Before jeans with holes in them were sold in stores, there was thrift store scouring.
My friend and I would leave school for the day and head downtown to sift through the racks for the perfect pair of vintage Levi’s. The pair that had been washed so many times they had faded, whose denim was no longer rough, but buttery soft against the skin was nice. But what we really wanted were the holes — strategically placed holes from a previously loved life that would show a little skin and push our parents over the edge.
I remember the day I found mine, and the day my mom used them for kindling in the wood stove in the name of modesty. I didn’t understand. I was in love with those jeans. When I put them on I felt fashionable and blended in with my high school culture.
I was dressing for me, not for anyone else. Or rather I was dressing for me in order to fit in with everyone else.
I can honestly say I haven’t given modesty much thought. I know which clothes fit my body and which don’t. Over the years, I’ve learned what necklines and hemlines feel professional and which belong at home for a weekend of gardening or painting. I have never been a huge fan of bikinis — not because I think they are wrong, but because I haven’t been comfortable wearing underwear in public. I do remember in my first year as a pastor’s wife I wore a strapless dress to an outdoor ordination service. A more seasoned pastor called me out on it; I could have crawled into the ground and died right there. I’ve never done that again — not for the sake of modesty, but for the sheer embarrassment of recalling the incident.
Until now, I’ve considered modesty more for my children than I have for myself. However, a few weeks ago my Facebook feed was bombarded by an article written by blogger and author Rachel Held Evans.
She broke down modesty and the church something like this: Yes, we live in a culture which bombards us with images of the perfect and sexy female body. As a result, our men have grown up in a society conditioned to objectify women. In response, the Christian culture has taken modesty and turned it into a form of legalism. Evans writes, “…it becomes the woman’s job to manage the sexual desires of men…” Rejecting that role, she invites her readers to shed the oppressive practice of modesty and dress for themselves, embracing the glorious bodies the Lord has given them.
And I almost want to spread my arms and run free in this invitation except that it falls flat in love.
She states, “The truth is that a man will objectify a woman whether she is wearing a bikini or a burka. We don’t stop lust by covering up the female form…”
Everything about her phrase rings true until I stopped to consider what the implications were. It isn’t if a man is visually stimulated, but when. With that in mind, it seems I have a choice: I can either leave them to their own sin, accountable before God, but without consideration for their struggle. Or, I can acknowledge a man’s struggle with lust and adjust my dress accordingly. The article seemed to suggest the latter choice was oppression — an act enforced by Christian school administrators and abused by youth pastors around the country.
Still, I started considering my own modesty. Beyond the incinerated jeans and strapless dress there existed short running shorts, a halter dress that shows off tan shoulders, a plunging sweet-heart hand-me-down, and 4″ inseam shorts.
Had I ever considered anyone besides myself when purchasing clothes? Was it oppressive to consider others, or did my lack of consideration reek of self-centeredness?
Years of conversations between my husband and I raced through my mind. Faces of husbands and wives who have come to us for marital counseling, confessing pornography addictions and emotional affairs returned. I remembered the awkward conversation I had with a close friend when she told me her husband had complimented my appearance. I considered the awkwardness with another close friend who did little to cover her perfect cleavage when around my husband and teenage son.
Indeed, modesty appears to be a double-sided card.
One the one side, modesty is semi-restricting to the one who purchases fashion. On the other side, modesty offers an incredible, unspoken opportunity to consider the needs and well-being of another. Therefore, to completely reject the practice and teaching of modesty is to embrace an attitude of self-focus for the sake of self-expression; it lacks love and compassion.
I suggest that while we certainly have freedom in Christ and could wear whatever we wish, to choose to dress in a way that allows comfort and eases visual stimulation for others is to choose love. By surrendering our freedom for the sake of those around us who struggle with visual lust, we are choosing to glorify God with the very freedom He gave us.
Jesus came to serve the needs of those around us by His love and instructed us to do the very same.
That said, is there something missing in our teaching of modesty? When my mother burned the jeans, but didn’t sit down to explain her actions, what was missing? When the gentleman chastised me for wearing the “wrong” kind of dress, but never took time to talk further about it, what was missing? There is a reason why the author spoke of feeling shamed and embarrassed by the way church culture approached modesty. I suggest it is because we have forgotten to teach sensuality in a culture that blares sexuality.
