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Questions of modesty

I have thought a lot about modesty. I've read a bit here and there, and for the most part, I've never been entirely satisfied with some of the conclusions. This post is not to suggest that I have arrived at them myself. This is more of a rumination. That being said, I have learned a few things in raising my children to adulthood and in making a lot of modesty messes myself.

Here are a few scenarios.

I am sixteen years old.  I finally have enough to fill the top part of a bikini. I buy one with my hard earned babysitting money, and I accompany my friend to a beach so that I can wear it. I wear it because I want to be seen wearing it. I didn't buy it to wear alone in my room. 

I am 23 years old. I help put together a surprise party for loved ones. It was my idea. At the party, I make sure everyone knows it was my idea.

I am forty years old. I have recently lost weight. I am buying some exercise shorts. The sales lady, after stroking my ego with a "You're forty?  Seriously?" sales tactic, convinces me that I need to show the world that I'm forty and fabulous. I buy them. I wear them out in public once, feel exposed doing so, and wonder what on earth had possessed me to buy them.

Immodesty is not confined to our attire, nor is it struggle only evident among the young. 

"Look at how pretty I am."

"Look at how thin I am."

"Look at how smart I am."

"Look at how much money I have." 

"Look at what a great friend I am."

"Look at how broken/repentant/remorseful I am."

Don't get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with being those things. Problems arise, though, when we put them on display for the purpose of our own exaltation. Boasting and bragging about myself is evidence of immodesty, whether it is demonstrated through my clothing, my language, or conduct.

Modesty discussions have focused more on attire simply because it is more noticeable, and because immodest attire can become enticing very quickly. Discussions regarding attire are often extreme in both directions. On one hand, we have those who want to establish arbitrary skirt lengths or how much arm to reveal. Then there are those who want to practice their "freedom" in Christ and expose body parts that should only be seen by their husbands. And I'm not talking just about teenage girls. Some of the worst perpetrators are grown women. I think to avoid these extremes, we need to examine our motives for our dress choices.

We like to feel pretty, so we choose attire to make ourselves attractive. There is nothing wrong with that. But when our goal is to ensure that everyone thinks we're pretty, we are not being modest. The truth of the matter is that we can be wearing a burlap sack on our bodies and a paper bag over our heads and still behave immodestly if our conduct is designed to draw attention away from everyone else, and to ourselves. Ultimately, our lives belong to Christ, not to us, and our motive ought to be to live in a way that Christ is exalted.

I think of this verse:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

Let's say I wear a skirt so short that when I sit down men have to turn away to avoid seeing too much. Is that helping me practice presenting my body as a living sacrifice? How does me not letting my friend finish her sentence so that I can offer my views help me in that pursuit? When someone shares how something good happened to her, and I immediately respond with something to "better" what happened to her, what kind of living sacrifice am I being?

That which we draw attention to reveals what is important to us. If my goal is to get attention whether through a carefully chosen outfit or by dominating the conversation, what does that reveal about what I value? This post is asking a lot of questions, but questions like this ought to be asked often because our hearts can deceive us. We may not see the truth of our actions immediately.

Modesty is about an inner disposition of the heart that makes me willing not to be noticed, to fade into the background, to let someone else speak, for someone else to receive credit.  As we pursue holy living, regularly checking our motives is important. I think we all have moments when we need to do this.  And God will always reveal our heart's dispositon if we ask him. 

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Reader Comments (4)

Well said, Kim. How we dress is part of being modest, but if that is all we focus on, we'll miss the heart of the matter.

May 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPersis

Really great thoughts here, Kim! Thanks for this post. It will be a helpful tool in discussing modesty with my children.

May 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrisha

OUCH -a quite painful but powerful observation. I would never, ever dress immodestly, but I confess guilty of trying to get attention. Going to be thinking about this for a while. Thank you? :)

May 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristy Fitzwater

Christy: Yes, it is was an ouch post for me completely! I have struggled with this myself for too long. Good reminders for my own heart.

May 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterKim

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