Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Modesty is About Who We Are, Not What We Wear

For about a year I struggled with the issue of modesty. It's been an additional year since I arrived at some conclusions on this topic, and you just can't wait to hear all about it, right?

Thanks for pretending, anyway! ;)

First, some background:

I've been going to church for a long time. 19 years in fact. And all this time, I have attended conservative church. And it's not that I sat around as a 9 year old girl and thought, you know, Kayte, you belong in a conservative church. No, of course not. A conservative Baptist church in the neighboring city sent a rusty, old white bus to the ghetto that I called home to bring kids to church who otherwise wouldn't get to go.


Thank God I was reached as a young girl. Thank God my parents let me go. Thank God my home pastor put a priority on putting gas in that bus when church finances were non existent. Thank God that mess of a bus always ran on Sundays mornings. Thank God I was reached by a church that preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank God I had Sunday School teachers who took an interest in me. Thank God the church family made me feel like I was important to them. Thank God my pastor gave me a solid foundation and always pointed to the Bible as the authority. Thank God for my conservative, loving, wonderful church. Thank God! Thank God! Thank God!!!

As I grew up attending church and attending Bible college, I've sat in many Bible classes on lots of subjects. One such subject that I've heard quite a few lessons on is modesty. Specifically, modest apparel for women. As a young teen, I resisted some thoughts presented to me. I really didn't want to look any different than any other girl in my public school. Because as any teenager with an over dose of peer pressure, I wanted to be different like every one else.

At one point, our youth group went to a youth meeting with lots of other churches and the preacher began preaching quite fervently on ladies' dress. And I'll be perfectly honest with you and hope that it doesn't sound like I'm boasting: I was super tender hearted. If the preacher said God didn't like x,y or z, and I wanted to please God then I'd go right along with that. Did I have a Bible based reason for this decision? Not precisely. Did the Holy Spirit direct it? Well... I did feel the Holy Spirit ask my heart a question: What do you care about more? As the part of me that wanted to just fit in at school wrestled with the part of me that wanted to do whatever God wanted, I decided on the latter. So looking back, I have no regrets. Because the more important issue of letting God have total control over even super vital issues like my clothes (as temporal as clothes are, they were paramount to me at the time!) helped me grow in my walk with the Lord, regardless of the lesser important issue of the specific of clothing choices.

Fast forward several years. I'm married, and an assistant pastor's wife. I'm still dressing and believing in the same way since that sermon as young teen. A group of ladies from our church attend a ladies conference and a lady gives a lesson on women's dress. I've heard that same talk, repackaged, many many times. I sit there and think she's doing a good job. But... come to find out, my mother in law, our pastor's wife, when asked by a lady in our group what she though about that lesson, said she respectfully disagrees.

Wait a minute? Why? What do you mean?

Funny thing about my mother in law. It might have been tempting to assume you knew how'd she'd think or feel about specific issues but when you asked her straight up what she believed, she'd often surprise you! She really didn't like to teach ladies in general but if pressed, she'd give you an honest answer of what she genuinely saw in the Bible. You may not agree with it. But one thing you'd have to admit is that she wasn't reprocessing what someone else believed. Which I will also have to admit, I was.

Was it the fault of any of the teachers in my past that I was really just regurgitating someone else's thoughts on modesty? No. It was my fault. I am really one of the blessed few who hasn't had fleshly, agenda-oriented pastors or spiritual leaders. Was everyone of them perfect? Nope. God only has imperfection to work with. But He gave us a perfect Holy Spirit and sometimes, we leave Him out, don't we?

So here I've found myself in my early 20s and my mother in law's reaction has sort of rocked my little Baptist boat. We had lots of conversations about the subject in the following months. I can't speak for her, so ya'll will just have to wait until Heaven to ask her for her side of those conversations. I was struggling and praying for God to direct me- from His Word and His Spirit. I wanted to start with a fresh canvas, with no pre-formed assumptions. It's been a couple of years in the making, and true to the promises in the Bible, He helps us when we ask.

I'm sharing this story, and the conclusions I've finally arrived at, because I just know that if I was looking for help about this, so must someone else. I'm not writing to offend, or set myself up an an authority on modesty. I really just want to encourage someone who may be feeling as I did, or maybe someone who has never given any though at all to modesty. Or maybe someone who had been conscience of modesty at one point but has become frustrated and fed up with endless "do's" and "do not's" from the mouth of man.

The following is the only verse in the Bible with the word "modest" in it, although there are many verses that pertain to modesty.

I Timothy 2:9 "In like manner also, the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, of costly array; But which becometh women professing godliness with good works."

Modesty Defined from Webster:

Humble, unobtrusive deportment, as opposed to extreme boldness, forwardness, arrogance, presumption, audacity, or impudence.