The fact remains that our female bodies were created for the glory of God. There is a reason the female form is visually pleasing to the male eye. I have only young daughters, but I can still remember conversations where I have looked at my oldest and said, “Sweetie, that skirt is not appropriate. You need to go change right now.” But did I tell her she looked beautiful? Am I preparing to teach modesty with a tone of shame? Or am I preparing to teach modesty with a flare of beauty? There is a huge difference and only one can leave a godly legacy in the life of my daughters.
For those who are inclined to believe the teaching of modesty is a form of female oppression — placing upon the woman the sins of the man — I suggest the following positive results of both dressing ourselves with modesty, but also imparting the legacy of modesty to our daughters (and sons).
1. I have the opportunity to be defined by something other than my form.
The book of Proverbs exalts the wisdom of God. Originally written in a manner of advice between a man and a youth, Proverbs teaches how God’s wisdom can be applied in practical, everyday situations. When I ran in college, I had memorized Proverbs 31:25 as my running rhythm: She clothes herself in dignity and strength — two resulting attributes of a life lived wisely. The choice to clothe oneself in character and integrity and to follow the way of God’s wisdom is an inward transformation that will naturally reveal themselves in outward appearance.
2. I have the opportunity to teach my children that modesty is one way we can love others well.
The ways in which we can use our physical existence to love others are countless. We can choose to take action and be a part of physical service. We can implement plans and ideas that offer opportunity and betterment in the lives of others. We can be present to listen, be bold to speak, or be still in company. In light of the countless ways and places we can love, it seems a small and simple opportunity to choose modesty as a way to love others whom we might never meet. But when we actively remove the stumbling block from the path of a complete stranger, I cannot imagine God asking us to put it back in the way, for that wasn’t our concern. Instead, I see Him helping us move the cumbersome obstacle with a smile of approval and a stamp of compassion.
3. I have the opportunity to explain to my children the glory and beauty of the human anatomy and why such glory should be unveiled wisely.
Our human bodies are so glorious that God himself chose to inhabit His own, becoming fully divine and fully human so that we might know Him in a manner familiar to us. His physical form was neither overtly handsome nor grotesquely maimed. Yet in every move, in every step, with every word, and with all of Himself, Jesus brought glory to the Father and pointed the way toward home.
Our bodies are presented with the same opportunity. We bring glory to God through the birth of our children, through the exercising of our muscles, our mind, and the overflow of our love for others. Through study we learn that our thoughts concerning God matter, and as we learn to think correctly about God, our hand and feet cannot resist the urge to act in alignment with God — serving others and sharing in the divine life of the Spirit here on earth. Our bodies — and hearts, mind, and spirit — all exist to bring Him glory. Such a privilege re-offers itself to us each morning as we rise from bed and dress for the day. What covers such a wondrous form absolutely matters.
The past few weeks has given me opportunity for much consideration and countless conversations as I talked out my response to the idea that a man’s bend toward lust shouldn’t infringe upon my right to fashion. In the end, I’ve decided to embrace the better choice and choose love rather than exercise self-right.
I do believe I have freedom in Christ. I do believe I can wear whatever I want to and not be under judgment. But even more I believe in the power of journeying toward Christ together — hand in hand with my brothers and sisters in faith.
While I will forever be aware of the tone in which I teach modesty to my sons and daughters, I will not neglect the invitation to cover flesh for the glory of God and the love for others.
This invitation is empowering, as I have the chance to make a simple decision of dress based on compassion for others. My verdict is in: I reject the idea that modesty is oppressive, but instead offers freedom. Freedom from self-concern is a freedom for all.
The Next Step
In difficult circumstances, the next step is all that’s required of me. My responsibility is to be faithful and obedient to the Lord.
It has felt like boot camp every time I’ve gone. The women to my right and left are trim, toned, and can lift the heavy weights. My mid-section is a bit pudgy being six weeks out of having my third child and I have to choose the light weights as a beginner.
As we dive in to chisel class, my fitness instructor, Galey, wastes no time through each workout and each set within the workout intensifies. My arm, back, and leg muscles strain and ache from the barbell lunges, squats, and dead lifts.
During push-ups and abs, my arms are shaky and I wonder if I can keep going. I gaze at the clock wondering if I’m at the end yet. I’m starting to feel a little sick, but I know I can do it.
“This is hard,” Galey yells while crunching her abs. “Remember that’s okay!”
Finally, the ab drills are over. My whole body feels like jello and I can barely muster up the strength to do the stretching exercises. I put away my barbell and hand weights and smile at the other women. We all have that look of relief on our faces.
As I head out the door to pick up my kids from childcare, I overhear Galey talking with a new member of the class, “The key to these classes is you have to keep coming. Then you’ll start to get the hang of it and get better.”
