“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” Romans 14: 1-4
(And for all of you who did not start reading the KJV at the ripe age of 6, My footnotes explain: Paul here discusses the proper attitude Christians should have toward each other in debatable areas of conduct (things that are not clearly stated to be wrong.) He says that we are not to judge one another in such matters because God has received both the weaker and stronger believer, because we can differ in good conscience, and because we shall all be judged by the Lord.)
It is with this beginning I want to talk to my sisters in Christ about modesty. I have seen it explained and scrutinized to the tiniest detail. I have also seen it forgotten. This is my journey.
I looked up modest in the dictionary and it was quite simple.
Modest: having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of one’s merits, importance, etc. free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness or great pretensions. Free from ostentation or showy extravagance.
So, modesty is humility in dress.
Humble: not proud or arrogant; modest.
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10
So, if modesty is a heart issue, then it is an outward example of the woman’s heart. Is it important then? Yes. Do these examples mean that you have to dress in a clear cut detail-specific way? No. Just like our works define our faith, ladies our dress defines our intentions. When you put on your outfit this morning, what made you choose what you wore? Are you in a hurry? Did you forget to do your laundry? Do you want to look professional? Are you trying to show off your curves/lack of curves? Are you wanting to look like a specific crowd?
Here is my story. In high school I wore three things. Skater shoes (before Chuck Taylors became popular again my junior year), nice jeans that were loose (but not “baggy”), and band t-shirts. I had long brown hair and wore little to no makeup. I was comfortable, had no interest in “attracting” boys with my body, and wore what most of my guy friends did. I remember once my mother made me put on a nice outer sweater over a shirt when I was heading out the door with a friend. She wanted me to look nice (lady-like). In defiance, after putting on the sweater I slid a baseball cap over my head and rushed out the door. I am not especially proud of that moment, but it sets the picture up clearly. I also was a lifeguard and wore a bikini in the summer. The way I dressed was not calculated. I was young and youthfully “free” and just wore what I wore because I wore it. No deep thoughts. Just shallow movements. (Except for the household rule that we had to wear skirts or dresses to church.) In college I started wearing more tops that were nicer, and once I met my husband I almost did a 180 on my dress selection. I started dressing nicer! I wanted to get nicer tops to match my jeans. I sometimes wore makeup and did my hair (lets not get into the fact that my hair was 4 -natural- colors at this point). By the time we were married I was trading in my jeans for skirts and my tennis shoes for ballet flats. I attempted to buy nicer tops when I could. I was moving in the direction of dressing meaningfully. This was not the doing of my husband’s preference, but my heart changing as I became a partner and wife. The biggest change came after I had Little W. I bought my first one piece swim suit, and even then decided that I would wear a skirt over it. Not because of my “post-baby body”, but because I revered my body in a whole new way. I grew and released a baby human for crying out loud! My body is sacred on a whole new level, and it is no one’s business but mine and my husbands. I only wish I would have seen my body as that sacred when I was younger. But I did not, and it has made me who I am today.
I am still growing. I understand that how I dress reflects what is in my heart. I know that I am not just putting on a t-shirt and jeans. I am choosing to live intentionally. I am choosing to be held accountable for what I say I am. I am also dealing with the issues that come after this, the ones that tell me that a true modest dresser only wears skirts and dresses. Or only natural colors. Or bonnets. Or necklines that are above the collarbone and sleeves that are below the elbows. At this point I have to reference Paul, because like some can eat meat and others only herbs, this is the point where I think I have to go alone, open to whatever is true and Godly, and let the Holy Spirit lead me. And if that means I need to wear a bonnet, I will do it. But right now it doesn’t. I know that my love must regulate my liberty. And I want my sisters (and brothers) in Christ to know what is inside my heart through my dress… my love for my God and my neighbor.