Moderation, decency.

Synonyms with purity, chastity.

By looking up the definition of modesty, I can find many more key words to investigate: humble, forwardness, pride (arrogance), moderation, decency, purity, chastity. With a concordance in hand, this provided a lot to study. Lest this post become a novel, I will simple list some verses that are particularly helpful to me on the subject of modesty.

I Peter 3:2-6
Micah 6:8
Titus 2:4-5
James 4:6-10

If you actually do look those verses up, you might notice something: none of them say a word about specific articles of clothing. T-shirts, jeans, skirts, sweaters, socks, bloomers. Not a mention of any of it. And since clothing has changed dramatically since Bible days, God would have quite an extensive list if He did included specifics. We would have to have instruction about not just t-shirts and sweaters, but togas, robes, and all the other clothing options of every culture in every country since the beginning of time.

What we do find is principles to apply to whatever clothing is customary at the time. Does culture affect what is modest or immodest? Yes and no. Yes because "no man lives or dies to himself". Example: back in the olden days, it was scandalous for a women to expose her ankle in public. So, although there is no Bible verse declaring ankles sinful to show, I believe it would have been immodest to do so if we lived during that time. Looking back at the definition of modesty, it would have "bold" or "impudent" at that time. I think that would have been a hindrance to a Christian lady's testimony. But is it immodest in 2011? I don't think so. Because society no longer considers ankles inappropriate.

Does that mean then, that if society decides that being topless if socially acceptable, we wouldn't be immodest to take part in that trend? No because there are parts of the human body that are supposed to be covered up or you're considered naked. There are lots of places in the Bible that give us the idea that we're not supposed to run around nude. Even young children, who've never done a Bible study of nudity, innately cover up those parts which we call private. And private is what they should be.

Where have these studies and definitions left me?

Modesty pertains to purity, humility and appropriateness. These are beautiful words. These words are character traits, not items hanging on a rack to be worn and taken off again. I cannot go to Penny's and buy a garment called purity. My point, and ultimate conclusion is that modesty is who we are, not what we wear.

Does that mean a woman (or man for that matter!) can put on a string bikini and say "It's okay; I'm modest on the inside!" No. No more than you can walk around slapping people in the face with fish (Veggie Tales reference!) and say "I'm really a kind, sweet person on the inside!" Who you are on the inside manifests on the outside.

Right here someone is saying to themselves "But God looks at the heart!" Yes He does. And aren't we glad he does. He looked at the heart of young David and saw that even though he wasn't as big and tall as his brothers, he was the man fit to be king of Israel. The issue of judging people by their appearances is a worthy topic and I'm not at all saying that we can know what is going on in the heart and mind of someone based on their clothes, hairstyle, or whatever else. But if God is Lord to our inside, the outside comes with it. Even Coco Chanel, a fashion designer not a Christian speaker, said that a woman's attire is nothing more than a representation of her heart.

You can go to some one's closet and without ever meeting them figure out a good deal about them. Perhaps you'll learn what kind of work they do. If you find a whole bunch of bright cheerful patterns, you can probably assume they aren't a shrinking violet. You can see if they are sporty, or trendy, or put a high priority on comfort. Of course you can't judge everything about them from just their clothes. But we can't deny that what we choose to associate ourselves with, and what image we decide to project to the world says something about our inner person. Not everything, but something.

Because modesty is who we are (or rather should be) not what we wear, we can't just slap on a potato sack that goes from our chin to toes and say "Okay great; now I'm modest. Wow that was easy." I'm afraid that is a common practice: Here, quick, put this on and you'll be a good Christian like me. And now you and I can stare at the women who aren't wearing potato sacks like ours and look down on them. Where is the humility in that?

Where you draw the line between string bikini and potato sack will be something for you to pray and seek God's direction over. I believe a Daddy or husband also get a say, but that's a whole different post and one that would be sure to get cyber tomatoes thrown at me. And truthfully this one may as well, but I get stopped regularly by complete strangers complimenting my girls outfits and many a mom has asked me where I find my girls skirts because they literally can not find a skirt for a little girl that doesn't let her tushy hang out the bottom. So I have to conclude that a lot of people are looking around at excessive sexualization and nudity in American culture, and thinking this can't be good for our girls.

Purity, humility and appropriateness are qualities to be cultivated in our heart and revealed in our conduct, our thought processes, our words, and even our clothes. Can we be Christians in every arena our life? It's much easier to give Christ lordship over just Sunday. To box Him and His ways into one specific piece of ourselves. But what He deserves and demands is all of us.

