26 August 2012

Modesty Begins in the Heart: Part 2

See Part 1 here.

I have been brought to, God only knows how, blogs written by a couple of lovely ladies who have, in gentle loving-kindness given me much to consider. I say "God only knows" because I wasn't searching for these blogs, but just came across them while web-surfing. I couldn't tell you how I found them, only that God brought me to them because He wanted me to hear His heart in a way that each of them are excellent at communicating.

The two blogs in particular are The Modest Mom (Caroline) and Large Families on Purpose (Erika), though there are also others that have helped me think through these things. Both Caroline and Erika are homeschooling moms with multiple children. I can tell you from reading their blogs that they each love the Lord, and their hearts are all about their families, and the women that they can love and serve through their writing.

The thing that struck me about these two beautiful women was that, while they have strong, unwavering, unshakable beliefs, they are so loving and kind that they present their beliefs in ways that make you want to hug them and know them better, not in such a way that you want to punch them in their respective noses. That is, in my experience with "church people" over the years, a unique grace, and one that I hope someday will be true of me. These women are living examples of that old saying about tact. You know the one. Tact is getting your point across without stabbing someone with it.

I know, as I read their blogs, that no one will ever convince Erika or Caroline to change their minds on something that God has taught them. I also know that, when either of them is confronted by people who have convictions opinions that are contradictory to what God teaches in His word and through His spirit, that she will love that person well, and instruct her in righteousness with grace. I know this, because I've read it. You can hear their hearts in their words. Modesty's not just a rule they live by, it's an outpouring of their love for God and their desire to live as God's woman, regardless of what others may or may not think.

The reason I'm talking about that here is that it is foundational to what modesty is all about. As C.J. Mahaney discusses it, modesty is about three things: the attitude, the appearance, and the allegiance of the modest woman. A woman who is truly modest, is modest in her heart first, due to the transforming effect of the gospel. This affects her appearance, and it conveys her allegiance. What Caroline and Erika write on their blogs is evidence of this transforming effect. Their hearts, their attitudes, and their allegiance are all evident, and the love they share is poured out visibly in their modesty of dress and appearance.

Caroline from The Modest Mom and Amy from Raising Arrows did a series called She Wears Skirts that bounced back and forth between their blogs. The series talks about why they wear skirts, and not pants. It talks about the convictions that God had given them regarding the modesty of their appearance, and it goes into much more detail than I will here, about why they believe it's more modest and less distracting, more feminine and less lust-provoking to wear skirts.

The bottom line of these ladies' personal dress codes? They are motivated by love. They want to love their Christian brothers well, by not distracting them from what God has for them to do, and by not inspiring in them anything that would cause them to fight a battle with sin and lust.

As I began to say in the first part of this series, I have been realizing that my personal clothing choices are evidence of the state of my heart, and that has become a matter of great concern to me. I'll tell you this, it's hard to look attractive, and be modestly dressed, when you're busty. Even if the rest of me is appropriately attired, sheer volume in the chest area can be an issue. It's difficult to find shirts or dresses that fit properly in the chest and don't look like a sack of potatoes on the rest of me. I'm growing resigned to the fact that I fare better wearing skirts and blouses/shirts than dresses, in most cases, and many times more than one layer on top.

It's tough, for someone who is as warm-natured as I am, to wear multiple layers in the summer without overheating. I've learned that certain fabrics are more comfortable than others, and that tighter layers are often less breathable. Nobody wants to sweat all the time. Want to know something funny? I've found that wearing sleeveless or strappy shirts doesn't create as much of a wicking effect as wearing a couple of layers. I actually sweat less, and look (and feel) fresher if I'm wearing a shirt with sleeves, and more so with a cami or tank under it. All that moisture gets absorbed and dissipates faster. I don't know how it works, but it does.

My personal opinion on this is that when I make modesty a deciding factor in what I choose to wear, God honors that, and He takes care of my comfort, too. He knows when I'm doing right, when my heart is right, and He honors it. If it wasn't important, it wouldn't be addressed in the Bible. If it's important to God, then it should be important to me. If I seek always to please my heavenly Father, then why not do something He's already said is pleasing to Him?

