Redefining Modesty

The other day, I wore a dress and stuck leftover rice in the refrigerator to keep it from spoiling. Spring has come. Officially, it came in March, but it’s just now the California sun is starting to show off, and that means Daisy Dukes and bikinis on top are about to show up.

Every time I step out under the sun, the issue of modesty comes up, especially since I never could take the heat. Not from spicy foods and not from the weather. There’s an incessant voice telling me to cover up, and warning me not to even dare go out without sleeves. She sometimes sounds like my mother.

Ironically, I’ve always fallen on the side of modesty, not because I was modest, mind you. I was, instead, self-conscious of my body that have always fallen on the side of heavy. Plus, I was taught to view modesty as a set of rules: always wear sleeves, don’t show any hint of cleavage, make sure the hemlines of shorts and skirts fell below the tips of your middle finger, don’t wear skintight clothes, wear a baggy shirt over your bikinis, and wear your hair naturally.

One summer, my sisters and some friends decided to dye a handful of their hair by the back of their necks. It wasn’t visible with their hair down, but the parents threw up a storm when they found out. It was seen as an act of rebellion and backsliding. To be fair, I would hate it if my teenager dyed her hair without telling me, but on the other hand, I don’t see dyeing your hair as immodest. Fast forward a few couple of decades later. Guess what happened when I did this to my hair:

I got a lot compliments, but I wonder how many of them are genuine because behind my back, some wondered if there was something wrong, like there was a depressing issue I was dealing with. To my face, someone shockingly asked, “Why?” and jokingly (I think) asked if it was drugs. Someone else brought up the fact that I was in children’s ministry.

I’m 32 years old and felt like I was back in middle and high school, self-conscious of how I looked and dressed. I leaned towards a “sporty” look because I didn’t feel good enough to be feminine. I cringed at girly pink things. My cousin had to pressure me to buy a frilly pink skirt with tiny flowers on it. I grudgingly agreed. I secretly loved it and kept that skirt well into college. By the way, I hate sports. I’m not good at it, I don’t understand it, and while I tried to be a fan of hockey this year, I couldn’t even care enough to look up the game schedule.

It just seemed easier to get in trouble if I was girly, and I avoided getting in trouble to the point of cheating my way out of it. It was definitely much easier to hide my physical imperfections in baggy clothes.

Now I know, that wasn’t modesty at all. Sure, I covered up and followed the rules, but my heart was in the wrong place. My heart believed in lies instead of the Word of God. Like this:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” Psalm 139:13-14, NIV

I bought into a legalistic view of modesty, forgetting that when God looks at the heart, it’s not just about the Christianest of Christian topics like salvation, forgiveness, faith, and grace. It’s also about clothes, hair and makeup, and beauty. Because when Paul wrote this:

I also want women to wear clothes that are right for them. They should dress with respect and right thinking. They should not use fancy braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes to make themselves beautiful. (1 Timothy 2:9, ICB)

he was making a contrast between how unbelievers acted verses how believers should act. In the culture of that time, the rich and elite went out in the most expensive clothes and jewelry, and treated every place they went to like a fashion show. Paul told the Church not to do that, especially when going to church, because the attention should be on worshiping God.

How many times have we followed the rules of modesty, but went to church hoping someone would notice our brand name clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry? Or compliment us on the fleekness of our eyebrows or the cuteness of our new haircut?

I’ve been guilty of those before. Just as I was on one end of the spectrum, denying the beauty of God’s creation (even being disgusted by it), I ended up on the other end as well. I dressed right, but was proud of showing off my new accessories and thought highly of myself when someone complimented my makeup.

Now I’m redefining and always trying to remember, God cares about modesty but it starts with our hearts, not with a list of rules.

Modesty starts with the heart, not a set of rules. Click To Tweet





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