Have the clothes in my closet changed much during these past couple of years? No, not really. The real change has been the motivation and the understanding of what modesty actually is, and is not. Modesty doesn't hang on a clothing hanger. In a way, I wish it did! That would be far easier than developing that character trait, which then in turn dictates what clothes I put on this flesh that carries my spirit around this earth. Modesty is about who we are, not what we wear.



Mendi... said...

I really appreciate this post & the time you took to compose it! :) So many great truths & thoughts contained here.

I love your perspective that modesty is about who we are & not what we wear... As you said, what we wear tells much about who we are...

This is a topic that we discuss often in our home since our girls are 17 & 12. It's not only about wearing what is pleasing unto the Lord but keeping in mind how we are going to affect those we are around. Protecting those of the opposite sex as well as those who are looking to us as an example.

Thanks for your insight...

Kayte said...

Thanks for th ekind comment, Mendi! I was kinda of cringing waiting for the first comment ot come in thinking oh no, did I just open myself up to hate mail!?!!! =) So that's for being encouraging instead!

Kayte said...

Thanks for th ekind comment, Mendi! I was kinda of cringing waiting for the first comment ot come in thinking oh no, did I just open myself up to hate mail!?!!! =) So that's for being encouraging instead!

Beth Ann said...

Ditto to the comment from Mendi, and I couldn't agree more with your post, Kayte! I grew up in a church like yours and I still dress very conservatively and always will, Lord willing. But the thing that has impacted me so much in recent years is that the reason behind my clothing choices really is as important as the clothes.

2dizzydaisies said...

Kayte, this was so great! I've been thinking a lot of the same things just haven't really been able to put them into words! Thank you so much for writing this!

Anonymous said...

Very great post! I appreciate that you can go back to the Bible to find the basis for modesty. I too grew up in a very conservative church and have always dressed that way, but this really opened my eyes to see that the inside and reason for my choices is just as important as the clothes I put on.

Sarah LeClercq said...

Thanks so much! My husband and I have had this conversation a lot lately! I appreciate your insight.

Julie Fink said...

Love this and Love YOU!!! What this world needs more of is women who love what they believe because they know why they believe it. I'm in this same boat with you!

Anonymous said...

Another home run, Kayte! In every area!
Kim McGraw

scottmercer86 said...

This article was tremendous! Thanks for taking the time to help so many people! Keep up the great work!!!

misha combs premeaux said...

I really wish I knew what a cyber tomato was. No seriously, there was so many good things said about this post on facebook, I had to read it. And I am very pleased that I did. I feel the same way as you, but just never took the time to study it. You have put a lot of heart into this. Thank you for your insight and the willingness to share.

Kayte said...

MISHA! Hi! =)

I'll explain a cyber tomato to you when you grow up. =)

Bethany said...

I think the reasons behind why we do what we do, whether it's service, church attendance, dress, or music, is usually more important than what we're doing.

I always enjoy your posts but I usually read them on my phone and can't comment. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I happened upon it through a friend on Facebook. I could not agree more with your interpreting of the many Scriptures on modesty and I am saddened at the way it often becomes such a stumbling block to Christian unity! It seems to be an issue of such pride on the "string-bikini" side and also on the "potato-sack" side. With such pride involved, how can any Christians involved in these disputes truly consider themselves "modest"? Anyway, thank you so much for sharing this with your community!
-Claire Burkhardt, Akron, NY

Patience&Love said...

That was excellent Kayte! You are so insightful and articulate. Wow never thought of such good points that you brought up. It really made me think.

momm2six said...

Just curious to know why you think God said modest APPAREL and not modest SPIRIT or just modesty? It seems to me the verse IS talking about clothing (apparel). TIA for your response.

Kayte said...

Hi Momm2six... I agree- God did say Apparel. I was just speaking about the meaning of that word "modest". If we ARE modest, then we will DRESS modest. That was my point. Perhaps I didn't say bluntly enough that I do think our clothing choices are important, and matter to God. We do not get to say 'I have a modest spirit or character trait' but wear immodest clothes and expect God to approve of that. I also think a person can wear the most loose and covering clothes available and still be an immodest PERSON. Modest clothing does not equal modest person. Modest person will equate to modest clothing. I hope that is a more clarified explanation. Thanks for your comment.

momm2six said...

Very true. And thank you for the clarification. Modesty should come from the HEART and flow outward. Guess I overlooked it in your article. I just really believe that many Christians today want to read only the TITLE of your article, no more. That settles it for some. If they'd take a serious, objective look in the mirror (with a man's eyes in mind), it *may* wake them up to some things. However, if they're content where they're "at", not wishing to dig deeper, then things will remain the same. That's how I see Christianity in general. Not a lot of growing and maturing happening in churches today. I believe this complacency characterizes the last days.

Have you read this article: http://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/teaching-your-daughter-modesty-1336980.html ?
I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Thanks for your reply.