Let's look at a little bit of Mahaney's sermon, taken from 1Timothy, chapter 2:
The 'women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel.' That would be her appearance. And her attitude is emphasized... 'with modesty and self-control.' All respectable apparel is the fruit of a godly heart. Ladies, your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. And if you profess godliness, your motivation is to be distinct from our culture... It is to be motivated by modesty and self-control... 
A modest heart always precedes modest dress. Modesty is humility expressed in dress, a desire to serve others, particularly men, and not promote or provoke sensuality or lust. Modesty, self-control... Moderation for the purpose of purity...
John MacArthur has written, 'How does a woman discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and dressing to be the center of attention? The answer starts in the intent of the heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood? Is it to reveal a humble heart devoted to worshiping God? Or is it to call attention to herself and flaunt her beauty, or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually? A woman who focuses on worshiping God will consider carefully how she is dressed, because her heart will dictate her wardrobe and appearance.'
Whose attention do you desire, and whose approval do you crave?...
Is your wardrobe modest, evidencing self-control and respectable apparel? Every outfit, no exceptions?
...what is to be noticeable about a woman professing godliness is not her wardrobe, but her good works. There is to be this observable lifestyle of serving others. That is the appropriate... godly adornment for women who profess to be Christians. That is, in effect, the transforming effect of the gospel...
What is most eye catching about you-- your clothing, or your character?
See, Paul isn't simply advocating modesty in dress. He is insisting that more time be devoted, more energy be devoted to spiritual adornment in the form of good works. And he is warning about excessive attention devoted to appearance to the neglect of good works. 
Please, please do not misinterpret. Do not misunderstand. Do not misapply this message. Paul is not a conservative... This isn't some general appeal for morality. This, modesty, it is about the gospel... That is the transforming effect of the gospel. Modest hearts, respectable apparel, good works. The woman who loves the Savior avoids immodesty because she doesn't want at any time to distract from or reflect poorly upon the gospel.
That is the godly woman's concern-- that her attitude and her appearance reveal her allegiance to this Savior who was her substitute and provided her the ransom from her sin. And so, there is to be no contradiction between her profession of godliness and her practice of godliness. 
~Excerpted from "The Soul of Modesty"
C.J. Mahaney
29 January 2008 

Moderation for the purpose of purity. The fruit of a godly heart. A public statement of my personal and private motivation. Humility expressed in dress. There is to be no contradiction between my profession of godliness and my practice of godliness.

I can tell you, when I've ever thought about modesty, before now-- in all those high school conversations, in all the teaching I've heard-- it's always been about rules. It's always been about meeting some standard, measured in inches. Inches of length on skirts or shorts. Inches from the collarbone on the necklines of blouses, and heaven forfend you should even consider a halter top. Those are OUT. (Funny how some halter tops are more modest than some blouses with sleeves or tank-tops with the required one-inch width straps.)

1 Timothy 1:9 says that "the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate." In all those debates about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, we somehow missed this point. Modesty of dress is outward evidence of the state of our hearts. Immodesty is an expression of arrogance. Modesty is an expression of humility and love. It's not about the rules defining modesty as certain length or width. It's about being humble and loving, as Jesus is.

As I continue to pursue holiness, as the Holy Spirit brings to mind things that He wants me to address, I pray for humility. Pride has always been an issue for me. I believe it's the most ubiquitous and insidious of sins for all of us. It's what Lucifer embraced and got him kicked out of God's presence, and it was there in the garden of Eden. It's the seed of nearly every kind of sin I can imagine. As God continues to work in me to purge me of this, I have to keep addressing different areas. Now, modesty is the main one that God's working on in me.

I put a yellow sticky note in my closet where I can see it each time I dress. It says, "Immodesty is an expression of arrogance." I pray, when I see it, or when I think of it, that God would kill the root of pride in my heart. That He would overcome my arrogance and give me humility. I try to dress in ways that reflect the character that God is developing in me. I don't always succeed completely, but I'm learning as I go. God is faithful to teach me, each day. He is producing holiness, His holiness, in me. I pray that He would make me pure so that I can bring glory to His name.

Much love,

"This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth... 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."  ~1Timothy 2:3-4, 9-10 (NKJV)~

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