 14, Paul encouraged believers to live to a higher standard to avoid arguments and to help younger Christians reach that place of finding their own personal standard to glorify God.  Sometimes in our picking out what to wear we do have to think about the old college professor and that old granny lady at church because of our common love in Christ.  Romans 14:19 says this, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food."  Can we put clothes in the place of food!  

It works both ways, I'm going to talk to young ladies about what I believe is good.  I'm going to be specific.  I'm going to say, "Hey, that shirt's not too good," or "Whoa, you might need to change," sometimes.  But it the end, I'm going to love each one and work that each one can find that place of glorifying God in all they do, no matter what they wear.

There is some variance around the world, yes.  But people know. 
Everyone knows what is modest and immodest in their little nook of the world. If you're a Christian girl and you want to glorify God in all areas of your life, ask around.  See what other girls your age think.  Consider the three letters of MMA.  Think about glorifying God and being humble.  Consider what you would like others to see in you.  Set your standards based on your own personal study of God's word and then, stick with it.  

Random thoughts from a rambling rose with much love to each one.  Michele 

We all look good!  Petrolina, Pernambuco, May 2017

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