I nod my head as I hear her talking. I know that the key is faithfulness if I want to see results. But not only would I need to be faithful, perseverance through every exercise would have to become by best friend in order to grow lean and strong.
[lead]Perseverance Through Experience[/lead]
If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that without perseverance it’s nearly impossible to withstand the winds and the rains that beat against the doors of the Christian life. And the means by which we learn perseverance is through life experiences.
Here are a few experiences God has used to teach me perseverance:
- Undergoing years of intense study to earn my undergraduate/graduate degrees
- Praying for my dad’s brain tumor diagnosis in 2004
- Training and running my first marathon
- Enduring an ACL soccer injury, the surgery, and physical therapy
- Trusting God with my husband’s career changes
- Getting through the excruciating pain of childbirth
When I think of perseverance I’m reminded of my friends Kavan and Lindsey. In February, Kavan deployed for Afghanistan to serve our country in the Army. Their second baby girl was born just a month after he left. While it was difficult, Lindsey stayed strong and began adjusting to life with two.
Kavan’s words of encouragement, Facebook posts, and flowers from Afghanistan on Mother’s Day helped her press on in the waiting. She’s endured hard days in motherhood and being in a city all by herself. Yet she knows the hope that lies ahead. In just a few days, Kavan will return home, reunite with his bride, and meet his daughter for the first time. What an exciting day that will be for their family.
[lead]What Saves a Man?[/lead]
C.S. Lewis once said, “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”
Every endeavor worth pursuing requires a first step. And I believe the first step just might be the hardest because there’s such a battlefield in the mind to overcome. It’s easier to become discouraged and throw in the towel. I have to not only fight the big letdowns, but the lies in my mind and heart that subtly say:
- I can’t
- God could never use someone like me
- I don’t have any gifts or special abilities
And exchange them for truth:
- I can do anything through Christ’s strength
- God wants and desires to use me
- I’ve been uniquely talented and gifted for God’s glory
Walking by faith is no easy task. God’s path isn’t always brightly lit. His ways are often not my ways. And trials and adversity can wear even the strongest soul down but obstacles are often the best tools for our sanctification and growth.
In difficult circumstances, the next step is all that’s required of me. It’s comforting to know that the burdens aren’t my own to carry either. My responsibility is to be faithful and obedient to the Lord.
Persevering in my faith also means that I’ve been called to continue in a state of grace to the very end as the beloved hymn puts so well:
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far … and Grace will lead us home. – Amazing Grace
I can’t forget that God’s grace is what carries me, day by day. Somehow I lose sight of that at times and forget it is even there for me to draw upon. I’ve been given access to His grace whenever and however I need it.
One day my life will come to an end. Either Jesus will come or I will be taken home. Knowing such truth gives me the hope to endure life’s trials. I know that everything will be okay because I have Jesus and He will be there at the end.
Well, in case you were wondering I just completed my third week of chisel class at the gym. Every class has been different and it never ceases to be challenging. But my clothes are getting looser, my little girl’s baby carrier feels lighter, and I feel stronger than I was a month ago. By God’s grace I’ll make it to the thirtieth week!
[This article is drawn from our archives. It first appeared here on Ungrind on August 27, 2012.]
Love The You You Are
If you want to love the you you are, then find reasons to be thankful for who you are.
I sat down, put my toes in the sand, and could hear the waves crash in front of me. My happy place truly is this place — the beach. There is something so peaceful about it. Yet to get to the beach, one must endure the ridicule of finding a swimsuit. You must endure the ridicule of trying on suits in the winter. And then, you actually have to wear it in public. Yet, as I sit at the beach, I look around and see women of all shapes and sizes. Each one wearing a swimsuit that they searched for and counted worthy of enduring the fitting room. Each one seemingly not stressed about what they look like wearing that swimsuit — even if the suit doesn’t fit just right. They swam, relaxed in a chair, and played on the beach — without care.
I don’t know about you, but how many years have we stressed about swimsuits? I can distinctly remember being 23 and thinking there is no way I will or want to stress about my body at 40. Well, friends, I am approaching 40 and I still stress about my body. Now, granted it’s not the same kind of stress I carried in my younger years but it’s still stress. It’s still a negative view.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I can easily be convinced that what I look like is not who I am supposed to be — that there is always something more that I need to be or do. Do you ever feel like you just don’t make the cut? Swimsuits just have the pleasure of making that very obvious to ourselves.
Each of us are in different phases of life.
- Maybe you are newly married and worked hard to look a certain way for the wedding day.
- Maybe you are pregnant with your first and can’t believe how your body has changed.
- Maybe you are pregnant with your fourth and you really can’t believe how your body has changed.
- Maybe you have recently had a baby and feel like your body will never be the same again.
- Maybe you are recovering from a sickness and you barely recognize yourself.
- Maybe you are a woman whose body never quite recovered from an accident.
- Maybe you are older and watching your body change in new ways is shocking.
- Maybe you look in the mirror and hardly recognize the face staring back.
And even though we are all in different phases and look differently, we all carry insecurities no matter our age. However, no matter where we are in life, there is one thing I know is true. God wants you to love the you you are.
Swimsuit season has really challenged me to love who I am — exactly as I appear today.
I’ve learned that loving the you you are often starts with a shift in perspective. Sometimes I think that changing perspective begins with thanksgiving. I think you would agree with me. If you want to love your home, find reasons to be thankful for it. If you want to love your job, find reasons to be thankful for it. If you want to love your spouse, find reasons to be thankful for him. The same is true with who you are. If you want to love the you you are, then find reasons to be thankful for who you are.
- To the young newly married woman, thank God for your body that enables you to walk down the aisle.
- To the pregnant woman, thank God for a body that can grow babies.
- To the new mom, thank God for arms to hold that child.
- To the aging woman, thank God for your eyes that have seen years of faithfulness.
The reasons for thankfulness are endless. I know it may seem difficult especially when you’ve lived with a negative view for a long time. I want you to think of three reasons to be thankful for the you you are. And maybe you could commit for one week to write out, start your day with, three things to be thankful for about yourself.
- I’m thankful for a smile that makes my kids smile.
- I’m thankful for strong legs to carry me throughout the day.
- I’m thankful for a body that grew and delivered two healthy babies.
This may seem silly or childish or too simple but seeing yourself differently requires you to think differently. We need to change the voice in our head and drown out the negative one. So, go ahead. List three ways you’re grateful for the you you are.
A Snapshot in Time
This moment you are going through is a snapshot in a much larger story.
When I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease, my world fell apart. In a short time, I went from thinking I was perfectly fine to finding out I have an invader in my blood that I cannot fight, and I was told that carrying a baby would be too risky. All that I had planned for my future as a newly married woman came crashing down, and suddenly I was left in the rubble, not sure how to feel or think. All I knew was that I wanted to cry and somehow get up to Heaven to punch God. (I know, ridiculous!)
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
Seriously? Verses like that just sting so badly when you are in the midst of struggles. How am I supposed to find any hint of joy when I find out that being a mother naturally isn’t going to happen? When I feel like less of a woman because I can’t fully do my part in the marriage?
Joy is the last thing from my mind.
But it should be the first.
If you read on in James, here is what joy in the midst of trials brings: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4)
While I don’t believe we need to jump up and down smiling and giggling through a trial, we need to be rejoicing and praising God for what He will grow and produce in us as a result of it.
I am always amazed at the patients in the hospital with terminal cancer who are making the most of their final days by sharing the good news of Christ with the staff, writing blogs or letters to others about how God has been faithful in their lives, and encouraging other patients in the same situation. At a time where they are facing sure death, so many of these incredible people are doing the exact opposite of what I would want to do, and they are rejoicing in God’s faithfulness.
Did they still feel the weight of death on their shoulders and have moments of breaking down?
Did Christ face the weight of what would happen to him on the Christ before he died?
But these patients are taking this verse from James seriously. And Christ is glorified through that.
When I look at the trials my husband and I as a couple faced during the time of our doctors visits surrounding my diagnosis, I wish so badly we had taken more time to be obedient and praise God for how He would use this trial in the future. Because if that diagnosis hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be watching my beautiful little Colombian princesses play in our backyard. I wouldn’t have met the incredible moms of their older biological sisters. I possibly might not even be writing. As a result of that trial, an incredible beauty rose from the ashes.
Dear friends, I don’t know what trial you are going through today. You may have lost a loved one, be struggling through a divorce, or be hearing the life-changing news of a diagnosis. Or perhaps you are just trying to breathe on a very difficult day. I encourage you to take a moment, even if you don’t feel like it, and thank God for your trial. Ask Him to give you the courage to face it head on and to give you peace that He will use this trial for good. His plan is greater than ours. This moment you are going through is a snapshot in a much larger story. You may not even see how He uses your struggles for His glory, but trust that no matter what, you will gain steadfastness that will lead you to being complete and lacking for nothing.
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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.
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